Photo: @thehappygrahams via Instagram
Potty training my daughter was a fairly easy, not-that-memorable experience. We had one false start, when she was just over two. I was eager, but she simply wasn't ready. So we waited about six months and tried again. This time, she got it. Sure, there were a few “oopsies” when she got distracted and forgot to go pee. There may also have been a meltdown or two (mostly on my part, since I was pregnant with my second and so, so tired), but overall, she was agreeable and liked using the toilet over diapers. By the time she started preschool a couple of months later, she was independently using the toilet.
My son, on the other hand, showed zero interest or cooperation, simply refusing to use the toilet at all. I thought, as the second child, he would enthusiastically emulate his big sister. Not so much. I decided to relax this time around and let him set the pace. But as his third birthday loomed, I got antsy.
So I unleashed a few candy rewards along with loads of encouragement, and he mastered pooping in the toilet like a pro. Hallelujah! But peeing was another story. For whatever reason, he didn't want to pee on the toilet, and nothing we said would change that.
Then, one random day, he agreed to pee on the potty. I sat him on his training seat on the toilet. (I'm not very confident about the whole standing-up business.) He peed, we cheered, and it looked like we were on our way to diaper freedom.
That is, until, he needed to go again a few hours later. I sat him on the toilet, same as the first time and told him to point his penis down. I stepped out to grab toilet paper and the next thing I knew, he was screaming. I ran back into the bathroom to find pee going everywhere—the floor, his legs, his head and as I got closer, my face. Yes, that's right. MY FACE.
This never happened with my daughter! Clearly, potty training a girl is not the same as potty training a boy.
I’ve since learned that most experts recommend that boys start with sitting to pee because it's easier for them to get used to the toilet this way. Also, since pee usually accompanies poop, it's best if they are sitting to do both. (Plus, sitting helps limit the mess—although it didn't help that much with my son, as I learned.) Some boys do stand and pee from the get-go, however.
Claire Palmer, a mother of four from Redwood Meadows, Alta., trained three daughters before her son. With her girls, training went smoothly and quickly, but her son, Daniel, bucked that trend. She started all of her girls at two years and a few months. Dan started slightly later, at two and a half, but only because Palmer wanted to wait for winter to pass to better suit her pants-less approach.
Dan got the hang of peeing in the toilet right away, but "pooping was a disaster," says Palmer. For five months, "he resisted all attempts to persuade him to go on the potty and would patiently wait until my attention was diverted, at which point he would sneak off and poop in his pants. It was obvious he understood perfectly well what was required, but just wouldn’t do it. He was deliberately yanking my chain."
Now, at age four, Dan poops in the toilet like a champ, and Palmer has recovered enough to look back on the process. "Girls seem to be quite keen to get the hang of toilet training. My daughters liked the 'grown-up-ness' of wearing underwear instead of nappies, and they also appreciated the cleanliness,” she says. “My son, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less about the mess and really seemed to relish the challenge of the 'game.'"
"Different kids potty train different ways,” says Toronto parenting expert, therapist and author Alyson Schafer. “Gender is one broad lens you can apply to how kids potty train, but it leaves room for error."
Heather Wittenberg, a child psychologist, notes that girls tend to complete potty training about three months earlier than boys. That's because girls, on average, tend to be a bit more advanced in physical and language development—skills that help move potty training along. But that doesn't mean that all boys take longer to train.
“Some kids are pleasers,” explains Schafer. “They want validation, so they want to imitate you. That usually means potty training will be easy. Others are squirrelly and high energy, and like to run around. You can't get them to sit still, so for these kids, you have to make potty training more engaging and playful."
No kid fits perfectly into categories, whether it’s gender-based assumptions or simply different temperaments. “But I did see the 'I’d rather play and go-go-go,” mentality, or the 'I'll get to the training later' attitude, come up more with boys,” says Schafer. “Think about a child’s specific personality when you’re coming up with a strategy for potty training."
That's precisely what Jonathan Meakin and his partner, Amy, did with their twins, Adley (a boy) and Arwen (a girl). The couple from Hubbards, NS, trained their twins simultaneously starting around age two, since the twins had always done everything together. "Our thinking was that our twins had shared all experiences to date, so potty training may be more successful if it was also shared," recalls Meakin. They started with what Meakin calls a “casual acclimatization to simply sitting on the potties first,” and then a more consistent, six-week dedicated process.
"If there were any differences, they were due to personality. Our daughter is more task-oriented and focused than our son, who takes his own sweet time with most tasks. Potty training them as a joint venture probably moved my son along in the process."
Interestingly, his son, Adley, finished training before his daughter, Arwen—but not because she didn't get it. "My son is generally more keen to please, while my daughter’s default is to resist," says Meakin.
My son, nearly three, now uses the toilet successfully for both peeing and pooping, so we've officially ditched the diapers. (Hurray!) He's still sitting to pee, because I'm not ready to teach him how to aim, knowing the inevitable clean-up this will require. (Though I’ve heard the Cheerio-in-the-toilet-bowl trick works wonders.) I'll wait for him to tell me that he wants to stand like Daddy.