Its a fact: The genders have clear physical differences.  Having both a son and a daughter, potty training has been the only time I’ve had these differences matter in my parenting thus far.  Unlike my husband, I just don’t have experience peeing with penis, so there has been a little bit of a learning curve instructing my son.

Keeping Pee off the Floor, and Walls, and …

It started the first time my son wanted to try the toilet away from home.  We raced to the bathroom, and I sat him on the toilet.  Squatting in front of him to keep him balanced, I quickly realized that I had no idea how to keep him from showering the room and that I was directly in the line of fire!

Lucky for me, we were at a play group at a community center with the most wonderful facilitator.  When we returned to the play room, I pulled her aside for advice.  She said one way was to sit him backwards on the seat.  This position increases the chances of the pee in the bowl and reduces the area of the room that can get sprayed, including getting the adult helping out of the direct line of fire.

This worked for a while, but when we were at a point in potty training when every outing required multiple bathroom visits, we needed a new method.  To sit backwards, we needed to remove pants and shoes and we both became frustrated.  So I used common sense to adapt how a girl positions on the toilet: Point penis down, pull legs together to keep it down, and lean forward slights so the stream goes further down and back.  Of course there are still mistakes, but I don’t worry about getting it in the eye anymore.

I’ll Tell You What to Do, If I Can Figure it Out

Throughout training my son, we’ve run into a few times when I really was at lost about how to direct him.  Early on, my husband and I decided our son would move his penis on his own as much as possible because its his body and he needs to know how to handle it independently.  Explaining how to point down into the potty was easy.  Not as easy was explaining how to shake off the last few drops to keep his underwear dry.  Even harder to describe was how to pee standing up in the woods the first time.  After each of these awkward exchanges, I talk to my husband and request he show our son what to do sometime, but as a stay at home mom, usually these situations only arise when my husband is at work.   So, we muddle through as best we can.  Until he learns to pee standing up from his dad, we avoid being away from a bathroom for long periods.  We keep a potty with a lid in the car so he can pee very last thing before a hike and so we can retreat there if need be.  And if I just keep him sitting for a minute, that drop of pee takes car of itself.

When “It Feels Funny”

When preparing to potty train, deciding how to discuss private parts and masturbation are just as important as choosing a potty.  This is true for both boys and girls.  Experts agree that teaching children the proper names for all their body parts from birth is healthy for defending themselves from potential abuse.  When you begin training, your child suddenly has a lot of access to an area that was previously covered by a diaper all day and night.  Whatever your point of view on masturbation, be prepared to address it because a child of two or three sees no difference in touching their penis or vagina than touching their nose or elbow.  In our home, we explain which body parts are private and that not only does it mean others shouldn’t touch them, but that if one wants to touch those places on one’s own body, it must be done so privately.

Like I said above, thus far boys and girls are the same on this front.  Except for one thing: Erections.  I knew before my son was born that boys have erections from birth, but it wasn’t until we were potty training that my son ever said anything about it.  A couple mornings, I had to wake my son up instead of him waking up on his own.  We followed our regular routine of going to the potty immediately, but he didn’t go.  Then ten minutes later during breakfast, he would have a major accident.  When I talk about it with him later, it threw me for a loop when he first explained to me that he couldn’t pee when I’d ask him to try because “it feels funny when its bigger.”  I had to ask the resident expert (i.e. my husband) if what I thought I remembered from health class was actually true — that its uncomfortable to pee with an erection.  This was important for me to pass on to my son so that he understood how his body works.  He needs to know that nothing is physically wrong if he can’t pee at those times, no the matter cause.  And I need to know to respond matter-of-factly about what is happening with his body.


I know in the future there will be more times when gender differences will create distance between my son and I.  While I hope to minimize the ones created by society’s views on gender, I know that occasionally, our biological differences will affect my parenting.  At those times I will look to my husband’s support, just he will look to me to explain my daughter’s body to her based on my own experiences as a woman.

Image courtesy of Todd Morris via