Ask a Pediatrician: Toilet Training Boys
By: Dr. Karen Sadler
Q. My son is four years old and refuses to go on the toilet. He did it twice last year on his own so I know he knows how, but he seems to want to go back to babyhood. He is very smart in every other way but he won’t use the potty. Any suggestions? He gets really upset if I try to put him on the toilet.
A. This can be a really frustrating issue for parents and can sometimes seem like it's easier to get it wrong than right. Some boys (boys usually train later than girls) are just not ready – even at age four – and others are engaging in a power struggle with their parents that’s played out around the training issue. Either way, I think it helps to remember that only he can decide when he's ready to consistently use the toilet. Your job is to show him how (which you've already done) and to respond positively when he makes progress towards training. What we know is that kids who feel “forced” often dig their heels in and delay even more.
Some ideas to help encourage his progress:
- Make his bathroom space comfortable and interesting. Try keeping a box of fun books handy for him to look at when he’s in the room.
- Point out friends or cousins of his who are training and accomplishing "big boy" tasks. (Seeing others praised can be a big motivator).
- Give positive praise for the strides he does make; let him know you are proud of him growing up.
Since children generally want to please, these ideas can often help jump-start training. That said, sometimes it takes backing off a bit and waiting for signs that he's ready.
There are several good books on this topic. Try the website for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their bookstore should have information on this issue.
Get more information in our toilet training guide.