As teachers, our job is not to potty train our students, but our job is to support our students where they are at in their development. That means supporting them if they are learning letters, supporting them if they are learning about friendships, and as they potty train. In my years of teaching preschool and working in childcare centers, I have heard far too many fellow teachers express anger about students having accidents or at parents who aren’t doing their “job” by potty training their two-year-old. That’s not OK. Our job as teachers and caregivers is to support every student’s development, not just the parts that aren’t stinky. Here are some things to remember as you help support potty training at preschool.
- There is no “right” age for a child to be potty trained. Every child has a unique experience some potty train very early, and some are just not ready.
- Check in with parents often. Ask at the start of the year what stage of potty training their child is in and how they handle potty training at home.
- Communicate to parents about any signs that the child is ready to potty train. Such as being interested when classmates use the bathroom, talking about wanting big boy undies, and general curiosity about the process. Supporting the child also means making sure that parents aren’t missing the signs of a child who is ready.
- Be patient and express this to the parents. Parents feel incredible pressure to have their toddlers and preschoolers potty trained and that stress trickles down to the child. Help relieve that stress by being patient and positive. Your students will have their own timeline. Rushing a child who is not ready is not helpful.
- Have picture books about potty training in your classroom for children to read with you or look through alone.
- Expect accidents and don’t make a big fuss about them. Be positive. When you hand the parent the wet clothes in a bag, make sure you are stressing that it’s no big deal, the child is watching and listening to this exchange.
- Have extra clothes on hand. If a child has just transitioned to underwear make sure you have multiple changes of clothes.
- Ask children often if they would like to use the potty but never pressure them. Most toddlers will go to the bathroom about every 2 hours; preschoolers can usually stretch that out a little more.
- Never force a child onto a toilet. Ever. Even if you know, the child in the corner is pooping do not force them into the bathroom. Instead encourage them to walk to the bathroom, help them clean up and wash hands. While cleaning up, I would say something like ” Next time when you need to poop you can come in here. Even if you aren’t ready to sit on the potty you can stand in here to go poop. Then when you are ready you can try the toilet.” No judgment just encouragement and support to get to the next stage.
- Allow children to go to the bathroom with a potty trained friend (and a teacher of course) to see how this potty thing works.
- Give them time to sit on the toilet even after they have peed, don’t hurry the child.
- Allow parents to take the child to the bathroom at drop off and pick up. This helps children get more comfortable with your classroom bathroom.
- Praise all efforts, not just success. Be sure to share this with parents at pick up as well. ” Hailey sat on the potty today, nothing happened but she is getting more comfy with our class toilet. I was very proud of her for trying.” It’s that easy.
When it comes to being supportive of a child’s development the most important thing is to look at each child as an individual. When we do that as teachers, we truly provide a developmentally appropriate experience for our students.
whitley olga says
My daughter is 3 years 1 month old and I haven’t had any luck with potty training her so far. She shows all the signs of being able but is basically unwilling to go on the potty or toilet. I can get her to sit on the potty chair about once every 2 days but with no results.
I have tried sweets and/or stickers bribery, persuasion and explanation, all the things I’ve found listed, really! I have also tried the more short-sharp approach of putting her in knickers and trying to get her to use a potty regularly, however she refuses and holds everything in as long as she can. On one occasion this year she got a kidney infection, I believe, as a result of my most recent attempt.
Now, I am prepared to accept that she is a little ‘late’ in this department and that forcing the issue may be counterproductive. Having said that, it would be nice if she was trained before my new baby arrives (in 4 months)!
Allison McDonald says
I would lay off, she will likely regress when the baby comes anyway so the less pressure will probably yield the best results! I know it’s hard and I wouldn’t want two in diapers either, but right now there is a lot of change in her life and she may just not be ready.
Hello Allison. I feel this is great advice. I come across your post whilst researching this matter for my teaching degree. Some children do regress, it’s not failure on the child or the parent, it just happens.
Allison McDonald says
Thank you! Yes, development is not always linear and so many things can derail continued progress. Our job is to support and encourage. Good Luck with your degree!
I found your advice helpful as well. I am also getting my degree in ECE and a parent asked my the exact question you answered and I was not sure how to help. Thank you for your advice and this article!
I am also wondering if you could give me advice on temperament and behavior about toddlers.
I have a toddler in my class who’s temperament is very out of the blue and sometimes hits, pulls friends hair or toys away or pushes. The child is not usually provoked by others. The behavior is very out of the blue. I explain to the child that hitting or pulling hurts others and how be kind and gentle to friends. I asked the parents if things at home were going well and they said nothing changed at home. I am not sure what advice to give them..?
Allison McDonald says
It doesn’t surprise me that the parents don’t see this at home, it’s probably a group behavior. I would document and shadow the chid. Give the child the words to express frustration, anger etc… try to find the pattern and break it.
I agree with your post! Toilet training is a delicate process for children requiring patience, trust, and understanding. In our culture, we have come to see a lot of pressure around toilet training and the process has become very rushed. The Mayo Clinic emphasises the idea that potty training should only happen once the child is ready. Sometimes this does happen around 2 or 2 and a half years of age, but other times, it can happen later than that. Toileting has been a source of anxiety for many, many years. According to The Atlantic, toileting training has been used by governments as a means of breeding ideas and like thinking. When the Soviets controlled East Germany, Soviet preschools forced children to all use the toilet at the same time on â€œpotty benches.â€ At specific times of the day, the children would all sit down at the same time relieve themselves and remain sitting together until everyone was finished. This was a tactic used by the Soviets until 1989 to force submission to authority and group thinking. There have been many who argue that this tactic caused irreversible psychological harm to the children and took away their ability to think for themselves as individuals. In some parts of China, an ancient practice of toilet training is still used called â€œelimination trainingâ€ or â€œelimination communication.â€ According to the Christian Science Monitor, the practice encourages babies and toddlers to use the toilet on demand while a caregiver is making whistling or shushing noises. Eventually, the baby learns the cue to “go” on cue and becomes diaper-free. These children often wear split-bottom pants called kaidangku without a diaper to make on the spot defecation more feasible. Johanna Garton, an American who had spent some time living in China, adopted two children with her husband from China. One of their children, daughter Eden, was raised in foster care by a family who practiced the elimination training approach. To keep consistency in a big time of change, Johanna and her husband decided to carry on with the elimination training. It was very challenging for them at first, but now they highly recommend it. â€œNobody has come close to considering it,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s so far outside that Western way of thinking. Weâ€™ve been brainwashed by the diaper companiesâ€ with their marketing efforts, she adds.
I believe that a lot of American toileting practices fall in between the two of these examples. An article from Parenting Today called Potty training: 7 experts tips from daycare teachers hilights a lot of differences between parentsâ€™ and teachersâ€™ approaches to teaching children toilet training. The biggest trend within their advice is to get on board with each other and communicate what is working and what isn’t working. A lot of children experience differences at school than at home such as social pressure, peer examples, different toilets or accommodations, and different reward systems. While schools typically have a lot less wiggle room that a lot of families, it is vital that they understand how parents are approaching toileting and how they would prefer for the process to be approached.
Jack Irby says
You’re right there is no right way, every child is different. Good tips.