Guide to potty training in daycare blog header

Guide to potty training in daycare

Potty training, in general, is no easy feat, but when you try to get a rhythm within your classroom where parents and children are all on different pages, it can prove to be nearly impossible.

As an educator, it is hard to know where to begin with the process of potty training in the daycare setting. You may be asking yourself questions like:

  • How am I supposed to know if my children are ready?
  • Shouldn’t the parents do this at home?
  • Why are parents relying on me for this?
  • Should I train everyone at the same time?
  • Should I train child by child?
  • How can I get parents to be on the same page as me?

These are all great questions, and you are not alone if you’ve asked any of them. I’ve probably asked all of these questions in one day! It’s best to have a plan in place for when potty training should begin.

Signs of potty readiness

There are many theories as to how to tell when a child is ready to start toilet training. Just because a child peed on the potty one time does not mean they are ready.  Just because they pull their diaper off and say “pee” does not mean they are ready. There are many ways to tell if a child is ready, and I recommend that a child show majority of these signs before initiating the start of it:

  • Remaining dry for long periods of time
  • Asking to be changed
  • Verbalizing that they must go
  • Waking up dry from a nap
  • Going over to a corner of the room when having a BM
  • Verbalizing that they are wet/soiled

Our rule of thumb at my center is that we will not entertain the thought of starting the training process until these signs are showing. Parents understand when they enroll their child that potty training is a partnership between childcare and home. We cannot start the process in the classroom until these signs are showing and until parents are ready to commit to the process.

Make it fun!

If you are a toddler or preschool educator, it may be fun to incorporate potty training into your curriculum. There are so many books to read and fun videos to watch.

We do this as a fun activity at our daycare as part of a unit/theme. When the majority of the children are showing signs of potty readiness, we have all children in that class bring their favorite doll or teddy bear to school along with a pair of underwear. Throughout the day, we ask them to check their doll to see if they are dry. They pat the underwear and say, “dry!” Then the educator asks children to check to see if they are dry. The children pat their underwear/diaper/pull-up and say “dry” or “wet.” If their doll is dry, they get a sticker. If they are dry themselves, they get another sticker. This is highly effective because children start to take responsibility for staying dry for their dolls and for themselves, and it is fun. If everyone is dry, we make a BIG deal about it and everyone celebrates with a little dance.

Once this is done for about a week, the educator will then start to track when children are staying dry and using the potty. They will enter the data into their management app and communicate with parents. Parents need to also commit to taking the doll home to check for being dry and trying on the potty. Having the children practice at home and at childcare will allow for a seamless transition and partnership.

Does this work perfectly for everyone? No, but it is a fun and safe way for children to feel like they can do it without shame or perfection. We do not bring attention to when a child is wet. If they are wet when the check happens, we just go ahead and change them and move on. But when they are dry, we make it a big deal and celebrate. For example, you can present this FREE printable certificate to a child when they are toilet trained!

Dealing with accidents

It’s extremely important to not show anger or frustration with accidents when they occur. Not if they occur, but when they occur.

Children will often forget to initiate going potty due to being preoccupied with play or another activity. It is very detrimental to shame children for having an accident. It can really cause some emotional damage and send a message that they are to feel shame if they don’t get things perfectly. Is it frustrating when a child has an accident? Absolutely. But as educators and parents, it is important that we practice our best poker face and act like it does not bother us when they occur.

When fully in underwear, ask parents to provide extra clothes (a lot of extra underwear and bottoms). Prepare for lots of accidents so that it isn’t surprising when it occurs. When it does happen, say, “that’s okay! Accidents happen. Can you try to tell me sooner next time when you have to go? We will figure this out, no worries.” Assuring the children that it’s okay will allow them to feel safe and secure to learn and try again.

Parent communication

It can be extremely difficult when parents are not on the same page as educators. Over the years, I’ve seen it all: parents who think their 15-month-old is ready to potty train and insist; parents who have a three-year-old who have no interest in starting the process, and educators who get caught in the middle.

It is super important that when a child is enrolled in your classroom that expectations are laid out from the first day. At your “back to school night” or “open house” event, make sure to lay it all out for parents to understand. You can show why starting potty training too early can be hurtful to their development with all the research out there. You can have a handout that shows all of the signs of potty readiness and how their child needs to display a majority of the signs in order to start.

At our center, it works great when parents let us know that they started the process over the weekend. We do not allow parents to just send their children in with underwear without any warning. Instead, we ask that children show in class that they can be dry for three straight days. If that is accomplished, then we ask parents to send their children in just wearing underwear and plenty of clothes to change into.  This has worked well because it sets the expectation right away.

Setting expectations

It is important to help parents understand that every child is different. It is also important for an educator to remember this fact as well. Sometimes it is hard to remember that potty training can come late for some children, and it can get frustrating. Make sure to not put pressure on children, and don’t allow their chronological age to dictate readiness. It is a myth that children need to potty train at two years of age. Some show interest and some do not. And that is okay! We cannot allow parents to put pressure on their children, and it is our job to help educate them on that. Just because their oldest child potty trained early doesn’t mean their youngest child will. Some children have fears, development delays, even physical limitations that cause delays in training, or temperament that doesn’t lend to rushing the process. It can be helpful to do your own research and share that research with parents.

Check out my other blog post on Potty Training Myths to see more of what unrealistic expectations can do for a child who is potty training.

Potty training in daycare is only successful when parents and educators work together and are on the same page. The best advice I can give is to keep communication open, have a plan in place for what signs of readiness to look for, stick to your expectations and process, and don’t take yourself too seriously! It is not your job to potty train any child of yours. But it is your job to partner with parents to help with the process. It’s not glamorous, and it is messy, so have disinfectant on standby and be prepared to laugh!

One of the most important ways to ensure a successful potty training routine is by getting parents and educators on the same page. Learn how HiMama can help improve your parent communications and create the ultimate partnership for potty training success!

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.