How to Prepare Your Diaper-Free Toddler For School

Here are 8 reminders to set up your potty training toddler for school. This post contains affiliate links.

The square letterboard displays the monumental bigness of the day ahead.

The first day of preschool.

And after the photo snaps, hugs and squeezes, and goodbye sendoff (who's crying?), all the newly potty trained toddlers will be off and using the preschool's bathroom.

Right! Or will they?

Whether it's the official back-to-school for you, or your toddler's return to school after potty training with you at home, the school's bathroom will now be part of your toddler's daily routine. And so many parents ask the simple question of...what can we do to help this go smoothly?

How can we set up our potty training toddler for success back at school?

Great question! The answer is not so simple. To help all of you preschool-bound parents, I put together a checklist of 8 important reminders to help see success with your potty training toddler using the preschool potty or school toilets.

1. Try, try, and try again.

Much like introducing vegetables, your toddler is likely going to need a few introductions to toilets outside your home before they decide that they're okay with using a *big potty*.

And when I say big potty, I put any flushing toilet in that category.

big toilet potty training school tips
How to get your child used to a big toilet? It's a process in potty training!

Many schools and daycares have a small porcelain toilet that's the perfect size for toddlers. But it's still a flushing toilet in the child's eyes.

And that feels a lot different than a small plastic potty.

So get out there and practice using different toilets with your toddler!

  • Go to a friend's house. Check out their bathroom.

  • Go to Grandma's house. Check out the bathroom.

  • Go to a restaurant. Check out their bathroom.

  • Go to the preschool (if there's an open house or introduction day before the first day). Check out their bathroom. See if your toddler will use their toilet with you.

Keep in mind, you can't force your child to use a toilet they're resisting sitting on.

So get outside and explore all those bathrooms with your child! After all, that is one of the blocks of learning in Oh Crap Potty Training.

But also, it helps to bring reinforcements. Here's what I suggest bringing on your outings (the key is your travel potty).

preschool tips potty training
Prepare your toddler for what preschool will look like, including what's the routine for going to the school potty.

2. Prepare your child for what it will look like.

It may sound simple, but small chats with your child do help. And many times when I'm working with parents, I'll hear that the first day back at preschool happened without any small chats about the potty, the details of how it all will look at school.

Don't wait till the evening before school to talk through everything, either.

  • The more repetition with anything, the more things feel familiar to your toddler.

  • The more your toddler knows what to expect, the more they'll feel in control.

You want to be aware of overtalking with toddlers, as that's when you'll feel like they aren't listening to you. Related: Jamie goes deep into why it feels like our toddlers aren't listening to us in her parenting book Oh Crap I Have a Toddler. (Plus she shares solutions for how to get your toddlers to actually listen to you!)

What's a good script for talking through using the potty at school?

I think the easiest starting point is to have a chat with a children's book as a helper. The two of you snuggled together with a book on what preschool is going to look like.

A children's book gives you a visual to share, and it helps engage your toddler so it's more of a back-and-forth chat.

Your kiddo may point out things they notice in the book, and you can, too.

And a book helps to keep the reminders more playful, rather than a running list of remember you need to do this and this and this at school. (Not helpful for a toddler!)

Related: Looking for scripts to use to prep your child for school, and a complete guide of how to troubleshoot potty training problems at toddler daycare or preschool if the transition looks rough? This new course, Oh Crap! How to Potty Train With Daycare + Preschool, covers it all!

You could try being playful with your toddler. Remark on something small. Even ask your toddler a question to get them thinking about the school bathroom and using the school potty to redirect away from resistance.

The bathroom is purple in your book, but what color is your school's bathroom?

So here are my favorite children's books for normalizing peeing and pooping in another bathroom, like a preschool bathroom.

  • Ninja Potty Break: This book empowers toddlers to use a public bathroom toilet, just like a potty ninja. Helpful messaging and great illustrations go over what a public bathroom looks like (and some school bathrooms will look quite similar to the book's illustrations with stalls for small toilets.)

  • What's a Potty For: This new potty book hits all the marks for me, including how it reminds toddlers of times when they're more likely to feel the poop (after they eat, after moving around at the playground, before they go to sleep.)

  • All You Need to Know Before You Start School: The illustrations include an example of what to do when you feel the pee and you're out at recess. I also love how it has cute illustrations showing the small details to go over with your child...what you'll wear to school, what you'll bring to preschool, what the school routines will be.

3. Choose clothes that are easy-peezy for your toddler

Sure you want your toddler to look adorable for that first day of preschool photo, but you also want to consider practicality. Can your toddler easily maneuver their clothes on their own? If the answer is no, you'll want to set aside those zippered pants, overalls, rompers, and things with snaps and buttons.

Remember, toddlers will hold their pee till the last possible second!

So set up your child for success and make sure clothing is easy for your kiddo to do on their own. The more we set up toddlers to be able to do things independently, the less resistance we tend to see. Related: My favorite parenting book that speaks to this (and shares so much on how to activate a toddler's autonomy) is the The Montessori Toddler.

Some clothing reminders:

  • Depending on your child's age, it may take some time (months even) to be able to handle clothing with zippers or snaps.

  • Elastic waitbands are the best option for newly potty trained toddlers.

  • Overalls and rompers (as adorable as they are) tend to be impossible for most young toddlers to get down fast on their own (not to mention misfires).

  • Tights are also tricky under dresses or skirts. Leggings have an easier (looser) waist to push down.

Remember the goal is to make it easy for the child to be doing something they may have just mastered at home. Let your child get settled at school with outfits you feel confident they can push down and pull up without a big effort.

Because more than likely, toddlers back at school won't have a lot of help from the teacher. It won't look like it did with you and your child one-on-one at home.

4. Remember that sleep is a nutrient (as Jamie would say)

So many things can easily get a toddler off their sleep schedule. We've all been there. But it's important not to push aside how much sleep can affect everything (including potty training success.)

Think about a day at preschool for your child.

  • It's a new environment.

  • It's a structured environment. There are rules to follow and loads of stimulation.

  • There's often less napping (more quiet time) and more of everything...interaction with friends, playground adventures, circle time chats, you name it.

Most toddlers look pretty exhausted after a day of preschool.

You may even see some super wonky behavior after school that leaves you wondering where your sweet little child disappeared to.

The question you want to consider is what about bedtime. How does bedtime look?

If your child is going to bed on the later side of the evening, and then has to get up early for the start of school, that means there's less sleep time.

You don't want sleep getting shaved down for a toddler.