There is a lot of talk about the fact that boys take longer to potty train than girls. Does science back up the anecdotes you hear? Several studies show that on average, boys are ready to train later than girls, and take longer to train than girls. In one study in Wisconsin in the 1990’s, parents submitted weekly surveys about their potty training experiences with a total of 126 girls and 141 boys. Girls achieved nearly all toilet-training skills earlier than boys, including successful completion of training. Other studies have shown similar results.
Before I discuss some of the common theories why this might be the case, I think it’s important to remember that every child is different. Some boys take to potty training very early and very quickly, and some girls take years to be trained. It’s important not to go into potty training with preconceived notions about how your child will do. Just because you were trained early, doesn’t mean your child will. Just because your husband was in diapers until he was five years old, doesn’t mean his son will be the same. And your son just might be trained faster than your daughter. You never know! My children didn’t follow these generalizations, and yours might not either.
In this blog I will discuss a few theories about why boys take longer to potty train than girls.
1) Mom Is The Primary Trainer
Most of the time, mom handles a lot of the potty training duties. In the book Toilet Learning, Alison Mack says that boys may take a little longer to get the idea when they aren’t spending a lot of time with a same-sex role model. Girls have the advantage of observing someone with the same equipment. Boys might struggle to connect with a role model that is different.
Others feel that potty training delays are due to the fact that, generally speaking, boys are more active than girls (how many boys will sit and have a tea party with their stuffed animals for 45 minutes?) It’s difficult to convince a child in constant motion to sit on a potty and wait for things to happen. It’s boring, it requires sitting still, and it’s not fun like doing a swan dive off the couch.
Successful potty training also requires listening to your body and stopping what you’re doing to answer the call of nature. Boys may find it harder to stop playing and get to the potty. This might make accidents more likely, and it might make parents more likely to get frustrated and put away the potty for awhile and try again later.
3) Confusion: Standing Up vs. Sitting Down
Boys can pee in two positions, where for girls there is just one. Standing up to pee adds another level of complexity. For some children this ends up being a distraction and can negatively impact his ability to learn the basics. It can also mean you need to clean the bathroom more often if your son ends up experimenting with his new-found fire hose.
Note that bowel movements and urine tend to come at the same time, and understanding and controlling the different muscles for each can be confusing. When some children “hold”, they tighten all muscles, and when they “release” they push using all muscles. Because of this, standing up can complicate things.
There is a theory that discomfort with being dirty/wet comes earlier for girls than boys. Discomfort with wet or dirty diapers is a factor that may make training easier. On some checklists, it’s a sign of readiness to look for.
5) Developmental Milestone
Some feel that this milestone is just like many others that girls have a tendency to do earlier, like talking. In addition, advanced language skills might make training easier as you and your child are better able to communicate with each other.
If you are looking for ways to improve your son’s potty training success and timeliness, and feel there is some validity in these theories, try the following:
- Involve a male role model as much as possible in the potty training process
- Make potty time fun and different, with special toys and activities that your son likes that are only available when he is sitting on the potty
- Some children want privacy while using the potty. Others like the one-on-one time they get with a parent when they are trying to relax and wait for things to happen. Experiment with what works best for your son.
- Teaching your son to use the potty sitting down to start might be a logical approach that emoves the confusion and potentially has him trained faster. Once things are going well, provide the option of standing up. If you want to train sitting down first, make sure role models in the house aren’t modeling the standing option. Your son will be sure to want to imitate, and then you may have trouble getting him to sit.
I can’t stress enough that children are all unique. There are no one-size-fits-all rules… just generalizations and theories.
What do you think? What have your experiences been with potty training boys versus girls?