Updated: Mar 6
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.
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.
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's why I love the book All You Need to Know Before You Start School, as it visually walks you through little dialogues and situations...
Like going to the potty before recess on the playground.
So that your child knows what to expect when they head back to daycare or preschool.
For example, at my kids' preschool, the potty training policy is 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.
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.
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.
The good news: most of the time families find that the daycare or preschool is pretty open to working with you on setting your child up for success in using the potty there. Again, don't assume the worst with their potty training policy.
You may be surprised once you open up a dialogue! Just don't wait till the last minute to start potty training at home.
5. Send your child in pants commando for the first couple weeks.
Check in before to let your child's caregiver/teacher know that's your plan. As you know, if you read Oh Crap Potty Training, one of the secrets to potty training success is NOT sticking underwear on your toddler instantly or days after starting potty training. The muscle memory of the diaper stretches back years for your child, and that tight set of undies feels like a diaper and can be an instant trigger for an accident.
There are definitely many daycares/preschools that have some rule "against commando", which still feels odd to me — as underwear is simply another layer of fabric.
But going back to Tip #1, we can't change their potty training policy.
If that's the case, a more nuanced back-to-daycare plan is needed to avert accidents in the undies.
6. Remember you're on the same team.
You and your child's preschool teacher or daycare caregiver share the same goal — seeing your child through the potty training process as smoothly as possible.
Ask your questions so you understand the full set-up and communicate your requests.
Then remember you want to work together. Things to consider..
Is there a pee dance your child does? Let your caregiver know what to look for.
Sharing any pee patterns you've observed may help the teacher.
But keep in mind, they may not prompt your child that way. The potty training policy is often more of a "herding style" at preschool/daycare, where everyone goes to the potty at the same time.
And that's okay if it's different! Children typically adapt to the differences in preschool.
Want more help? In our course Oh Crap! How to Potty Train With Daycare and Preschool, Jamie and I share all the things you should consider before starting back at daycare or preschool with your newly potty trained child. Including a handy list of questions to ask daycare!
7. Send your child off with a few reminders.
On the first day back, you'll want to point out where the potty is in the preschool or daycare, and remind your newly potty trained toddler what to do when the feeling strikes.
Hey buddy, you can go over to Miss Sarah and tap her on her arm when you need to use the potty.
Also it helps to let your child know that the toy/activity will still be there for them to play after they go potty. That helps for kids who don't want to take a potty break because they fear "losing" that toy or their turn with an activity.
Related: Before the first day of school, have your toddler choose their outfit (offer two choices) and set it out so it's ready to go. Talking through the little details helps. While going through All You Need to Know Before You Start School, you can chat about the little details, like what he'll wear, his backpack, and what will be packed in his lunchbox. That all boosts your child's feelings of independence (which helps with self-initiating to go pee in the potty.)
8. Pack extra clothes and supplies.
You'll want to pack a few changes of pants, underwear (and socks) in the early weeks back to preschool or daycare after potty training. I also sent along a large wet/dry pouch so the teacher had something to put any wet clothes in (just in case).
Is your child in a daycare and allows you to bring in your small potty chair?
Then bring the potty that your child is most comfortable with as she's getting into the swing of using the potty outside the home.
Check your expectations with this guide on how many accidents are normal.
Find out one trick to help with pee accidents at daycare or preschool.
And of course, let's not forget that a big hug and kiss or high five for your child lets them know you feel confident that they've got this. Jamie shared a podcast episode on how else to help toddlers with transitions.
Confidence from you is huge in helping this transition back to preschool or daycare as a brand new to potty training child.
Even if you're feeling your heart swell as your toddler walks in with their big kid backpack.
Illustrations: Citrus and Mint