Toilet Training Your Child Before Preschool

by Penny Warner and Paula Kelly, MD

In the 1930s, the federal government advised mothers to begin toilet training their children at three months of age. While this high expectation is no longer held, parents still must meet one important toilet-training deadline: preschool.

 “Many preschools enforce a strict policy that students must be toilet trained by the start of school,” says Penny Warner, coauthor of Toilet Training Without Tears or Trauma (Meadowbrook Press). And while this quickly approaching deadline may motivate parents, Warner advises that a child’s readiness is the most important factor.

 “If your child isn’t ready to move out of diapers, you’re asking for trouble. Preschool can wait,” says Warner. “On the other hand, if you think your child is ready and you’d like to start him in preschool, a little encouragement may be all he needs.”

According to Warner, signs of readiness include regular elimination patterns, ability to follow simple directions, awareness of a soiled diaper and curiosity about the toilet.

 “When your child seems ready for toilet training, get ready for a big adventure,” says Warner. “With preparation, planning and practice, you’ll be ready to guide your child.”

Warner’s coauthor, Dr. Paula Kelly, provides the following suggestions to parents whose children begin preschool this fall:

  • Have a private conversation with school administrators about how strict the toilet-training policy is. Many administrators are flexible and open-minded about this transitional period.
  • Send a change of clothes or two in case your child has an accident at school.
  • Be sure that your child’s teacher provides ample potty breaks, frequent reminders and easy access to bathrooms.
  • If a preschool’s policy seems too rigid, look into attending other schools. If a preschool’s policy seems too strict, that philosophy may carry over into other facets of education.

 “Accidents happen,” says Kelly. “It’s human nature. Just be prepared and be supportive.”

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