Potty Training Boys versus Girls

Pediatricians and caregivers weigh in on the gender generalizations of potty training.

potty training child

Many times, parents compete when it comes to milestones with their babies. Whose child starts to crawl first. Whose begins to talk first. And who conquers potty training first. So what happens if your son is a little behind your best friend's daughter? Can we chalk it up to the typical response: "Oh, boys take longer to potty train than girls do"? Is this old wives' tale really true?

Offering some insight into the discussion are Dr. Charles Shubin, director of pediatrics at Mercy FamilyCare in Baltimore, Maryland, and Michelle LaRowe, a professional nanny and author of "Working Mom's 411". They share tips and suggestions for what you can expect from both boys and girls during this "growing up" stage.

Is Your Child Ready?

It's important that you recognize if and when your child is able to be potty trained. If your child isn't ready yet, any training attempts will be an exercise in frustration. As a parent, there are many resources out there to assist you. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has some great guidelines that discuss what signs to look for.

LaRowe also gives some insight into how to tell when your child is ready: "Signs of readiness include interest, staying dry for two to three hours, being able to take their pants down and pull them up, and your child communicating that they just went or need to go to the bathroom." Additionally, many pediatricians recommend that your toddler be able to undress themselves before starting to potty train.

Is There Really a Gender Gap When It Comes to the Potty Wars?

Many will dispute the belief that there is a huge difference between potty training boys and girls. It is said that boys take longer than girls to potty train for various reasons. Some of those cited reasons include: the lack of a male role model showing them how to potty, lower maturity level of boys versus girls, higher activity (fidgeting) level of boys, gender roles of standing up versus sitting down, and basic practicality for mothers with regards to those gender roles.

According to the AAP, toddlers and preschool boys have a tendency to be more physically active than girls, and therefore less likely to sit still -- a factor that could certainly contribute to potty training delays. But you may find the reverse to be true, with your daughter taking longer to train than your son. And that's okay! Each child is unique and learns things at a different speed.

How Do Gender Differences Affect Potty Training?

Gender differences in potty training are more associated with methods and rewards than development. Tamona, from Tamona's Tips, would throw Cheerios in the toilet for her boys to use for target practice. Another parent, Jennifer Buxton, from Dallas, Texas, asked her little girl "to teach her favorite doll how to use the potty." You need to make the experience fun and stress-free. It becomes a reward rather than an intrusive chore.

Dr. Shubin says that it's common for boys to get trained at three and girls to get trained at two. And having an incentive helps. "For my children, it was about being motivated to swim at our complex pool," he says. "You could not swim in there with swim diapers." Parents should keep those motivators in mind when potty training. And what may have motivated your son might be different from what drives your daughter.

What Expectations Should You Set?

LaRowe offers these helpful tips for getting both sons and daughters over the potty training hurdle.

For both genders:

  • Look for an interest in potty training between 18 months and three years of age.
  • Know that nighttime dryness comes after daytime dryness.
  • Expect that once your child is trained, infrequent accidents may still occur.
  • Have a rewards system. Whether it's stickers, candy, toys or entertainment. Stick to a schedule and a rewards system.

For a boy:

  • Train boys sitting down first. Then training should progress to standing up.
  • Advise your son to sit down, lean forward and point his penis down.
  • Understand that boys will be curious about their bodies and their penises.
  • Anticipate accidents and to get peed on.
  • Know that copying or mimicking will be a part of the process. Boys will mimic whomever they see using the toilet. If dad helps with the process, learning to stand will become faster.
  • Count on lots of potty talk. This would include a child's references to body parts and anything related to the toilet or potty. When they are just starting to potty train, this is normal, but curbing that behavior will be necessary as they begin to enter school. Some examples include commenting on how mommy doesn't have the same parts or calling someone a "poopyhead."

For a girl:

  • Coach your daughter to wipe from front to back. This is especially important to prevent infection and urinary tract infections.
  • Expect girls to add commentary to their toileting practices when in public, mimicking mom's reactions and mom's toilet practices.
  • Potty talk for girls is to be expected, but may be different and less frequent. They may also mention body parts and try to understand the difference between boys and girls.
  • If your daughter wants to copy her dad or older brother and pee standing up, let her. She will then realize that she does not have the parts capable of peeing standing up.
  • You can also use a doll, as your daughter may want to teach the doll how to go to the toilet. (This is not just relegated to girls, but girls are typically more open to this method as a reward.)

Toilet training is a long process -- for both the child and the parent. Sticking to a plan, remaining patient, being flexible and staying aware of your child's development makes all the difference in how they succeed.

Heather Buen is a freelance writer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. Her work can be found here.

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