Potty at Daycare

If you work taking care of other people’s toddlers, then you are an integral part of the potty-learning process. Having several toddlers together gives you some advantages over parents, but it also presents some unique challenges.

The main advantage you have is that young children learn through imitation. At Rainbow Bridge I’ll usually take two or three children who are potty-learning to the bathroom at once, and it’s quite a social experience. We have a kiddie-potty on the floor, facing the full-sized toilet that has a wide foot-stool in front of it and an extra kid-sized seat that’s attached to the toilet and opens and closes (see an example here). If I had room in the bathroom I’d put another kiddie-potty, but the bathroom is too small. Still, two children can go to the potty at once, while a third kid stands next to me or sits on my lap (I sit on the stool in front of the sink).

At first, I’ll help the children through every process: pulling down their pants, taking off their diaper, sitting on the potty, getting toilet paper, getting a new diaper, pulling up pants, washing and drying hands. As they get more and more experienced, I’ll let them do as much as they can on their own, until I get to the point where I say, “I bet you can do this all on your own now! This time, I won’t even go into the bathroom with you. I’ll just watch from here.” And I’ll stand in the hallway outside the bathroom door, saying “Are you really going to do this all by yourself today? I can hardly believe it! But look at that! You pulled your pants down by yourself. Maybe you WILL be able to do it all on your own.” If they need some help, I encourage them to ask for it (“you can say, ‘help please!’), but usually they can get it on their own, and I’m super proud of them. After a few times of doing that, when it’s time for them to go potty I’ll send them to the bathroom on their own, then I’ll wait a few minutes before I go and see how they’re doing.

In a group care setting, I’ll also sometimes ask a bigger kid who’s completely diaper-free to take a younger child who’s just learning and show them how they go potty. I go with them and supervise the whole thing, but I try to stay in the background a bit and only step in as needed. This can be a very sweet process: the bigger kid feels so competent, and the littler kid feels so special.

However, there are also some significant disadvantages to potty-learning in groups. The most significant is that if you are working on your own, you have many children to supervise and can’t spend all of your time in the bathroom, especially if it is far away from your livingroom/play space. If that’s the case, you might consider making a “potty corner” with play-stands or two dressers in a corner of your play-room, or you can just tell parents that their child will have to wait until they’re diaper-free to go potty at your house. You have to do what works for you in your house.

Another serious disadvantage is that children tend to have more accidents at daycare because they’re having so much fun playing with their friends that they don’t want to leave, or they don’t realize they need to go until it’s too late because things are so exciting. I’ve had parents who claim that their children are completely diaper-free at home, but they have accidents all the time at my house. In those cases I work with the parents as I can, but if it gets to be too much the child can arrive at my house diaper-free, but once they have an accident or if they can’t pee in the potty when I take them, they’ll need to wear a diaper for the rest of the day at my house. When their parent comes to pick them up, they can take the diaper off before they leave. As long as the child puts the diaper on and takes it off again while still at my house, they rarely back-slide at home.

And thirdly, children are often having so much fun playing that they refuse to go potty when it’s time. For those children, I’ll either try to take them when there’s a transition going on anyhow, like right after a meal or right when we come inside (so they’re not immersed in play yet), or I’ll say, “Jack, it’s time to go potty soon. Do you want to go now, or will you go after Anna?” He usually chooses to go after Anna, so I’ll tell Anna, “Anna, run to the potty and when you get back, tell Jack that’s it’s his turn.” I’ll remind Jack once while she’s gone that as soon as Anna’s back it will be his turn, and when she tells him, then off we go together, no discussion. This method is usually quite successful. I really like this method of having one child tell the other when they’re done for fully diaper-free kids as well, as it helps the kids learn to listen to each other.

The main thing if you are a childcare provider is to do what feels good to you. I love potty-learning because it’s a great time for me to get some one-on-one or one-on-two time with the kids, and it’s great to watch them as they gain the skills and become more and more competent. But I also always have at least one or even two other adults with me! So if taking children to the potty seems like just one more thing than you can handle, I think it’s perfectly alright to have other ways to bond with the children.

Miss Faith


  1. Thanks for the potty posts! The linked articles were fascinating too – I couldn't believe that the shift to later potty training coincided with the disposable diaper industry.

  2. Thanks for the post. These seem like good ways to help kids to become toilet trained while in daycare. I’ve been having trouble toilet training my child recently. I though that you made a very good point by saying that children learn by imitation. Perhaps it would be a good idea to use this principle when teaching my son to use the toilet, and hopefully he’ll start using the adult toilet by the time I have to drop him off at daycare.

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