How to Set Up Your Toddler for Daycare (And its Bathrooms)

Inside: How to help your child with potty training at daycare or in a preschool bathroom.

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She’s wearing the backpack with butterflies (her favorite). You remembered to fill her water bottle and put a note in her lunch box (stuffed with extra snacks, just in case).

The morning checklist is complete, but it’s you who has the butterflies.

The start of daycare or preschool brings up a fundamentally tough part of being a parent. Letting go of the control over the details we have when our children are with us.

That uncomfortable feeling often crashes in again when potty training enters the picture.

You carefully worked through potty training your toddler at home. She’s using the small potty with success. You’ve got your groove with prompting. Things feel in a pretty solid spot.

And then it’s back to the routine. Back to daycare. Back to preschool.

And you can’t control how daycare handles the potty trips.

And you also have to work with the preschool bathroom.

(Typically you’re looking at the small porcelain toilets for many childcare centers.)

So how can you set your child up for potty training at daycare or preschool?

How do you work with the potty training policy at your child's preschool or daycare?

Here are tips for entering back to preschool or daycare, when you're feeling all the butterflies, wondering if potty training will look like a disaster.

toddler toilet training at daycare or preschool
Here's what to know about your toddler's daycare or preschool bathroom.

1. Know that you cannot change the preschool or daycare's potty training policy or protocols for handling toilet learning.

(And psst, as your consultant, neither can I!)

Short of switching caregivers/preschools, you will need to work within their setup of potty rules related to diapers and toilet training.

But don't step in awaiting disaster. There are always workarounds.

Start with a positive let's-work-together attitude!

2. Ask out about the potty training policy, and while you're at it, find out the preschool's system for taking the children to the bathroom during the day.

Every preschool and daycare will do potty training a little differently. A lot depends upon the mix of ages of children at the daycare or preschool.

  • Is the group mostly 2-year-olds?

  • Are there a mix of 3- to 5-year-olds?

  • Do the teachers take the children to the potty every hour? Or is going to the bathroom more by routine at certain intervals (before snack/before recess, etc.)? That's common in many preschools and some daycares.

As with most things, it helps to prep your child on what will happen at daycare or preschool...because the routines will change when your child is diaper-free.

Normalize the idea of using the potty at preschool with small chats with your toddler. That way your child knows what to expect when they head back to daycare or preschool.

For example, at my kids' preschool, the potty training policy was that all the children must use the bathroom and wash their hands before entering the classroom in the morning. And then the children are reminded to use the potty at certain times of the day, but there's an open door policy to use their bathroom across the hall.

But the policy was different when my youngest was in a toddler program at a different preschool where the age range was 18 months - 3 years (mostly 2-year-olds). There, the teachers used more of a prompt-every-hour potty training policy, especially with newly potty trained toddlers.

So don't forget to ask to find out what your child's school potty rules look like.

3. Take a good look at the bathroom setup for potty training at your child's daycare or preschool.

Every classroom will do it differently, and you want to set your child up for success on the first day back — or be able to troubleshoot problems if issues arise.

Related: Jamie and I share solutions for all the potty training problems that can come up at preschool or daycare in the troubleshooting section of our online course.

That will be much easier when you know how the bathroom is specifically set up.

prep for toilet training at daycare or preschool
Is the preschool bathroom a set of stalls?

You'll want to know...

  • WHERE the bathroom is located in relation to the classroom: In some daycares and preschools, the bathroom is right within the classroom space, while in other larger facilities the children may need to cross a hallway to get to a more communal bathroom.

  • WHAT is the potty or toilet being used at daycare or preschool? How low is the toilet or are there only "big" toilets? Is there a small potty in the daycare? Are you allowed to bring your small potty chair, travel potty, or potty insert?

At my kids' Montessori preschool, the children are older (3-6 years old) so there are no small potties and the children manage with stepstools in the bigger bathroom. If your child is a petite 20-months-old kiddo, that setup could be a lot trickier for your little one trying to navigate using a insert-less public toilet days out from potty training.

  • HOW high is the sink? Is the sink low or is there a step stool to help them reach the faucet and soap?

See if it's set up so your toddler can do it all himself.

+ WHEN your child goes potty, is there any privacy or is it a daycare where the small potty is out in the middle of the space? This can be a red flag when it comes to your child feeling okay to poop at daycare.

Related: Don't wait to the day before preschool or daycare starts to chat about using the potty there. Start early! Repetition for the win with toddlers. That's why I love how this book goes through it all, what you'll be doing to get ready for school (getting dressed, getting your water bottle, etc), and shares little scenarios where going potty naturally comes in to the preschool day.

*I also love this book about handling public bathrooms, being a brave potty ninja!

4. What is the potty training policy at daycare or preschool for handling accidents?

The reality is that what's going on there in terms of prompting your child to go pee, and handling accidents — it may vary a lot from how you handle toilet learning and using the potty at home.

That is OKAY.

And you won't really know what's going on day-to-day when your child is at preschool or daycare — the little details that you would observe at home.

Ask what happens if there's an accident, or three.

Their answer will give you a general vibe on the preschool or daycare caregiver.

The vibe matters.

One of my kids has severe food allergies, and I ask the same food questions of every restaurant/cafe/etc where we eat. But it's not always the answer that informs whether I deem the place "safe" to eat. It's how informed and how responsive the waiter/chef/ice cream staff is that determines whether I feel okay with us eating there.

Same goes here.

You're looking for an overall vibe of hearing support for the potty training process, as you have this conversation with your child's preschool or daycare.

If you walk away with not the best feeling, know that asking for this and that request for your child may not go so well.