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Preparing for potty training

One of the major toddler transitions is moving from diapers to underwear. Having the right supplies on hand may help you guide your child as they advance through different stages to toilet independence.

You may not need everything at once, but it’s a good idea to get the basics so you’re prepared for whatever pace the process takes.

Do you need different gear for boys vs. girls?

While there are differences between boys and girls when it comes to using a toilet, the concept behind potty training is the same. It’s about learning to control the bladder and bowels.

As a result, you won’t necessarily need different equipment for initial training. But there are a few things that may help boys as they transition from sitting to standing.

Is it really harder to toilet train boys?

Not necessarily. It boils down to the child and their readiness. Both boys and girls need lots of encouragement, love, and praise while learning this important skill. And both need understanding if mistakes or messes happen.

Scolding or punishment during this time may make training take longer or even lead to regressions.

7 must-haves for potty training

Potty training can be successful without lots of gear, but you’ll need some items to help the process along the way. For parents, the decision for which products to choose comes down to personal preference, space, and budget.

1. Potty chair

Potty chairs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some flush and some require emptying. Some have lids, while others are open. The list of options goes on.

Potty chairs are miniature versions of the real thing that make going to the bathroom more accessible for little ones. The main requirement of a good chair is that it allows your child’s feet to be flat on the floor for sitting down and standing back up.

There are many bells and whistles, but what you choose is ultimately up to you and your child.

Two downsides of potty chairs? They take up space and require you to clean them out.

2. Toilet seats

Also called a seat reducer, a toilet seat nests into your regular toilet seat. Some come complete with steps to help toddlers reach the seat and give them a place to put their feet while sitting. Others are incorporated into the adult toilet seat itself.

Seat reducers are a good option if you’re tight on space. Another benefit is that there’s no cleaning of urine or feces, because you can flush waste directly down your toilet. Of course, your child will need a safe and quick way to reach a seat on the toilet with this option.

3. Step stool

A step stool can come in handy for both reaching a toilet seat and for washing hands after using the potty. You may only need one if you don’t mind pushing it around. But if you have bathrooms on more than one level, consider getting a couple so you have one on both floors.

The height of the step stool will depend on the use. A single step stool may work well for reaching the toilet, but you may need a multistep stool to help your child reach the sink.

4. Underwear

Once your child begins sitting on the potty and passing small amounts of urine 10 or more times, you may buy them underwear. Make it fun — let your little one help with the selection process.

You may find it helpful to choose underwear with favorite characters or colors. There are a variety of options to suit most preferences and budgets. The key is to pick loose-fitting underwear that’s easy to take off and pull back up.

The downside of underwear is that accidents will likely get messy.

5. Training pants

Cloth training pants may be helpful with catching small accidents on the way to the potty. They’re underwear with light padding sewn in to the center to help soak up small leaks while giving your child the sensation of being wet to help with training.

They’re also reusable, so they’re a relatively economical choice while making the transition from diapers to underwear.

Disposable training pants are available as well, though they’re a costly option since you toss them out after each use. Some children may also find that they feel too similar to diapers. This may make training more confusing for your child.

Still, some parents favor this option, especially for naps and during nighttime training, since they’re more absorbent.

6. Easy-to-remove clothing

Loose clothing that can be easily removed is another must-have. More restrictive clothing makes pulling pants down and back up difficult, possibly wasting precious time and causing accidents.

Rompers or clothing with complicated buttons or zippers on the lower half are also not the best choice. Dresses, sweatpants, or loose shorts are best.

Consider potential accidents when choosing clothing as well. No heirloom-quality outfits! Instead, try to stick with easy-to-wash cotton.

7. Faucet extender

The bathroom sink may be hard for little hands to reach, even while using a step stool. Faucet extenders slip onto your existing faucet and bring it closer to the edge of the sink, and your child, by several inches.

Some are brightly colored or feature animal shapes to add some fun. You may consider getting an extender for each bathroom sink regularly used by your child.

Also keep your home’s water heater temperature set at 120 Fº (49ºC) or less to prevent scalding as your child learns to use the sink.

Potty training gear for boys

While teaching girls and boys to use the toilet is a similar process, boys do have some different considerations. These types of products are optional, but they may help boys in learning to pee standing up or with reducing urine spray.

Toilet target

Some parents choose to train their boys sitting down. Others go for standing right away. A toilet target can be a useful tool to help boys aim in the right direction.

Toilet targets come as vinyl stickers or floating targets that go inside the toilet bowl. You may need to replace stickers every so often. Aiming at toilet paper may be just as effective if you decide to pass on purchasing these.

Practice urinal

Along with potty seats and chairs, you may also purchase practice urinals that mimic the real thing, only smaller.

Some practice urinals come in fun animal shapes and have built-in targets. You’ll find freestanding urinals and ones you’ll need to suction or otherwise install to your wall. You can even find urinals that flush.

Many parents think this method is great, but others say that it can be quite messy for small learners.

Splash guard

If you train your son sitting down, a splash guard is helpful to stop sprays. Various potty chairs and toilet seats come with built-in splash guards.

You may also buy freestanding guards for use in a full-sized toilet. These may be especially useful for older boys who sit or helping children with special needs get more toilet independence.

Potty training gear for travel

Potty training efforts don’t stop when you’re out and about. There are a few items that can help ease the process when you find yourself in public restrooms or on the road.

Foldable seat cover

Foldable seat covers nest in toilets like seat reducers. The key difference is the folding action that allows you to take them with you on the go.

One popular option comes with a washable carrying bag. It folds into quarters to make it especially easy to toss in a diaper bag.

Not all seats fit all toilets, however, especially elongated bowls. It’s a good idea to have a backup plan.

Travel potty

You may opt to purchase travel potties for long car trips or to skip public bathrooms altogether. You may also use a travel potty for home training, though you may find them to be a bit small for everyday use.

The main difference between a travel potty and a potty seat is that a travel potty has a tightly sealed lid and a handle. This allows you to transport urine and feces from wherever you are to a toilet for disposal. Just be sure to close the lid tightly, as some parents report unpleasant leaks.

Spare clothing

You may want to keep a stash of backup clothing items in your car or diaper bag for outings. Doing so can take some of the stress out of potential accidents for parents and children alike.

Consider keeping at least one extra set of clothing as well as a few pairs of underwear or training pants in a small diaper bag or somewhere in your car.

Tools for the potty-resistant child

Some children may need extra motivation to use the potty. If your child is in this group, there are a few things that can make the toilet training process more fun.

You don’t need to spend much, either. For example, verbal praise is free but very effective at giving your child confidence they’re doing a good job.

Progress charts and books

Giving your child visual cues that they’re on the right track can be as easy as drawing up your own progress chart and marking it with stars.

You can also purchase brightly colored progress charts with favorite characters to mark down successes. Some kits come with activity books and reward stickers to make going to the bathroom all the more exciting.

You can find a number of potty training books to read with your child throughout the day.


Not all children need rewards for using the toilet, but it may help those who are hesitant or need extra encouragement. Start small with rewards by using stickers or animal cookies when your little one sits or pees on the potty.

Bigger rewards, like toys, are best saved for times when your child asks on their own to use the potty or walks over to use it on their own.

There’s even a premade potty training reward system you can purchase that offers 40 fun incentives appropriate for kids between 1 and 5 years old.

Special soap

All kids should get in the habit of washing their hands after using the potty. Kid-specific soaps help them take ownership of this important task. Whatever you choose should be gentle on your child’s hands, since they’ll likely be lathering up quite often.

For parents

There are a few things you may want to consider purchasing for yourself, too. Potty training is as much about training the parents as it is about training your child.


Book choices will depend on the approach you wish to take. If one method doesn’t work, try another. It may feel like a long road, but eventually your child will learn.

Some children respond well to a boot camp approach, learning to use the potty in mere days. Other kids may take weeks or months to go accident-free. There are books to address the wide range of paces, too.

Suggested reads

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Flushable wipes

Flushable wipes may make cleaning after bowel movements easier on both you and your child. These wipes are very similar to the wipes you’ve been using since the diapering days, but they’ll break down more easily. This makes them safe for your plumbing.

If you have a septic system, be sure to check that wipes are marked safe.

Cleaning supplies

Accidents happen, and that’s OK! Keep a few supplies in easy reach to make cleanup less of a hassle. Consider getting a good stock of paper towels or rags and a disinfecting spray to kill bacteria.

You may want to keep a portable caddy of these supplies around for messes that happen in different parts of the house.


Along with an extra set (or two) of sheets for quick changing, you may want to keep a waterproof mattress pad under the sheets to protect the mattress from nap or nighttime accidents.

Some mattress pads are made of vinyl, and others of cotton. They either lay flat on the bed or fit around bed corners like a fitted sheet.

You can also find disposable mattress pads if you don’t want to deal with washing for reuse. This is a costlier option, though. Regardless, you may want to have at least two on hand in case one is soiled.

When can you start potty training?

The timeline is highly individual. There are a few signs of readiness you can look for, usually starting sometime between 18 months and 2.5 years of age.

Signs include your toddler being able to verbally express their wants or needs, as well as their ability to sit on and rise up from a toilet or potty chair. It’s also helpful if they can push their pants on and off, though this isn’t necessary.

How long does potty training take?

How long toilet training takes is individual to each child and to each method you choose to follow. Some methods claim to work in as little as three days. Other methods may take a year or more.

In general, kids tend to master bowel movements before bladder control, though they may continue to want a diaper for bowel movements even after they’re urinating in the toilet.

Daytime and nighttime training are also different things. Most children are able to control both their daytime urine and bowel movements between ages 3 and 4. At night, it may take months or years to stay dry.

A majority of girls and more than 75 percent of boys are fully potty trained and dry at night by the time they’re between 5 and 6 years old, notes the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The important thing is to be consistent, patient, and supportive.