There's so much to worry about in the weeks leading up to your child's first day of school: What if they're homesick? What if they're not homesick? Will they make friends? Did you send them with enough snacks? And if your kid has issues with potty training when they go to school, you'll have even more anxiety. But toilet problems don't have to hold them back, if you have a game plan.
First things first, know you're not alone. Many small kids go to school without being fully potty-trained. In fact, a teacher's union in Buffalo is calling for their district to make a potty-training policy because so many children aren't done with diapers when they get to school, as KSHB reported. It's a common problem, especially if your child is just starting preschool, so you don't need to feel embarrassed about it. They'll probably be one of many kids still getting the hang of it.
Despite the solidarity, you still have to figure out what you're going to do about your little one's toilet issues. Romper spoke with Allison Jandu, author and owner of Potty Training Consultant LLC, for advice on how to prepare your kiddo for their first school experience. "My biggest concerns always boil down to the child's self-confidence and sense of independence," Jandu explains to Romper via email. "If your child is still in diapers when the rest of their class isn't for example, it could be very embarrassing for them." So read on for her tips on how to help your child transition, and take comfort in having an action plan. Your toddler's got this.
1. Don't try to fake it
You might have the urge to just send your kiddo off to school like they're potty-trained even if you've been having issues, but Jandu says this is a mistake. "Definitely don't put your kids in underwear and just hope for the best," she says. "Teachers don't always have the proper resources to handle non-potty-trained children, causing your child to not get the attention they really need." Instead, address the toilet trouble head on; you'd regret not having a plan in place if your child had an accident and the teachers weren't prepared.
2. Know what you're getting into
"Parents should find out what the school's potty training requirements, rules, and practices are in advance so they are as prepared as possible going in," advises Jandu. Different daycares and schools have different potty policies, so looking up their rules can help you get what you need to prep your kid. Indeed, Jandu went onto say that "it will also be helpful for easing your child into the change in routine if you are able to incorporate those practices at home before school even starts." Their classroom might have a set bathroom time, a song they sing for the bathroom, or a myriad of other things built into their schedule, so incorporating them at home too will give your child a head start.
3. Talk to their teachers
You can learn a lot about the school's potty-training policies from their handbook, but your child's teacher will be able to give you information about how the bathroom actually works in their classroom, which you're going to want. Jandu suggests talking to them about "how often they take potty breaks, if teachers are able to assist the child in any way, and how they handle accidents" to give you a better idea of what it will be like for your tot at school, allowing you to prepare. Plus, "if your child exhibits a specific cue or indicator that they need to use the potty, it is helpful to make the teacher aware so they can redirect them to the potty at the appropriate times." You know your kid has a gotta go dance, but they don't.
4. Get to know the space
Your child's school probably has a meet and greet day before the term actually starts, and as you're greeting the teacher and seeing what the classroom is like, it can be helpful to take a few minutes to "explore the class bathroom with your child so they are familiar with it before their first day, and to make sure your child is comfortable asking their teacher for help if they need it." So after you have a chat with your child's teacher about the bathroom, make sure they and your kiddo have a chance to talk, too.
5. Use the last few weeks of summer wisely
It might not be right for everyone, but you could use the last week or two of summer to do some intensive potty training so you won't have to stress when your child heads to school. "If you are feeling extra ambitious, ditch the diapers cold turkey and dive in! Take a full weekend to focus on your child and their potty behaviors," says Jandu. "Let them know that there are no more diapers and from now on they are to try and put their pee/poop in the potty." She recommends having them go commando for the weekend for "added awareness" — and to keep the toilet close by. She says "most kids age 3+ can pick up on at least the basics within the first 2 days," so it's worth trying if you're down.
6. Use incentives they're excited about
And if you do decide to do a potty-training weekend, Jandu says you shouldn't "be afraid to offer rewards for success" throughout the process. Incentives can help your child with potty training, as long as you use them correctly. Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. recommended letting your child pick the incentive they want in an article for Contemporary Pediatrics, as they'll be more interested if it's something they really want. Ask your little one what would help them remember to go to the bathroom when they're at school, and you might see some improvement.
7. See school as an opportunity
Although it's normal to have anxiety about sending your child to school when they're having issues with potty training, it might actually be helpful for them. "Not only are teachers seasoned potty trainers in many cases, but being in an environment where children can copy their peers is always good for learning," Jandu explains. "Often, there are set 'potty times' which helps your child associate using the potty with part of their daily routine, making it easier for you to incorporate potty use at home too." Working with your child's teacher and ensuring they have a consistent routine at home and at school will help, too.
Having as much information as possible can help you prep your child for using the bathroom at school, and it'll give you piece of mind. Remember that potty training is a process, and everyone goes at their own pace. And "if you feel like you need support through the process, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional like myself to help you get the job done!" says Jandu. There's nothing wrong with some extra help.