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Should a kid have to be potty trained to start preschool?

August 21, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Here's a potentially sensitive question: why does it take so long for parents to potty train their kids these days?

The New York Times Motherlode blog had an entry this week from a mother who was fretting that a preschool wouldn't accept her son if hadn't been potty-trained. The boy is three years and 10 months old. That sounded mighty late to me, though I don't have kids myself, so maybe I don't have a right to an opinion.

My mother says she had my brother potty-trained by two and a half and I was trained a few months earlier than that. Apparently I would have been completely trained even earlier if I hadn't had to have a surgery as a toddler that put me in the hospital for 10 days. When I was babysitting as a teenager, most of the kids seemed to be trained around that age too, though the 3-year-olds might still be in Pull-Ups at night for a few months. I did a story years ago on a toddler who had been adopted from China, where all the babies are apparently trained before they are one year old.

But based on the comments from Facebook friends who have small children, I gather that the normal potty training age is now somewhere around three, rather than two, and apparently nearly four in the case of the New York Times blogger. Are parents doing this based on some parenting guru, on a doctor's advice or is it a conspiracy by diaper companies to make parents keep shelling out thousands of dollars a year for kids who require bigger and bigger diapers?

Apparently it is a problem that extends into primary school age, based on a Daily Mail story from 2012, featuring complaints from teachers of five-year-olds about frequent accidents in that age group. The teachers in England also claimed that their young students were a lot less independent than kids in years past and still needed help getting into their coats. I've also noticed that most new elementary schools built here seem to have a bathroom in the classroom for at least kids in grades K-2.

Judging from the comments from touchy parents at the New York Times blog, Massachusetts forbids preschools from refusing to admit a kid who hasn't been potty trained. I have to admit I sympathize a great deal with preschool teachers in Massachusetts.

What do you think is going on here?


Article Comments



Aug-27-13 11:33 AM

Matt, I've had the very same experience more than once (more than two children) and you're right, he'll have to get the hang of it again as the family adjusts to the new baby.

BTW, congrats on another little one!


Aug-27-13 11:31 AM

billdoesnt, your post gave me a chuckle and gets the diaper pin award!


Aug-26-13 12:37 PM

My son turned 2 this past summer. He was doing great with the potty training well before turning 2, but then his little sister was born. Really threw things off for awhile.

He's getting the hang of it again, finally.


Aug-22-13 10:06 AM

I don't have any personal stake in the game, but I thought the school issue was interesting. I can see there being exceptions to that school policy made for kids with developmental or physical disabilities and little kids will have the occasional accident anyway, but I guess I don't think preschool or kindergarten teachers ought to have to change diapers on a regular basis. That isn't really in the job description.


Aug-22-13 9:16 AM

EarlyBird, lotsa common sense in your post.


Aug-22-13 9:12 AM

Get rid of disposable diapers and go back to washing cloth diapers will get them kids potty trained way sooner. I'm sure Mothers of the past got pretty tired of washing dirty cloth diapers almost every day.


Aug-22-13 9:02 AM

This Motherlode blog must be quite interesting, Andrea. I might check it out when I have some free time.

I think you are very wise to make this statement: "that sounded mighty late to me, though I don't have kids myself, so maybe I don't have a right to an opinion."

It's amazing how many people who don't have children think that their opinion is so much better than the opinion of those who do have children. I have a single family member who has been notoriously over-opinionated in the raising of our children: we (the parents) are never doing anything right.

Does that make us right in everything we do concerning raising our children? No, but to keep hearing "if it was my kid" while the speaker has no children of his or her own is somewhat grating.

The old phrase about "walking a mile in somebody's moccasins" comes to mind at those times.


Aug-22-13 8:50 AM

That opinion said, all children are different and all parenting is different.

But for sure, a child should be potty-trained before entering a structured environment like a preschool.


Aug-22-13 8:48 AM

The answer to the question is yes.

When potty training is accomplished depends primarily upon the child. You often hear parents saying "when Susie finally wanted to, she did it" or "Junior finally trained himself."

There's truth to this. The child has to finally be responsible for the action himself. Mommy or Daddy won't always be there to "help" or encourage. He or she must own it.

This is just my opinion: if the child is capable of walking, talking, eating, expressing desires (no nap! TV now? cookie please), he or she is capable of being potty-trained. The adult in charge has to relay the importance of the skill to the child, how "grown-up" it will make the child, and that all big people do this.

Sometimes parents seem reluctant to help Junior or Susie progress to the next necessary stage of life. Frankly, it's easier to let things remain as they are and not lead the child to where he or she needs to be next.

That opinion said,


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