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How to Prepare Your Diaper-Free Toddler For School

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Here are 8 reminders to set up your potty training toddler for school.

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The square letterboard announces the 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 potty training 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 waistbands 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.

Even 30-60 minutes less of sleep for a young toddler can make a world of difference in everything from behavior, meltdowns, appetite, and yes, potty training. We often hear of more accidents when the child is running short on sleep.

Here's a trick for how to know if your child needs more sleep.

Think about bedtimes.

Is it easy to put your child to bed, or is it a neverending three-ring-circus battle to fulfill all the requests and get your toddler settled and off to dreamland?

The easiest clue for a child is running sleep-deprived, when their circadian rhythm is off, is to look at bedtimes.

  • When a child is overtired, bedtimes tend to look like a mess.

  • When a child is in a good place with sleep, it's easy to run through your routine, say your goodnights, and then the child goes off to sleep soon after.

Try getting your child in a better spot with sleep, and you may see a noticeable shift in everything else during the day. Including how potty training is going.

5. Don't expect your child to move mountains in a day

Someday your child may move mountains, but don't expect that on the first day back to school with your child diaper-free.

There's a range with everything in potty training. As a potty training consultant, I often see the extremes...the child who's been pooping in their pants at school for months on end. That's a longterm bad pooping pattern.

But then I'll hear the other side of panic from parents, too.

I'll be working with a mom whose child went back to school and there were accidents on day one and the mom worries that's going to be the thing now...accidents in pants forever and ever. What to do?

And it may turn into a bad pattern. It may turn into a potty training issue.

Worried about the accidents at preschool? First, look for any patterns with the accidents.

But first, you can't pull out pattern from one accident. You can't pull a pattern from one bad day at school. Remember that with the first week back at preschool, things are bound to look a little wonky.

And the more you prepare the child, the more you practice being in other bathrooms, the more you normalize what to do when you feel the pee or poop, the better you're setting up your child.

And then if you're still seeing accidents, look for a pattern with the accidents.

  • Is it pee? Is it poop? Is it both?

  • What's changed since your child was home?

  • What's the bathroom setup like?

  • When are the accidents happening?

  • Are the accidents taking everyone by surprise or are you seeing resistance?

Looking for a pattern is the first step to resolving the issue you're seeing. And then if you're still stuck, know that it's typically not behavior when the child is struggling to use the potty at school. Typically it comes back to anxiety around using a new bathroom, or the child hasn't made it safe in their head to poop.

Typically it's not the child just refusing to do the potty, just 'cause.

Related: If you're feeling stuck, there are so many nuances to a preschool potty training situation. That's when I'd reach out for one-on-one support with a potty consultation. Another option if you're seeing poop accidents is Jamie has an awesome Pooping Solutions video course that talks through all the poop solutions.

While things are up and down for a few days at preschool, what you can do is pack reinforcements to help out the teacher.

Pack extra supplies in a wet/dry bag for the early days.

Here's a good list of things to pack for a potty training child at preschool:

Another thing that's super helpful is a little reminder of you. A picture stuck in a backpack pocket. A bracelet the child can wear or a small stone they can hold that's filled up with mama/daddy love. When the child's emotional bucket feels filled up, you tend to see less anxiety or behavior at preschool, and that's another piece of the puzzle that can help.

6. Do the first morning pee with your child

This can be a game changer for some kids. And even if it doesn't make a shift for your child, it will give you great information as the parent. Here's why.

It stands to reason that if your child won't use the school potty with mom, then it's going to be tough for some other caregiver (the teacher) to see success.

This is not always the case. I've worked with moms where the child was a mess at home, and then went back to daycare or preschool and everything clicked. The herding mentality of being with other peers really helped those toddlers. And for some kids, the different dynamic helped too (mom has an emotional investment in potty training, whereas a teacher does there's a different vibe.)

It always helps to do that first morning pee at preschool with your child.

Make it the school's rule. Put it on them. My children's Montessori school drop-off had that rule in place and it was super helpful for the newly potty trained kiddos. Your morning job was to use the bathroom, wash your hands, and THEN you could enter in the classroom and put your backpack on the hook, etc.

So make it a school rule. When you make it a rule, you tend to see less resistance from your child as it starts to normalize it as a routine, and sets an expectation..

The school's rule is first go pee in the potty, wash hands, and then backpack on hook.

Keep it short and simple with any directions. Toddlers will shut down if you're overtalking directions, as Jamie shares in her new parenting book, Oh Crap I Have a Toddler.

7. Consider how diet plays in with the poop

Have you ever experienced first day jitters? I've been adulting a long time and I still get first-day butterflies for something big and new.

With a newly potty trained child, there's bound to be some shyness around using a new bathroom, being in the school setting, adapting to a new class or new teacher..all of it.

What can help? Consider your toddler's diet, for real.

In Oh Crap Potty Training, we talk about priming the poop and it's super important for those back-to-school potty training toddlers.

Because if your child is running mildly constipated (diet) AND has some performance anxiety with all the new things with school, then you can get a child resisting using the potty, resisting can start to spiral.

Avocado is a great food for helping to prime the poop.

So start with your toddler's diet.

Think about what's going in with food (and how that affects the poop that's coming out.) You need fat and fiber to be able to easily poop. So if your child is bulking up on binding foods (like dairy and starches) and not eating much on the fat and fiber side, then it's generally going to be tougher to see an easy poop.

Add in an unfamiliar bathroom and the situation can spiral in the wrong direction.

Here's more on foods that help your toddler poop. Avocado is one poop primer to consider.

Related: I talk about ways to help prime the poop and get back out in the world with your newly potty trained toddler in my e-course Potty Training Solutions.

8. Team up with your child (and teacher)

Another simple (but often overlooked) support you can do for the school transition is chat with your child's teacher...and chat with your child!

When you're talking about what will happen when your child goes back to school, you want to be using a voice of confidence, a tone that shows your child you guys are on the same not a firm voice. But also, not a high voice that sounds like a polite ask.

Get down on your child's level and use a steady, matter-of-fact voice that shows your child you feel things are going to go well at preschool. High fives.

Because let's face it. If you expect a disaster on your hands, what tends to happen?

Set up small chats with your child that will talk through what will happen at drop-off.

Mama is taking you to school tomorrow. First job is pee in the school potty, wash hands, then backpack on hook. And then hugs. How many hugs do you want?
Three? Great, that's what we'll do.

With your child's teacher, be sure to share helpful reminders on your child's cues.

Some helpful tips to share could include..your kiddo tends to poop around nap time. Your child gets wiggly when they need to pee. Your child can hold their pee through naptime no problem (so your child can hold their pee for a couple hours..meaning bringing your child to the potty every 30 minutes is likely to bug your kiddo!)

Don't overwhelm your child's preschool teacher with too much information (and remember you can't expect your teacher to spot your child's cues and signals as they'll have their eyes on many children.) But it doesn't hurt to share a few helpful insights into the patterns you've seen.

Then once you're set up, give your child a high five and away you go.

(And do a quick scroll through those adorable photos on your phone.)


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