Should Preschools Require Potty Training?

Next month my daughter will start a preschool that requires her to be fully potty trained by 3.

She’s almost there; she wears her pull ups only at night and only occasionally has accidents or needs to be reminded to go. Even though I suspect she was really on her way to being potty trained anyway, the preschool requirement has given us both extra motivation this summer.

But according to some, rigid mandates of potty training by age 3 could actually be harmful.

In a story by ABCNews.com, two experts in the field discuss why parents— and preschools— shouldn’t force the issue. “At their age, they have control over sleep, eating, and going to the bathroom. So this is one of the few areas of their life they have control over,” Dr. Stefani Hines is quoted as saying (Hines is a specialist in pediatric development and behavior).

Dr. Steve Hodges takes it a step further: ”Children under age 3 should not manage their own toileting habits any more than they should manage their college funds.”

“This is one of the few areas of their life they have control over.”

As parents of toddlers, we spend a lot of time and energy on the issue of potty training. We consult veteran parents for expert tips. We make sticker charts and buy rewards. We think of potty training as an important developmental step for our kids, and the sooner the better. That’s why the idea that setting timelines for potty training is harmful may be surprising.

So how is it potentially damaging? According to Hodges, it’s because of the strengthening of children’s bladders that occurs when it’s allowed to empty and fill in an uninhibited fashion. In other words, when we try to control our kids’ pottying schedules, we’re interfering with a natural process that’s better left alone. Hodges is reported as saying that this can lead to accidents and worse— constipation, and kidney and urinary tract infections.

Instead, according to these experts, parents should allow toddlers to decide when it’s time, regardless of age.

What’s my take? I’m no expert (unless you consider having potty trained 3 children as expert credentials) but I suspect that for most kids, potty training naturally happens around age 3 anyway. As long as you’re looking for the classic signs of readiness  and not being punitive or controlling in your approach, I doubt that it’s likely that having a “deadline” would be harmful.

It certainly hasn’t been for my toddler. In fact, working with her more closely on this process has been a bonding experience. Like all toddlers, she’s happy to please her parents with her accomplishments, and like all parents, we’re proud of her success.

What’s your opinion? Share it in the comments!

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More by Mary Lauren:

Potty Training Tips from the Experts: Moms!

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about My Toddler’s Potty Issues

How to Think Like a Toddler

Photo Credit: Todd Morris/Flickr

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