Why Does My Toddler Go Potty at Day Care but Not at Home?

Child-Sized Toilets Appeal to Toddlers
Child-Sized Toilets Appeal to Toddlers. House of Sims / Flickr

Question: Why Does My Toddler Go Potty at Day Care but Not at Home?

For the heck of it, my 26-month-old daughter's child care provider and I decided to see how she would react to sitting on the potty, even though she has shown no signs of interest. Surprisingly, the reaction was good using a small potty, although we kept her in diapers because she still cannot distinguish the need to go yet.

Now, she refuses to go for her father or I, but very willingly goes for our sitter five or six times a day!

What could be causing this? We've made sure not to push her as I don't want her to get upset or turn her off, but I still ask her even if she ignores me or screams, "No."

Answer: I can remember parents complaining about this same issue when I was a child care provider. There are several factors that can make potty training a breeze at child care (or for a provider) yet a hurricane at home.

Tight Schedules Make Potty Training Easier

When your toddler gets to her child care classroom or your nanny walks into your home, it's likely there's a stricter schedule in place immediately. In most toddler child care settings there's an activity change every 15-30 minutes without much room for error. This means that while the bathroom door is always open, there are still scheduled potty breaks and diaper changes that take place throughout the day.

I always had an after lunch / before nap bathroom break scheduled when I cared for toddlers and every day, without fail, there would be at least one drowsy toddler who would make it to the potty with eyes barely open only to fall asleep on the toilet.

This is how well they get to know the routine -- they can almost do it in their sleep.

Home Remedy: Talk to your provider about how they schedule potty breaks and start enforcing a similar schedule at home. Remember to hit those important times like after meals and before bedtime.

Potty Training Expectations vs. Potty Training Requests

Another thing that most caregivers learn in Toddler Behavior 101 is that you can get a toddler to comply a lot faster / more often if you phrase things properly.

For example, if I say to a toddler, "We're going to take a potty break, OK?" That last "OK?" bit there and the intonation of my voice indicate a request. Toddlers are pretty smart about this and even at the tender age of 2 or 3 can usually tell when they've got options. If, on the other hand, I say, "We're taking a potty break now. Ian, you're first. Make your way to the toilet," then I'm a lot less likely to get resistance. Ian knows that I expect him to come to the bathroom and he doesn't have to put much thought into it. No decision needs to be made on his part.

Home Remedy: Don't ask your toddler if she needs to go, just tell her it's time to try and voice it with confidence so she knows it's what you expect of her.

Peer Pressure is a Strong Potty Training Motivator

Speaking of Ian, he's another big help on the road to potty training. When I was a provider I loved to harness the power of positive peer pressure. If Ian was already completely potty trained, he would be the first child I chose to go the bathroom each and every day. That would be followed by several other regular pee-ers (pardon my pun) and punctuated now and again by those who had just started their potty training journey.

Often times I would have a brand new potty trainee hang out in the bathroom with me just to get cozy with what her friends were doing.

It may sound like an invasion of privacy, but most toddlers aren't that much different than most adults when it comes to going to the bathroom. (I can't tell you how many times -- as a grown woman -- I've been dragged to the bathroom with friends at a party, movie or game.) Going to the bathroom is sometimes a social activity and for toddlers, it helps make them feel less afraid and more confident about trying out this new activity.

Home Remedy: Take your toddler to the bathroom with you.

Make sure every member of the house does the same - brothers, sisters, fathers, and anyone else who is comfortable. The more she sees everyone else taking part in this very normal activity, the more she will want to take part as well.

Routines Reinforce Potty Training Skills

So, your toddler has the schedule, the expectation and the peer pressure in place. All these things are moving her toward being a skilled potty-goer. One last thing in her favor are all the routines that go along with going potty. Toddler teachers usually have these down pat and encourage toddlers to be as independent as possible. Pull your pants down, step up on the stool, sit on the potty, pull your pants back up, flush the toilet, wash your hands, go sit on your carpet square. Over and over your child's caregiver will give these directions to your child. (Like you said, "five or six times a day!")

These routines are the same each and every time and come to be something that your toddler relies on to guide her. It's a bit like practicing multiplication facts. The more you do it, the better you get.

At home, there are usually fewer routines and every potty experience might be a bit different. You might be at a restaurant or the store or Aunt Michelle's. Daddy might give verbal instructions and Mom doesn't. Sometimes your toddler might be naked (like before a bath) and other times she might be wearing hard-to-manage pajamas. Pulling underwear up (during the day) is different than dealing with disposable training pants. That's a lot of variables for some toddlers and it's enough to throw them off track at home.

Home Remedy: Keep your toddler's routine as consistent as possible, especially in the early stages of potty training when everything is new. Go through the same motions at home as you do away from home. For pointers, again, talk to your child's provider or hang out at school during a bathroom break to see what the routine is and implement the same routine at home.

Your Toddler Trusts You

It's a foolish parent who thinks for even a moment that her child could have a spot in her heart for a child care provider anywhere near the spot reserved for mom and dad. You are the provider of absolute and unconditional love. Your toddler trusts that no matter what she does, good or bad, at the end of the day you're still going to love her. Even under the best circumstances, she's not so sure she can place that same trust in a child care provider. This is not to say that she's afraid of her provider or that your provider is placing her under threat if she doesn't go potty. It's just the plain truth that after staying on her toes all day for her child care provider, when she gets home it's only you she can completely let loose with.

Home Remedy: There really isn't one. Just go with it and keep on loving your toddler even when she refuses to go potty for you or goes right on the floor. Give her a big hug, tell her, "I bet you'll make it next time," and hand her the paper towels.

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