Question: How do I potty train a boy?
I think my three-year-old son is ready to be potty trained. I am a stay-at-home mom, so I'll be the one to primarily do the "dirty work," so to speak. My question is, how do I teach him to stand up at the toilet when he needs to pee? I guess I understand how it is supposed to work, but the very few times that we've tried, he's had a few mishaps (and messes) and I feel like I must be doing something wrong. Any advice?
First off, congrats to your son! Starting potty training is a big accomplishment! You don't say how tall your son is (the better to reach the toilet properly), but my feeling is that right now, focusing on the potty training itself is more important than his technique. In other words, don't worry about him standing, while he's learning, let him sit.
There is another physical reason. Quick anatomy lesson -- a young boy's penis is small and it usually sticks straight out. This makes it hard for them to grasp and direct where the urine goes. Add in that he's still learning how to control his body and what this potty training is all about, and it's easy to understand why sitting down is probably the better option right now (trust me, your walls and floors will thank you).
Having said all that, once your son is a little older (and bigger and taller), teaching him how to stand up isn't all that difficult and something he should master fairly quickly. (And if he's ready and still not tall enough, pick up an inexpensive step stool to give him a few inches.) First off, let him watch his dad or older brother (if he's got one) use the toilet when they are urinating. Once your son thinks he is ready, encourage him to stand, help him pull down his pants, get into position (leaning forward slightly) and help him direct his urine stream into the toilet water. (This may sound obvious, but you also may need to make sure that your little guy understands that standing up is for urine only, not bowel movements.)
There are actually some great potty training products on the market that encourage boys (and girls) to perfect their aim (small balled up pieces of toilet paper and o-shaped cereal work well too) and keep the urine in the toilet and not all over the bathroom. If he's still making a mess or having trouble understanding how the process should work, try bringing him to a public restroom where there is a kid-sized urinal (try a library, doctor's office, day care or play space). It might sound counterintuitive (some new potty trainers balk at using a toilet other than their own) but the shape of a urinal is designed for men and boys who stand up to urinate. (And as always after using the bathroom, make sure he washes his hands when he is finished.)
Another option is to head outside. If you have a private backyard (and the weather is agreeable) let your child practice in a secluded spot. It may take a few tries for your son to get used to the idea, but having your child urinate outside is a great way to help him practice while completely eliminating the mess factor. If you go this route, however, make it very, very clear that he is not to do this any place but your yard and under your supervision.
For more potty training ideas and help, check out the About.com 7 Days of Potty Training e-Course.