Can your child start kindergarten in diapers? (Potty training advice)

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Starting kindergarten can be a stressful time for parents and kids alike, even under the best of circumstances!

If your child is about to start kindergarten but is still wearing diapers, the stress can be magnified for both of you.

Wondering if a child can go to kindergarten not potty trained is a common question. If you find yourself in this situation, know that you’re not the only parent in this conundrum.

In this article, we discuss all the options for kindergarten-age kids who aren’t yet potty trained. Can they wear a diaper to school? Will they have to stay at home? We also give some expert tips on how to potty train fast in time for school.

Although most 5-year-olds are fully potty trained during the day, it’s normal and common for some children to struggle with potty training heading into kindergarten. 

If there’s a specific medical reason for the delay, you’ll likely be able to work with the school to arrange help with diapers and accidents. Otherwise, your best bet is to develop a crash course plan to get your child fully potty trained before school starts — delaying the start of school should be a last resort.

The occasional accident is totally OK! Most schools require that children bring extra clothes just in case, and staff can help in the event of the occasional accident.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the biggest questions parents have regarding kindergarten, potty training, and diapers.

Is it common for a 5-year-old to be in diapers?

Most five-year-old children are fully potty trained in the daytime.

While the average age for potty training is 27 months, the majority of children have full control over their bladder and bowels and do not need diapers or pull-ups after the age of three or four.

Children with disabilities or developmental delays often take longer to be fully potty trained.

However, there are many healthy children who struggle with potty training and some pre-school-age children do still need to wear diapers.

Common reasons for delayed potty training include:

  • Resistance – A child may know how to use the toilet but choose not to
  • Physical issues – A small bladder capacity or poor muscle control may make potty training challenging
  • Emotional issues – Psychological barriers to potty training may be caused by stress, life changes, or negative experience
  • Parenting – Parents may not always have the skills needed to guide their child in potty training

All that to say — most children entering kindergarten will be potty trained and completely out of diapers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of legitimate reasons an otherwise healthy child might be delayed.

Will elementary school staff change diapers or pull ups?

Every school and district is a little bit different, but in general…

Teachers’ aides will change diapers if needed.

However, this is usually only for children who have a diagnosed medical condition or disability. They will also help children to change out of soiled underwear if they cannot physically do it themselves.

Changing diapers is a resource-intensive task for school teachers who are already stretched with so many children to care for.

For that reason, most elementary schools recommend that children are fully toilet trained before starting kindergarten wherever possible.

Remember that all young children have accidents here and there, and most kindergarten and elementary staff are ready and willing to help with basic cleanup and changing.

Check with your local school district for more details on the full potty training requirements for kindergarten.

What do you do when your 4-year-old won’t potty train?

Out of all of the causes for delayed potty training in four- and five-year-olds, the most common one is resistance.

Resistance or refusal to go to the bathroom can take many forms…

  • Refusing to use the potty, ever
  • Using the potty to urinate, but only defecating in a diaper
  • Using the potty sometimes, but refusing at other times
  • Not going to the bathroom due to distractions

Oftentimes, when a preschooler won’t potty train, it can be a source of stress for both the parents and the child.

Parents may feel frustrated that they have devoted many hours to potty training over the course of two or more years, without getting the results that they want.

Prolonged potty training can cause a power struggle. Out of desperation, parents may opt to try more aggressive methods, such as forcing their child to sit on the toilet until they go potty or punishing them for accidents.

This can cause kids to gain control over the situation by becoming even more adamant that they will not use the potty.

Some children may hold on to their urine or feces for as long as they can before eventually having an accident.

Many four-year-olds who aren’t fully toilet trained will be just as upset about it as their parents. Therefore, it’s important that you both work together to solve the problem.

But how?

Tips for potty training before kindergarten

Girl sitting on training toilet

It’s best to work with your doctor or pediatrician, or another young childhood specialist.

But here are a few things you can try on your own.

Don’t stress out

It’s common for parents of later-developing kids to feel bad and to blame themselves.

You might worry about being judged by teachers and other parents and your child might be nervous about being teased by their classmates when they start school.

The first step to potty training your child at any age is to try to relax.

Remember that every child is different and develops at his or her own pace. Adding extra pressure is counter-productive.

So stay calm and positive, always.

Reassure your child that you can help

Sit your child down at a quiet time such as bedtime and explain that you’re on their side when it comes to potty training.

The two of you will need to work as a team to reach your potty training goals, and your child needs to know that.

Reassure your son or daughter that you’re there for them, no matter what.

Ask them how they feel about the situation and what they think you can do to help. Talk about how they might feel if they’re the only one wearing a diaper at school.

Talk to your doctor

Even if you’re sure that any barriers to potty training are psychological, it’s a good idea to rule out any physical issues that may hinder potty training so that you can be sure.

If your child needs to start elementary school kindergarten in diapers, it will be good to show the school that you’ve explored the medical route.

Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. If there’s a medical reason why your child cannot use the bathroom, they may be referred to a specialist for more help.

Talk to the school

Be upfront with your child’s teacher before school starts. You won’t be the first parent with a child who isn’t fully toilet trained, or the last.

Your child’s kindergarten teacher will be able to explain the policies of the school.

They may offer advice about how the school routine works and anything else that they can do to help, such as reminding your child to go more frequently or helping with clothing.

Get expert advice

You’ll find lots of useful advice about potty training on the internet.

Especially look for discussion forums where other moms and dads share what worked for them.

Teresa Bertuzza, Chief Program Development Officer at Tiny Hoppers suggests:

“I recommend that you build a toilet routine for your child to learn when to go to the toilet. Even when they don’t feel like going, you can have them sit on it for a few minutes.”

She continues: “Try different techniques that would encourage them, like rewarding them or praising them for going to the toilet even if it was empty.

“Acknowledging their effort can motivate them to do it more independently and remove the pressure of going to the toilet because they have to.”

Set goals and put a plan in place

Forget about night-time dryness.

Your goal here is for your child to stay clean and dry for six hours (or however long the school day is). If they need to put on a pull-up the moment they get home, that’s okay for now.

There are many potty-training techniques and if you’re still struggling by the time your child is about to start school, it’s likely that you’ve tried most of them already.

However, now’s not the time to dip in and out of different techniques.

Choose one, such as putting your child on the toilet for five minutes every thirty minutes, and stick to it.

What happens if a child is not potty trained by kindergarten?

If your child isn’t fully potty trained by the time kindergarten starts, don’t panic.

You have 3 main options.

1. Sending your child to kindergarten in a diaper

If your child has a developmental delay, disability, or medical reason why they must wear a diaper, then it’s totally acceptable to send them to school with whatever they need to be comfortable.

If your child is otherwise healthy and on-track with their development in other areas, you’ll need to be upfront with the school about your plans to send your child in a diaper.

You can work with the school to put a plan in place about what happens when the diaper becomes wet or dirty.

2. Alternatives to diapers for kindergarten kids

Diapers often aren’t the best option for children who are partially toilet trained.

Even pull-ups and training pants have their limitations.

You may find that underwear liners or washable absorbent briefs are a more discrete and convenient option, depending on the severity and frequency of your child’s accidents.

Perhaps you could buy your child some new underwear with their favorite cartoon character on and pop a pair of waterproof pants over the top.

This would give your child an incentive to keep their nice new underwear clean as well as protecting their pants from leaks.

3. Delay starting school

Some children don’t start kindergarten until seven years of age and not all states require children to attend.

Depending on where you live in the US, attending school may not be compulsory until your child is eight years old.

That said, attending Kindergarten has many benefits. Of course, kids will learn how to read and write. But they’ll also develop social skills, self-confidence, self-awareness, and independence.

These are all valuable attributes that will help them to become better at using the toilet.

If you have other reasons to delay kindergarten, then by all means consider it. But missing out on kindergarten should really be a last resort for most kids.

Wrapping Up

While most kids are potty trained by the time they start kindergarten, some children may struggle with potty training for various reasons.

It’s never desirable to send a child to kindergarten in a diaper or pull-up, but it can be done as a last resort if needed — especially if a doctor can confirm a medical reason for the delay.

If you have some time before school starts, now’s the time to really focus on potty training. You may be surprised by how quickly your child can get the hang of it with the right help.

If they still have accidents, be sure to speak to the school ahead of time so that you can put a plan in place to make sure that your child’s needs are met.

Before you go, check out more guides like:

Hope this helps!