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Child looking up from the potty

Potty Training Wars: School Readiness vs. Everywhere Else Readiness

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I just ready your article on Alpha Mom about issues for a toddler who will not use the potty at daycare.

My daughter just turned 2 at the end of December. We have had her potty-trained at home since she was 19 months, and started Montessori toddler school shortly thereafter. Since she was new to the daycare/school setting, we sent her in pull-ups since it was a new situation and didn’t want to ‘pressure her’ with going potty at school. They still took her to the potty and she would sit well on it however did not use it successfully.

I had been successful getting her to pee on the potty at school at drop off or pick up when she needed to go.

After she turned 2, and started back at school following the winter break, I sent her in undies. She would comply and go sit on the potty, however would not go. She would usually try and hold it until they put a pull up on her at nap time, or would have an accident.

I have asked that the teachers take her to the bathroom alone, since she was going with a friend before and maybe that friend was distracting.

At home she does need help with pulling her pants down, etc. but will wipe herself and starts to pull her pants up/down when appropriate. She knows how to flush and will start washing her hands independently.

My only thought is that she is not sure she ‘can’ go potty in front of the teachers– that’s the only thing I can think of that she is ‘afraid’ of. The teacher keeps mentioning ‘readiness’ and I’m not quite sure what that means to her… since she has shown to us that she is able to use the potty at home, in public, at the airport, in airplanes etc.

It is clear that she knows the difference between underwear and a pull-up. And also knows that in a pull-up she doesn’t have to say when she has an accident. Also, she is very very talkative at home however at school is more reserved and quiet– so I think that is a piece that she isn’t telling them when she needs to go but also she doesn’t really like the bathroom at school. Obviously I can only modify so much at school with using the potty.

I guess I am at a loss of what to do, since I feel like I am too far into the potty training to go back, and feel like using pull-ups at school isn’t helping my situation with getting to be comfortable with going at school.

Any advice you have for me would be much appreciated.

Thank you and sorry for my long winded email,

So first, your toddler is still really young

Like, remarkably young. She just turned two a couple weeks ago! So it’s pretty amazing she’s as far along with potty training as she is!

It’s typical for toddlers to potty train in stages

And really, it’s super normal for toddlers to train in a series of stages vs. All-At-Once, All-The-Time, In-All-The-Situations. For example, lots of kids can consistently use the potty at home but resist using public restrooms for weeks, or even months. The terror of automatic flush toilets and loud hand dryers! And then there’s the pee vs. poop issue! And nighttime readiness! And yes, using the potty at school (and/or away from their primary caregiver) can also trip some kids up.

Assessing your toddler’s potty-readiness…

Your daughter has shown readiness in an impressive array of other situations, but just isn’t ready to use the potty at school yet. My hunch is that she’s comfortable going in front of YOU, but not around her teachers and peers.

And if she’s already kind of shy/quiet/reserved in the classroom in general, it makes sense! And it’s really fine! She has PLENTY of time to move past a little shyness before it even approaches being anything I’d classify as a “problem.” (Like, say, she can’t move into the 3-year-old/primary classroom…next year. Or she needs to be fully trained for kindergarten…in three years.)

My specific recommendation in this situation…

I would really, really recommend you back off and give her that time, since holding in her urine for hours on end can cause health issues that I would classify as a problem.

Second, while we’re on that topic, I don’t want to make an assumption about how long of a potty-less stretch we’re talking about. You describe her program as both “daycare” and a “Montessori toddler school.” I usually assume daycare is an all-day, 9 – 5 thing, but my son attended a Montessori toddler program and it was like, two and a half hours a day, three days a week. I don’t know which set-up is applicable here, but I think my general advice would be the same for both. Which is: Put her back in pull-ups. For now.

If she’s there all day, every day, holding in her urine for hours and/or having daily accidents (that still don’t seem to spark any desire to use the potty, or are causing her social embarrassment), that could eventually backfire on you and cause a stress- or UTI-related regression. Plus, she’s been wearing pull-ups at school for several months now and it hasn’t caused any “backtracking” in her non-school potty use, correct? And you switched to underwear at school mostly because she turned two vs. any real sign of next-stage readiness around the school potty? (She would sit but not actually go.)

Your toddler’s situation is really common

I know you’re probably SO READY to ditch all the diapers and pull-ups and it’s confusing that this is A Thing, but it’s honestly really common. Lots of toddlers are physically ready to train before they’re emotionally ready. (And the social and parental separation aspects of her first school environment are VERY tied to your daughter’s emotional readiness here.)

More recommendations for potty training your toddler

1. Continue to take her to the school potty at your drop-off and pick-up times, but let her decide when she’s comfortable using it without you. It sounds like the teachers would be totally okay and on-board with a low-pressure approach, and that is a good thing.

2. Trust the teachers’  “readiness” assessment, even if it contradicts what you see at home. School is just…different, for a lot of young children.

3. Let her follow the classroom routine of sitting on the potty for potty breaks even if she doesn’t actually go. (I’d possibly argue to let her continue going with a friend who actually does pee in the potty, so they can lead by example and help her feel like this is a normal, non-embarrassing thing to do at school.)

4. Have her classmates over for playdates on non-school days and incorporate at-home potty breaks for them together.

Remember, she’s only two-years-old

But really, she’s two. And a very brand-new two at that! School — even the most fun, pleasant and positive school — is a Very Big Deal at this age. She’s wildly ahead of the potty training game, honestly, which is fantastic! Let her clear this last hurdle at her own pace, in her own time.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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