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Putting Things In Perspective

Potty training is a huge life lesson. In fact, at One Proud Toddler, we argue it's the FIRST major life skill your child is likely to tackle. Successfully "getting" the whole potty training thing helps to instill in your child a sense of self mastery that can serve as a building block for things to come. Nowhere is this more immediately apparent than in the context of the daycare / preschool environment.

Put simply, many programs differentiate between the activities available to children that are potty trained and those that are not, even going so far as to group untrained-but-older children with younger children who are not otherwise on the same developmental level. Some facilities, typically preschools and programs for children three-and-up, refuse to accept and will even expel untrained children. These policies are not based on spite, but instead upon entirely reasonable concerns relating to health, sanitation and staffing.  

The important thing to know is that your child's potty trained status can have a significant effect on his or her daycare / preschool opportunities. The hard part is that your child's daycare / preschool environment will also have a tremendous effect on the success of YOUR potty training efforts at home.

Understanding the Daycare / Preschool Policy Landscape

Daycares and preschools have a wide range of policies concerning potty training. As a general matter though, children do no necessarily need to be potty trained for daycare but should be potty trained for preschool. That's about where the generalization ends, as the definition of whether or not a child is "potty trained" varies widely across facilities (for example, some require children to self-initiate, wipe and flush, while others are fine with providing a great deal more assistance).

To make sense of it all, below are some common potty training policies found in daycares / preschools:

Policy TypeDescription
"We're 100% Cool With Helping"Believe it or not, there are some very enlightened facilities out there. These facilities (almost always daycares or preschools for younger children) understand how important potty training is, are happy to help and view it as a key part of their service offering. Some even adhere to the "bare bottom" method by discouraging diapers and pull-ups, which we think is by far the best way to potty train. An example of a policy like this can be found here.
"We're 100% NOT Cool With Helping"
At the other end of the spectrum are facilities, typically preschools, with strict 100% potty trained requirements (i.e. self-initiation, self-wipe and self-flush). These facilities are not set up to handle accidents and will literally expel your child if he or she has repeated accidents. An example of a policy like this can be found here.
"We'll Help, But Not Much"
These facilities have a "my way or the highway" approach, although the "my way" unfortunately may not lend itself to successful training outcomes. An example is a facility that requires a mid-potty-training child to wear diapers for two accident free weeks at the facility before underwear may be introduced. If you adhere to the "bare bottom" approach, you'll know this isn't much "help" at all. Conversely, if you're using a "child-led approach" this type of policy may be a better fit. An example of a policy like this can be found here.
"We'll Do It Your Way BUT You're 'On Call'"These facilities will take your "word" that your child is potty trained and let your child wear underwear or even go "commando" if you want,  BUT require that you remain "on call" to come immediately to the facility in the event of an accident. Fine if you can drop things on a dime for a last minute clean-up, otherwise not so much. An example of a policy like this can be found here.
"Untrained Children Go in the 'Little Kids' Section"
These facilities may offer some assistance with potty training, however, if your child is deemed to be "not potty trained" he or she will not be permitted to participate in certain activities, such as field trips, or may even be grouped together with younger children who are still in diapers. Facilities don't often publicize these policies, but a quick search of parenting discussion boards indicates that many parents encounter them.

**None of the daycare/preschool providers whose policies are linked to above are either affiliated with or endorsed by One Proud Toddler.

One could be tempted to look at this wide variation in policies and conclude daycares and preschools are simply plain unreasonable. The fact of the matter is that any given policy, whether seemingly misguided or not, is likely based upon practical considerations.

For example, depending on the state or municipality where your child's facility is located, there may be strict health and safety regulations concerning changing areas and how they are designed as well as cleaned. Facilities may determine its not worth the time and effort to invest in outfitting compliant changing areas and therefore implement strict "potty trained only" policies. On a more practical level, small in-home daycare providers may not want their couches or rugs soiled and therefore require the use of pull-ups or even diapers.

Regardless of the underlying reasons, it's important to know there are a wide range of policies out there and that these will have a HUGE effect on your potty training journey at home given how much of the day the typical child spends at daycare / preschool. Unfortunately, however, by the time potty training comes around parents and children are often already "settled in" with a particular facility. So what to do?

The Potty Proud "Easy Peasy" 3-Step Approach

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We developed the Potty Proud "Easy Peasy" 3-Step Approach to help you get your child's daycare or preschool "handoff" right. We've designed these steps to be flexible in order to accommodate the wide range of policies out there and provide a framework for dealing with caregivers and getting the outcome you are looking for (i.e. a potty trained child). 

Before we get into the details though, its important to know that this plan centers around YOUR PROACTIVE involvement of your child's daycare into your "potty training plan." This is because C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y is the key to potty training success, meaning you'll want to take steps to proactively align (to the extent possible) the way you train at home with the way training will take place at daycare.

It's important to know at the outset that perfect alignment of the potty training procedures used at home and daycare is not feasible. In fact, the two may be QUITE different. The good news is that (as outlined in our Troubleshooting section) children are able to differentiate between the home and daycare environmenttaking the time to align things where possible and to explain the difference to your child will tremendously increase your chances for success.

Without further adieu, tackle the "handoff" by taking the following steps. 

#1For STEP #1, talk to you daycare provider at least a few days BEFORE your planned handover. This is to get their take on continuing the potty training process while your child is in their care and for you to get a sense of how much help you can realistically expect. The overriding goal is to understand what to expect during the handoff so that you can take steps to prepare your child prior to the handoff.

A good way to tackle STEP #1 is by first asking for your daycare’s policy on potty training. More professional "corporate" type operations will likely have a written policy and may even have a "potty training agreement" that was provided when you enrolled your child. On the other end of the spectrum, are "in-home" facilities  where nothing is written down and everything is up to the caregiver's discretion. Regardless of the level of professionalization, the goal is to open the discussion in a deferential manner—your daycare has A LOT of experience with children after all and your child may be spending much of his or her day in their care!

At all costs, avoid simply showing up at your child's daycare unannounced to drop off a child who you’ve just spent a long weekend potty training—you may find they are firm on not accommodating your requests or unwilling to help in a way your child has learned to expect with predictable consequences (i.e. accidents or a child that needs to be put back in diapers).

After you've broached the topic, make sure to explain how you will be (or have been) potty training your child and what type of assistance you will need. In particular, if you’ve followed The Potty Proud Approach or used another training style that incorporates aspects of the “bare bottom method,” you’ll want to understand the daycare’s policy on children going “commando” and, if there are restrictions, try to find a workaround (see our troubleshooting section at the end of this post for some creative ideas.). 

How to Seal the Deal At Daycare

When talking with your daycare provider, it's important to try to understand things from their perspective. They may be wary of potty training issues because they’ve previously had parents try to foist untrained children on them (to avoid diaper changing fees), parents who are over-optimistic about the level of training their children have attained or even parents who unreasonably expect the daycare to handle potty training for them as part of an uncompensated service. For the best chance of obtaining your daycare's assistance, be agreeable when broaching the topic and make clear that you are not one of the “difficult” cases (i.e. that you will be training at home first, will take ownership of the potty training process—although you'll need their assistance—and will make sure your child has all the necessary equipment).

Finish up the conversation by trying to identify a caregiver who will be "the point person" while your child is potty training (we'd recommend choosing a caregiver who seems particularly fond of your child—there is almost always one—or who just seems generally nice). Make sure to discuss with that caregiver how he or she wants your child to indicate it's time to "go" and the "potty words" they prefer to use. If you haven't previously, ask about your child's general daycare routine (e.g. snacks, naps, lunch) and make sure to checkout the daycare’s bathroom facilities to get a feel for the toilet equipment your child will be using.

Should I Let Daycare Drive My Training Approach At Home?

In short, NO. It'd be easy for us to recommend that you simply follow your daycare's potty training approach, but this isn't a realistic solution if your daycare won't help much or has outdated notions on how to potty train. Furthermore, research shows that some potty training methods are more effective than others (you can read all about different potty training methods and why we think some are better than others here) and there's no reason you and your child shouldn't be able to take advantage of these.

#2For STEP #2, prepare your child for the handoff WHILE you potty train. The goal is to incorporate (to the extent possible) the potty training procedures that will be used at daycare to maintain C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y and make the transition as smooth as possible.

The specifics of how much and exactly what you incorporate will depend greatly on how your conversation with your child's daycare went during Step #1. As a general matter though, you’ll want to incorporate as much as you possibly can while still sticking with your desired training approach.

Although perfect alignment likely won't be possible unless you have an "enlightened" daycare provider, there are still a number of important areas where your daycare's potty training methods can likely be incorporated at home. Three particular areas that are almost always possible to incorporate include: (i) the signals your child will give when he or she has to "go"; (ii) the equipment setup you utilize at home; and (iii) the cadence of your child's "potty schedule" (i.e. trying to match things at home as closely as possible to those at daycare).

Aligning Potty Signals

Many daycares require that potty training children be able to verbalize the need to use the restroom or take a specific action to indicate the same, such as tugging on the caregiver's leg. This makes sense when thinking about the multiple children any given caregiver is assigned to watch in a daycare setting—it simply may not be feasible to provide the dedicated attention necessary to pick up on your child's "potty signs" (such as running in the corner or doing a "pee pee" dance).

For this reason, it's important to incorporate the potty signals your child will use at daycare into your training plan at home. For example, if the daycare want's your child to verbalize the need to use the restroom, you can instill this in your child by saying something like "oh you are doing your pee pee dance, that means you have to go pee pee—if that happens say 'mommy pee pee.'"

Aligning Equipment

We had you take the time to checkout the daycare’s bathroom facilities during Step #1 so that you can do what's possible to replicate them at home. This way your child will be familiar with how to use the restroom equipment at daycare, allowing you to maintain consistency.

For example, in the Potty Proud Approach we recommend starting the training process with a potty chair because it's more approachable for small children, among other benefits. While we still recommend starting out this way, if your child's daycare doesn't have child-sized restroom equipment (and won't let you bring your own potty chair), you'll want to teach your child how to use a stepping stool and potty seat (also known as a toilet ring) at home once things start clicking with the potty chair.

Aligning Schedules

The third easy-to-incorporate training item is to align your child's eating and drinking schedule when training at home with that used at daycare. This will enable you map what we refer to as your child's "potty schedule" with the real life conditions he or she will face in daycare. Crucially, this will also enable you to provide your daycare provider with specific instructions about the times of the day when your child will need to use the restroom (e.g. "I know you have snack time at 10:30 am, Billy will need to use the restroom at 10:40 am").  

Explain Everything Else

Where alignment is not possible you should explain to your child what he or she should expect during daycare. For example, if you are using a bare bottom-based method and during Step #1 you found your daycare has a strict requirement that children wear diapers until they are first accident free at daycare for a specific period of time, then you can explain to your child that he or she will still be wearing diapers at daycare until they are accident free. Get creative and refer to the diapers or pull-ups as "special daycare pants" or something similar so your child will mentally differentiate them from diapers (which they of course really are).

In short, align what you can, get creative with what you can't align and, as a last resort, explain to your child how things will be different at daycare. The good news is that even if things won't align all that well children are able to differentiate between home and the daycare environment, as the troubleshooting section at the end of this blog makes clear.

#3For STEP #3, you'll implement the actual handoff. The goal is to place your child and daycare on the same page to ensure there is no confusion as to roles and the potty training procedures that will be used so that you can maintain C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y and make the transition as smooth as possible.

Today is the day! You're up in the morning, have gotten yourself ready for work and your child is prepped for daycare. Now, do the following:

Before Leaving the House

First, before even setting foot outside the door, make sure that you've prepared all of the materials your child will need to continue potty training at daycare. At a minimum, you'll want to bring those items you discussed with your child's daycare provider as part of Step #1. 

These items likely will include between two-and-six changes of clothes for your child, at least one pair of spare shoes, plastic bags for "pee accidents" (sorry most daycares simply throw away poopy pants), numerous pairs of training pants or pull-ups if you daycare requires these and any potty training equipment your child will need (for example a potty chair if you discussed this during Step #1). Remember, you're goal is to communicate to your daycare provider that you are serious about getting this done and ARE NOT one of the problem parents.

Loose Fitting Pants

During the first month or so of potty training, you'll want to place your child in loose fitting pants that are very easy to pull up-and-down. This will facilitate him or her being able to quickly use the potty when necessary and help to avoid accidents. Think elastic waist bands and stay away from clothing with buttons, belts and the like. Your daycare provider will notice and appreciate it!

After you have everything ready and packed, make sure to take the time to calmly go over with your child the plan for potty training when he or she is in daycare. This includes the potty signals he or she will use, which you identified in Step #1 and put into practice during Step #2 (e.g. “when you have to go pee pee, run up to Ms. XYZ and say ‘pee pee’—she will take you to the bathroom to go potty”). It also includes explaining any special equipment your child may need to use at daycare and which you practiced using as part of Step #2 (such as a stool and potty seat if that's what your child will encounter at daycare). Your goal here is to help your child connect the dots between the steps you took at home as part of Step #2 and what they will shortly experience at daycare.

Once Your Arrive

When you arrive at the facility, let your child settle in with his or her friends. While your child is doing this, go find the caregiver "point person" you identified as part of Step #1 and remind them that today is the day your child will start potty training in their facility like you previously discussed. Provide that "point person" with a reminder about the "potty signals" you agreed your child would give during Step #1. Also tell this person about the spare clothes and equipment you've brought, show them where it is located and do whatever else is possible to make sure you two are on the same page about the items discussed during Step #1.

Provide a 'Heads Up'

If your child struggles with a particular aspect of potty training, such leaving activities to go to the bathroom, let your caregiver know how you handle this at home so they can be on the lookout and take corrective steps (for example, by explaining to your child that the activity or game will be waiting when they return as we suggest in The Potty Proud Approach).

After speaking "momma-y-momma" with your "point person" caregiver, it's time to bring your child over and, with your child and the caregiver together, again explain to your child in the caregiver's presence the plan for what to do when your child needs to "go" (e.g. “when you have to go pee pee, run up to Ms. XYZ and say ‘pee pee’—she’ll take you to the bathroom to go potty”). Then have your child practice giving his or her signal with the caregiver right there. Do everything possible to make sure the caregiver is engaged and responding to your child.  

Lastly, show your child around the bathroom at daycare, explain to him or her that this is where they will "go potty" and explain the procedure again (i.e. “after your tell Ms. XYZ you have to go ‘pee pee’ she will take you here and you’ll need to sit by yourself to go pee pee"). Then let them practice sitting on the toilet potty . chair and show them how to flush.

Congratulations! You've now effected the "handoff."

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Given the variety of potty training approaches and the wide range of policies, personalities and other factors that influence the willingness of a particular daycare to assist with the potty training process, there are bound to be a number of "hiccups" during the daycare handoff.

Below, we address a number of common issues that occur throughout the daycare handoff process and provide suggested solutions. At the outset, its important to know that problems with daycare are not unexpected and that, at a minimum, children are able to differentiate between the home and daycare environment. Meaning that even if the potty training procedures at home and at your child's daycare or preschool are very different, your child WILL be able to build on successes and make it to fully trained (things may take a bit longer though).

Troubleshooting Item No. 1

Issue: Daycare says your child is too young during the Step #1 discussion and your child is between 20-and-30 months old (what we call "In the Zone" as detailed in our blog "Why Early Potty Training Is Better Potty Training").

Your Initial Response:  “We'd really would like to start this now.” You are the parent after all and the one with visibility into the programs and activities your child will participate in in the future. If the conversation continues, you can mention that historically children were trained very early in the United States (they continue to be trained early in many other countries) and that late training is an anomaly that arose only within the last 30-to-40 years with the advent of widely available disposable diapers. You can also mention that much modern child development literature has come around to promoting training when young and that there is a growing recognition that the age between 20-and-30 months presents a ideal opportunity to train. In short, explain that you are confident your child is ready, that you will take responsibility for the initial training at home and would really like to enlist their help for when you child is in their care.

Likelihood of Success: High. 

Troubleshooting Item No. 2

Issue: You're going with a "bare bottom" type method at home and daycare says your child needs to wear training pants, pull-ups or even diapers for an accident free period before they can be removed.

Your Initial Response: “The program we're using really focuses on going cold-turkey with diapers. We’ve learned that diapers provide a type of “safety blanket” that children have been used to since birth and that potty training is most effective when children do not feel the comforting influence of diapers. Is it a requirement that our son / daughter wears these or just a preference? If only a preference, we’d like him / her to wear underwear / go commando.”

Likelihood of Success: Medium Low to Very Low. The actual likelihood of success will depend not only on your daycare's potty training policy and the type of facility (i.e. in-home vs. corporate) but also on applicable health and safety regulations.

What to Do If They Won't Compromise Much or At All: Do not despair if you do not receive a particularly positive response—there are workarounds.

We'd recommend first seeing if any compromises are available: will they allow underwear or training pants if commando isn't okay? How about pull-ups? If the facility says no to pull-ups, you should have a fairly strong argument for pushing back—pull-ups have nearly all the hallmarks of a diaper after-all, with the exception of styling and features to make your child aware of wetness. If the facility absolutely requires the use of diapers (and you don't feel you can argue otherwise), then try consider placing underwear and then the diaper on your child—this way he or she will at least feel the wetness when they urinate.

No matter what degree of compromise you're able to make (i.e. training pants, pull-ups or, gasp, diapers over underwear), know that your child will be able to differentiate between between the home and daycare environment. Take advantage of this, by explaining to your child the differences and to expect certain things to happen at daycare (in this case wearing training pants or pull-ups) that do not happen at home, and vice versa. One particular way to do this is for you to have your child go "commando" on the way to school. After arriving at the facility, go with your child to the bathroom, put the training pants or pull-ups on and explain that "these are special daycare pants—do not go to the bathroom in them and still let your teacher know when you have to go to the bathroom like we've practiced—we'll take them off when I pick you up." When picking up your child, go straight to the bathroom to takeoff the training pants or pull-ups and explain that his or her "special daycare pants are coming off because we are going home." Your child will understand the difference between the environments.

Troubleshooting Item No. 3

Issue: Daycare gives rewards as part of the potty training process and you don’t use rewards at home.

Your Initial Response:  Explain that you are not using a reward system at home and that you would appreciate it if would not use rewards with your child as well.

Likelihood of Success: Medium although compliance may not be 100%. Specifically, while the daycare may attempt to adhere to your wishes on this point, actual compliance may be spotty if the facility widely uses rewards and there are many children. Again, children are able to differentiate between what is done at daycare and what is done at home—you may have to do some explaining, but your child will get it.

Troubleshooting Item No. 4

Issue: Daycare is okay with commando, training pants or underwear, but won’t let your child take naps without pull-ups or a diaper even though your child is already sleeping without these at home.

Your Initial Response:  Explain that your child is already staying dry for naps (and if true) nighttime at home. If there is still pushback offer to bring your own mattress or to purchase a waterproof mattress liner.

Likelihood of Success: Medium to Low. This is another area where health and safety regulations may get in the way. Again, the good news is your child will be able to differentiate between when he or she is at daycare versus at home. Take advantage of this by explaining the different procedures and that he or she will be using "special daycare pants" when taking naps. If possible, ask your daycare provider to use the same language when putting them on.

Troubleshooting Item No. 5

Issue: Child is trained at home because he or she is given free access to the bathroom, but is running into problems at daycare because he or she must find an adult to be accompanied to the bathroom.

Your Initial Response: 
Explain that you have an "open door" system at home and ask if it's feasible for the daycare to replicate this at home.

Likelihood of Success: Medium to Low. Your child's daycare may be using this policy for safety reasons because they do not have a "half door" for children or for other reasons outside your control. The best solution is to replicate the daycare environment (i.e. temporarily stop using the open door system) and focus on having your child verbalize "I need to go potty" or something similar when at home.

Troubleshooting Item No. 6

Issue: Your child provides non-verbal signals that he or she needs to go but your daycare insists on a verbal “I need to go potty” signal.

Your Initial Response: 
Explain that your child struggles to verbalize and that you would really appreciate it if your could work out a non-verbal signal.

Likelihood of Success: Medium. You may be able to work with the "point person" caregiver at your facility to agree on a non-verbal signal. However, it's important to understand the daycare's likely concern that your child will not be able to locate their particular "point person" quickly enough to prevent accidents. In the long run, the best solution is to work on verbalizing at home.

Troubleshooting Item No. 7

Issue: Your child is trained at home when you give him or her dedicated attention, but is having issues when not individually attended to in the daycare environment.
Your Initial Response: 
This problem is likely caused by your child not manifesting the need to go. The solution isn't up to the daycare, but up to you to teach your child the importance of verbalizing when he or she needs to "go" or, less ideally, providing a non-verbal "potty signal."

Likelihood of Success: Not Applicable. The solution to this problem lies with the parent. 

Some Parting Thoughts

Daycare policies run the gamut from reasonable to crazy, and how a particular policy aligns with the potty training approach you take at home is a bit of a crap shoot. What this leaves us with, is the fact that there will be some misalignment with daycare. In fact, there may be A LOT of misalignment. DO NOT lose sleep over this. Instead embrace it! Follow our three step approach, incorporate your daycare's training practices where it makes sense and, in areas where things must be different, try to get creative and explain to your child why things are different at daycare and at home. Your child WILL get it!

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