The news story about the three-year-old who was suspended from preschool for too many potty accidents puts the validity of school rules at odds with what most pediatricians and child experts say about toilet training and early childhood development.

It also brings to the forefront the topic of adult expectations and school rules for young children, and whether or not those expectations have to compromise — or overrule — the different rates at which children develop.

The preschool in the news story had a rule about children being potty trained at age three. It's not an uncommon rule for preschools and programs that accept children of that age.

Are the teachers and program administrators not respecting how a child meets milestones of development, or are parents not giving children the benefit of high expectations they deserve?

The Preschool Setting

Either way, the issues here are probably not going away any time soon. Preschoolers who demonstrate challenging behaviors are often testing the limits, just as they may have done in stages since toddlerhood. A article, Why Is My Preschooler Breaking the Rules, highlights defiant behavior, talking back, and "petty theft" as issues families will often face long after the terrible twos are gone. offers advice about setting limitations for parents and caregivers of young children:

"Young children need to feel comfortable that their teachers won't allow them or others to get hurt. Four-year-olds have high levels of physical energy as they run, kick, and move very quickly. They can be loud and noisy. They may sometimes appear to be emotionally out of control. Because of all of this natural commotion, 4-year-olds seem almost happy if adults provide some structure and boundaries for them-as long as they are perceived as fair. If an adult deviates from the rules or a routine, the child may exhibit temper tantrums or unplacated anger."

Management and Teaching

Of course, it is the anger that can also put preschools in a sticky situation. Many have regulations against long term suspensions or expulsions of children who demonstrate even violent behaviors, instead calling for better teaching practices, and use of resources for managing behavior.

What's a Parent to Do?

  1. Make sure you understand the rules of your child's preschool or daycare program, and why those rules exist. You may have to decide that that program is not the place for you.
  2. Ask questions about rules that pertain to developmental stages in children: potty training, ability to sit for a certain period of time, etc. Find out whether or not the staff is trained to help children through these issues, or if a broken rule means they are not allowed to attend.
  3. Be upfront with teachers and caregivers about any struggles your child may have in various areas of development and behavior.
  4. Be sure the school has consistent communication with you. If the communication is always negative, it may be time to look for another place for your child.
  5. Listen to your child, and see what her attitude is about where she attends. Can she name friends in her class? Does she like her teacher? Children are more likely to demonstrate better behavior, and progress in development when they feel secure with their teachers, and know that their teachers enjoy having them.
  6. Remember to go with your instinct as a parent. Visit your child's classroom, and make sure you are comfortable with her learning environment.

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