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Adventures in Potty Training My Son

Ah, potty training. On the one hand, I’m ecstatic to be rid of giant preschooler poopy diapers. On the other hand, I’m not ecstatic about incurring giant preschooler poopy underwear. We’re in the trenches, y’all. The trenches of bodily fluids and peeing on cereal.

But as I trudge through the muck, I’ve learned quite a lot about all kinds of methods and tricks when potty training. Some of these tips are for any child, and some are specifically for boys.

So, without further adieu, I give you… the Adventures in Potty Training My Son.

I do have affiliate links in this article. That means I’ve linked items which would give me a small commission if you choose to buy them, as I did.

So, here’s the situation: my son is very intelligent, and usually pretty motivated. He’s sweet and calm and sensitive. He’s also almost 3.5 years old. (And he has a 1 year old sister who is also brilliant, and stubborn, and gets into everything.)

We’d planned on potty training this past summer, but we moved and went on a long vacation, so my husband and I decided not to bother with it. Kiddo doesn’t use that many diapers, and he’s good about telling us when he’s pooped or needs a change. Plus his body is super predictable.

I made it clear that I didn’t want to jump into the waters of potty training alone, so we decided to try when my husband was off for a week over Thanksgiving. That way he could deal with Kiddo and they could talk about manly bathroom things together, while I watched our daughter.

Adventures in Potty Training My Son - Real Simple Mama

I’d read all kinds of strategies online, and my husband and I had talked about how we wanted to go about this. What follows is all the useful information I’ve found, how the attempts have gone, and what I’ve learned in the process.

Is your child really ready to potty train?

The golden rule here guys, is this: it’s not worth it to fight your kid if they’re opposed to using the potty. They could be afraid, or confused, or just not ready. If you try to win this battle, you’re gonna lose. In the worst way.

My son has a quite consistent schedule of when he pees and poops. That makes it easy to anticipate when he’d need to use the potty.

He also started telling me either that he wanted “privacy” to go poop in his diaper alone, or he’d tell me as soon as he’d gone. This is great progress! That means he doesn’t like the feel of a dirty diaper, and he can also anticipate when he’s about to go.

Some General Suggestions

  • Plan to stay home for a few days. This is completely new to your child, and can be pretty scary and intimidating. Don’t over-complicate things by trying to get your kid to pee in the Target bathroom, or while they’re playing at the park. Keep it simple, and buckle down for a smelly few days at the house.
  • Have frequent discussions with your child before you start. This is one of my big points throughout Real Simple Mama as a whole: you need to familiarize your child with something new, before it begins. This needs to feel like “oh yeah, Mom’s talked about this” in your kid’s brain. By the time you begin, it should not feel like anything is catching your kid by surprise.
  • Have a set day you’re going to begin, and stick with it. In our case, with a little one who just learned to walk, we chose to begin on Thanksgiving break. We did a countdown, discussed it frequently, and got our son excited to start!
  • Don’t bother with pull-ups. That disposable underwear your kid isn’t supposed to pee in, but feels just like a diaper? Yeah, too confusing. Either use diapers, or use underwear. Pull-ups are just expensive diapers, and in my opinion not worth the expense.
potty training kid boy chart reward incentive

sticker chart outside bathroom – ignore the little hand trying to steal big brother’s sticker!

Get Your Kid Excited!

This is such a big deal! We tell our son that using the potty is the last step to really being a 100% big boy. We hyped up all of the benefits to him, like

  • not being stinky, like after he┬árelieves himself in a diaper;
  • cool underwear that he got to pick out!
  • he gets to look at his poop when he’s done (hey, it worked!)
  • he gets to flush all by himself;
  • all the kids in playgroup use the potty*;
  • all the incentives we had set up!

*Don’t ever, ever shame your kid (for anything really, but particularly something like this). Guilt and shame have no place in teaching your child. If they have an accident, or don’t use the potty as early as whoever, it doesn’t matter. Encourage, teach, and support. Never belittle.*

On that note, it really helps to have some sort of reward system. We did a few things: we wanted to reward effort, and success. Here are the things that we did:

  • early on, while having those frequent discussions since this will be new, get them pumped to pick out underwear! (I would have at least 6-10 pairs so you’re not constantly doing laundry.)
  • two-part sticker chart: one part for trying, one part for actually going in the potty. (I just made mine, which you can see above, but I’m sure you can buy an overpriced premade chart at a teacher supply store if you wanted!)
  • for going in the potty he also got to pick a candy and eat it immediately, no matter when it was.
  • we asked family and friends to make encouraging mini-videos (10 seconds or so) for him to watch, and kept them on our devices. I just made a potty photo stream and dumped all the videos into one place.
  • we also utilized a few *free* apps which had potty games, he could play while on the potty or once he was done. The apps we liked best were Potty Time, and Time to Potty (by Pull-Ups, which I don’t recommend actually). There’s a book app called Potty Potty (it’s interactive and is about a boy who’s afraid of the toilet) and there’s Stop and Go Potty with my beloved Daniel Tiger, but those are just more like “let’s get comfortable with potty-type topics” rather than one you use to time/motivate your child when you’re in the midst of training. Paid apps include one with Elmo and this one called Learning with Animals.

Boy Hacks

So here are a few of the tricks I’ve learned along the way, which are specific to potty training a boy. (Spoiler alert: it’s more of a challenge. Are you surprised?)

  • Boys aren’t usually interested in potty training. They just don’t care. Don’t take it personally, as they don’t mean it that way. But most people I know had a lot more trouble with their sons than their daughters. And usually, the boys were older. So don’t sweat it.
  • Throw some cereal into the potty. Wait, what?! Yes, it’s true. A donut-shaped cereal like Cheerios or Fruit Loops work wonders for boys learning to pee in the potty. Instant target! (And yes, this works even if they’re sitting to pee, which they should in the beginning.)

Here’s What Worked For Us

So, after talking to people and reading and testing out apps and actually DOING the thing, here’s what was our best strategy to actually potty train.

We’d been talking about potty training and all of its perks for a few weeks. The sticker chart was put up, we let Kiddo pick out some undies at the store (which seemed ridiculously expensive… guess I should have gone into the kid underwear biz). He had picked out his candy, and we had one of those training potties like this “celebration Mickey “one.

And he hated it.

We ended up going through three different potties – some freaked him out to where he wouldn’t sit on them at all; some he laughed at like they were a joke; but none were successful at all.
We opted for the seat which you see here (and in the photo above). Fine with me, as I don’t have to clean out a small container-disguised-as-a-floor-toilet! This seat is definitely less work (and this one has a baking soda spot in the back to help with smells, too). You just sit it on top of your toilet seat. Tah-dah.

On the morning we were going to officially start, we got up and set up the Time to Potty app on Dad’s iPad. The iPad would remain in a set location central to our home. We had the videos and a few of the other potty games on our phones.

We honestly did try using the underwear, in the hopes that he would feel gross and tell us immediately if he had an accident. But after four accidents in a row, it just wasn’t working. He wasn’t motivated to “hold it” until the timer went off (or just tell us that he needed to go right now). So we went back to diapers.

It was actually heartbreaking that he pooped in his underwear once, and when Daddy’s timer went off and they went to sit on the potty, Kiddo kept saying “I’m sorry I’m sorry” and got really upset. It made me cry: I was determined not to let him feel ashamed. So like I said, the undies went back in the cabinet for a bit.

We tried wholeheartedly for about four days, and while Kiddo got a lot more compliant about “when the timer goes off, we stop what we’re doing and go to the potty”, but we still had inconsistent success. Due to the holidays, we weren’t home for a full day and then the potty training went by the wayside. He just wasn’t interested in telling us that he had the urge to go, and it’s damn hard for me to do the timer thing when I’m home alone with my kids.

we'll try again, and be successful, once he's ready!

we’ll try again, and be successful, once he’s ready!

Over Christmas break, we plan on trying again. We now have a good idea of what works for my kid, and what doesn’t. Just for my family, it’s really tricky for me to try and deal with it alone (with the most stubborn, high-energy little sister in tow). I guess for now, if I’m taking my own advice, he’s just not ready.

That being said, if you have any tips or suggestions for what’s worked for you, let me know! I’d love to hear about them, and can update you after Attempt #2 later this month.





  1. We’re in the midst of potty training our son as well! We use the potty sticker/chart system as well. I hadn’t heard of the “time to go potty” app, but that sounds like a great idea! Our son loves clocks/timers. But he doesn’t love stop playing to go potty lol. So that app might be key for us. Thanks. ­čÖé

    • The Mama

      January 3, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks! We are in the midst now too. It’s an ongoing process but it’s nice to have options so that you can see what works for your kid!

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