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child sitting on a potty looking up

The Potty-Training Daycare Deadline

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

You had some great grandparent advice for me once upon a time and now I’ve come to you with another question. But first, my apologies for the length – potty training is such a delicate business and I feel compelled to give you all the details.

My son will be 3 at the end of October. At the end of this past April, he moved into the “preppers” classroom at daycare which “focuses” on getting the kiddos potty trained so that they can move upstairs at 3. I say focuses with quotation marks because the teacher was adamant that we start the process first at home and then she would work on it at school. (Which I was kind of bummed about because the only other person I know with kids in daycare – his kids were potty trained by daycare – like wut?! I want to outsource this task too, lol. Anyway, I digress.)

So we took the opportunity to dive into potty training. In hindsight, one of our mistakes might have been that we did not give our son any real heads-up on the change. From his point of view, one morning he just woke up and I told him he was going to run around naked today (which he doesn’t like) and that we would practice sitting on the potty. I had read the Oh Crap! book, which I pretty much followed, except for talking about the process beforehand. [And for clarity, we didn’t totally say goodbye to diapers because naps and nighttime and I did attempt to use stickers as an incentive.]

That very first weekend was actually really, really successful. True, I’d attribute about 80% of his success to the fact that he mostly just wanted to sit on the potty all day, but still. 75% of pee went into the potty and he even pooped on the potty before the weekend was out. Huzzah! I figured we’d passed the hardest part.

At school, the teacher wanted him in underwear, so that was what he showed up in that Monday. And we encountered our first major obstacle – he seemed very unsure about the potty at school. It’s small, but it’s louder and there’s a parade of other kids and teachers, so maybe some shyness popped up. He did not have any success at school the first week, though he had plenty of accidents.

The second weekend at home, we did a combination of naked and underwear time and encountered our second major obstacle – one hell of a stubborn kid. He’d tell me he needed to go. He’d squirm and wiggle and dance and literally throw tantrums over the uncomfortableness yet he would. not. sit. I backed off on the reminders completely because he clearly knew he needed to go and me prompting just resulted in a firm, loud NO. (And I should mention here that we tried a timer. He just said reset the timer when it went off and said it’s not time yet! the continued his potty dance) He had minimal success the second weekend at home, though there were MANY potty-related meltdowns.

The second week brought our third major obstacle. We put him in pull-ups at school, hoping the safety net would relax him. But, he got really, really good at holding it. Too good. So good, in fact, that at home he couldn’t actually go when he did decide to sit on the potty. (He still didn’t like the potty at school). He could sit on the potty at home for up to an hour with nothing happening. We tried all the tricks like reading books, running water, a calm-down jar. All of it. Nada. So at this point he wasn’t having many accidents, but he also just wasn’t peeing or pooping. (And I should mention this went for overnight diapers as well, which had been my fall-back. He’d literally go up 14-16 hours without urinating.)

Our breaking point came Wednesday of the second week. I picked him up from school and he had to go. He knew he had to; he told me he had to. Then he immediately said “I don’t want to” and that was that. When we got home, I took him immediately to the potty but he fought me hard until I released him and he peed all over the floor. He had two more pee accidents within 45 minutes (which just goes to show you how much he’d been holding) and the next day, he was so constipated he couldn’t sit down.

So we waved the white flag. He was clearly stressed and fighting us hard (physically) on even sitting on the potty. Surely this wasn’t the way forward. So we put a pin in it.

Fast forward to now and we’re trying again. We talked about it for a week leading up to it, using books he loved, talking about what a big kid he was going to be! Come our first morning though, he won’t even sit on it. He just tells me he doesn’t want to and I don’t want to push it to the meltdown point this time, so I backed off. (I haven’t gotten a clear answer on him on why, exactly, he doesn’t want to go. So no help there.)

So now my problem – daycare says he has to be potty trained by 3. Do we push him harder? He’s made some readiness progress in the time since May. He pretty much always tells me when he’s actually peeing now (I’m peeing in my diaper mama!). He will ask for privacy when pooping in his diaper. He’s also (unfortunately) still not peeing and pooping in his diaper at school because his teacher made him think that he can’t use his diaper at school (which I am upset about – the teacher has already been let go by the school for other reasons). At this point I feel like the only progress he’s going to make is when he decides he’s good and ready to use the potty, but how do I try to align that timeline with daycare’s? Or should I even? And how do I try to motivate a kiddo who is very stubborn and resistant to the potty? Even peer pressure isn’t working, as he’s the only untrained kid in his class and he couldn’t care less about that.

(One last note whether it matters or not, I’m pregnant. Due in the middle of December.)

Peeing for the two of us

Ugh. This is a really tough one.

I’m sort of hoping that since you submitted this question (about 20 days ago) that y’all had a magical breakthrough moment and your son dropped all the resistance and decided he was ready and trained himself and this is all a moot point.

But if things are still the same and we’re now a mere month away from the daycare deadline, I think the best course of action is to have a VERY frank discussion with his daycare. “He is not ready for potty-training and I am uncomfortable pushing him at this point — he has demonstrated that he is deeply stressed by our attempts to potty train him and will hold in his pee and poop long enough to risk significant injury and health problems. We’d like him to stay in the preppers room past his 3rd birthday until he’s ready to use the potty on his own timeline, and/or to find a different approach to training at school than what’s been provided so far.”

I guarangoddamntee that your son is not the first child to miss the 3rd birthday deadline, and how they respond/react to your request to let him go at his own pace un-pushed and un-rushed will tell you everything you need to know about what you need to do next.

Frankly, their policies are kinda crappy (POTTY PUN) and have probably been a really big source of your son’s difficulties! Why would they insist you start the process at home and yet expect “the process” to happen in a single weekend for every single kid? (I mean, unless they’re expecting you to take time off work to stay home with him, or for you to adopt a wildly inconsistent [and confusing to your son] training plan of potty-at-home, diapers-at-daycare for a few weeks?) Why would they insist on underwear right from the start of the school’s part of “the process?” Why didn’t they introduce your son to using the school potty until he showed up on a Monday morning in underwear after one (shakily) successful weekend of training?

You mentioned your regret at “springing” potty-training on him a little too abruptly at home…but if he’s in a daycare classroom called the “preppers,” I know I’d logically expect that some kind of…actual prepping was going on there? (Like, I don’t know, letting him practice sitting on the school potty? Lots of books and songs and sticker charts?) So by the time they tell you to start training at home it naturally wouldn’t be a completely foreign concept to him?

Anyway, argh. I’m annoyed now. The holding in pee and poop for 14-16 hours (!!!!!) is REALLY dangerous, and it never should have gotten to that point. Meanwhile, your friend’s experience with daycare and potty-training is really how it should be. (God bless all the childcare providers — a babysitter, a nanny, and a preschool teacher respectively — who helped me!) The teachers should have a plan and process (and at least some degree of flexibility/recognition that toddlers are not robots) to help your son potty-train successfully. This daycare appears to have a potty-training deadline and…that’s about it. DISLIKE.

Unfortunately, since your son IS the only outlier for whom their “process” has failed, you might not get much sympathy or flexibility from the higher-ups. (Though definitely bring up the teacher who was let go and how she contributed to your son’s stress and confusion! That’s still on them.) But I refuse to believe that they’ve never encountered a stubborn, potty-resistant three year old before!

So what’s the plan? Can he stay in his current class? (Perhaps peer pressure WILL kick in once all those peers graduate to the upstairs and he’s stuck with a room full of younger toddlers.) Or…what? Make him move up anyway? Let him stay while making you feel like a pain-in-the-ass failure and continuing to provide half-assed potty-training support? Tell you he can’t attend anymore and to keep him home and re-enroll him once he’s trained? That would be some straight-up BULLSHIT, and I’d be looking for a new daycare provider ASAP. (And I would move to a new provider even if he does manage to train himself in the next few weeks. That does not sound like a supportive environment for you OR him.)

Lots of daycares and preschools do have the potty-trained-by-three “rule,” but they also provide a lot more support and flexibility. Lots of daycares and preschools have done away with any sort of deadline (Head Start, KinderCare, etc.) because they understand that kids train at a very wide range of ages and that pushing a child before he or she is ready will typically result in a lot of tears, stress, and accidents. (So many accidents.) There is a risk your son is going to injure himself thanks to the mixed messages he’s gotten from daycare and way too much pressure on him (and you!) to meet their deadline. No. No thank you! Give the poor kid (and you!!) a break. And maybe ask your friend if there’s an open spot at her kids’ daycare.

More on Daycare and Potty Training from Alpha Mom:

1. Picking Your Daycare Battles
2. Potty Training Wars: Motivating the Unmotivated Kid
3. Fear of the Auto-Flush Toilet


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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I have so much sympathy for the OP. I was in the exact same situation with my daughter a few years ago except she’d already passed her third birthday and preschool was looming and she would NOT use the potty. I was in despair. She was holding it for hours and hours, even when sitting on the potty and clearly desperate to pee or poop she wouldn’t do it. I genuinely thought she might be the first kid to go to college still in diapers. Anyway, fear not OP! She’s now 6 and uses the toilet just fine. She mastered… Read more »


Nice one, Amy!
I’d also recommend you ask his pediatrician. Occasionally, refusal to go potty when he really has to go can have a medical basis, like an undiagnosed UTI. Also, pediatricians have great ideas sometimes!

Peeing for the two of us
Peeing for the two of us

LW here! Thanks so much for the advice Amy. Since I submitted my question, he has had a bit of a breakthrough. He will use the potty, but ONLY at daycare. He still flat out refuses to use it or sit on it at home and I’m a little suspicious over what constitutes a “pee” at daycare (he’s still peeing a gallon in his diaper right after school). However, I think our hurdle at this point will be enticing him into some underwear before the “deadline” (which – like Amy said – after talking to them is way less of… Read more »


We had a similar situation, and they were going to kick us out. So, we moved her to a different daycare before they had the chance. They had put so much pressure on her at this first school that we had to take a three month break from potty training. Fortunately, the teachers at her new daycare were great potty training partners, and she was successfully potty trained at 3 years and 4 months. Anyway, I tend to think rules like this are red flags, and that you could probably find a different and better daycare!