Why Your Toddler Only Goes Potty at the Day Care

Toddler flushing the toilet

PeopleImages / Getty Images

It can be disconcerting when your child uses the potty at daycare but refuses to do so at home, but it's actually a common phenomenon. There are several factors that can make potty training a breeze at daycare yet a hurricane at home. Once you know about these factors, you can use them to improve potty training at home.

Tight Schedules Make Potty Training Easier

By the time your toddler arrives at their classroom or a nanny or child care provider walks into your home, a potty training schedule is probably already in place. In most toddler child care settings, there's an activity change every 15 to 30 minutes with little variation. While the bathroom door is usually left open, scheduled potty breaks and diaper changes that take place throughout the day.

Home Remedy: Ask your child care provider how they schedule potty breaks and start enforcing a similar schedule at home. Remember to include important times like after meals and before bedtime.

Potty Training: Expectations vs. Requests

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

For example, if you say to a toddler, "We're going to take a potty break, OK?" The "OK?" at the end of the sentence, as well as the intonation of your voice, indicates that you are asking them if they will do something. Even at the tender age of 2 or 3, toddlers can usually tell when they have options—one of which would be to not do what you are asking them to do.

You're a lot less likely to get resistance if you give direct instructions, such as "It's time to take a potty break. You can go first. Come right to the bathroom, please." If a child is given these specific directions, they will know that you are expecting them to come to the bathroom. They won't need to put much thought into it because they are not being asked to make a decision.

Home Remedy: Don't ask your toddler if they need to go to the bathroom, just tell them it's time to try to go. If you voice your request with the confidence, they will know that you are expecting something of them.

Peer Pressure Is a Strong Motivator

Toddlers often have the example of a child who is already completely potty trained at daycare, which can provide a little positive peer pressure. If a child is completely potty trained, they would likely be the first child chosen to go to the bathroom every day. Children who are regular pee-ers, and occasionally those who have just started their potty training journey, would go after.

A brand new potty trainee might also hang out in the bathroom just to become more familiar with what their friends are doing. It might sound like an invasion of privacy, but going to the bathroom can be a social activity (even for adults). It helps toddlers feel less afraid and more confident about the new activity they are trying out.

Home Remedy: Take your toddler to the bathroom with you and have each member of your household do the same (as long as they are comfortable doing so). The more your child sees everyone in their family taking part in the normal activity of toileting, the more they will want to take part as well. The most important thing to remember is that every child is different. Make sure everyone in your family knows and keeps a lookout for potty training readiness signs.

Routines Reinforce Potty Training Skills

Your toddler has the schedule, the expectation, and the peer pressure in place. All these factors are moving them toward being a skilled potty-goer. A final factor is a routine of going potty. Toddler teachers usually have this 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." Caregivers will give these directions to your child over and over again. The routine is the same each time and comes to be something that your toddler relies on to guide them. It's a bit like practicing multiplication facts. The more you do it, the better you get.

There are typically fewer routines at home than at daycare, which means every potty experience your toddler has might be a little different. Sometimes you will have to handle potty training while you are out shopping at the grocery store, or visiting grandma's house, or at a restaurant.

Other differences might be that while one parent gives verbal instructions at toilet time, the other might not. At times, your toddler will have to contend with layers of clothes or hard-to-manage pajamas, while at other times (such as right before a bath) they might be naked and have less work to do. Likewise, when a child is using pull-up underwear, it's different than dealing with disposable training pants.

Home Remedy: Variables can throw a toddler off track to potty training. Try to keep your toddler's routine as consistent as possible, especially during the early stages of potty training when everything is new. Go through the same motions at home as you would away from home. Ask your child's provider for pointers or hang out at school during bathroom break time to see what the routine is. Then you can implement the same routine at home.

Your Toddler Trusts You

Your toddler trusts that no matter what they do, you're still going to love them. Even under the best circumstances, your child probably doesn't place the same level of trust in their child care provider. That doesn't mean that other caregivers place your child under threat if they don't go potty, but after staying on their toes all day for them, your child might want to just relax and let loose when they get home.

Home Remedy: Keep on loving your toddler even when they refuse to go potty for you—or goes right on the floor. Give them a big hug and say, "I bet you'll make it next time," then hand them some paper towels to help you clean up.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Van aggelpoel T, De wachter S, Van hal G, Van der cruyssen K, Neels H, Vermandel A. Parents' views on toilet training: A cross-sectional study in Flanders. Nurs Child Young People. 2018;30(3):30-35. doi:10.7748/ncyp.2018.e944

  2. Kimball V. The perils and pitfalls of potty training. Pediatr Ann. 2016;45(6):e199-201. doi:10.3928/00904481-20160512-01

  3. Mota DM, Barros AJ. Toilet training: Methods, parental expectations and associated dysfunctions. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2008;84(1):9-17. doi:10.2223/JPED.1752

  4. Baird DC, Bybel M, Kowalski AW. Toilet training: Common questions and answers. Am Fam Physician. 2019 Oct 15;100(8):468-474.

  5. Kaerts N, Van hal G, Vermandel A, Wyndaele JJ. Readiness signs used to define the proper moment to start toilet training: A review of the literature. Neurourol Urodyn. 2012;31(4):437-440. doi:10.1002/nau.21211

  6. Toilet learning: Anticipatory guidance with a child-oriented approach. Paediatr Child Health. 2000;5(6):333-44. doi:10.1093/pch/5.6.333

  7. Joinson C, Grzeda MT, von Gontard A, Heron J. A prospective cohort study of biopsychosocial factors associated with childhood urinary incontinenceEur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2019;28(1):123–130. doi:10.1007/s00787-018-1193-1