When did expectations change around potty training and fall into the role of the Primary School Teacher & why do today’s parents find potty training so tough?

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

70% of British primary schoolteachers have noticed a rise in the number of 3-7-year olds wetting themselves during the school day.

As a former Deputy Head and Class Teacher for 22 years I also taught 35 five-year olds in Reception but I certainly didn’t think it was my job to toilet train the children in my Class. Of course, children have accidents and of course kindness, compassion and patience were all part of supporting the child.

But today as Amanda Spielman, Head of Ofsted is suggesting in ‘The Times’ and at a Keynote Speech she is making this week, many teachers are voicing concern that such incidents were detracting from teaching time. One teacher was quoted as saying: “School toilets are not designed for changing children. I end up supplying wipes and even spare underwear from my own pocket. Accidents do happen, but the expectation that I’m part of the toilet-training process is a step too far.”

And I have to agree with her.

When did expectations change around potty training and fall into the role of the Primary School Teacher?

Across the developed world, we seem to be potty training our kids later and later. In 1957, the average age to start training was 11 months, and 90 % of children were dry during the day by age two. Today, the NHS says that it is not until the age of four that most children are reliably dry.

So why are modern parents finding potty training so tough?

It seems to be a combination of factors.

Modern nappies are now so good that children don’t feel wet or uncomfortable after doing a wee. As more parents are working it becomes harder to find the time to be patient around teaching children this fundamental life skill as potty training takes TIME. Then there’s the issue of fragmented care – with more parents working and children in nursery, it can be harder to establish the continuity necessary to potty-train successfully. Also, we no longer live within a stone’s throw of our own parents, relatives or grandparents so new mums are simply getting less common-sense advice handed down from people with experience.

My own Mum described washing terry nappies by hand, and drying them over a paraffin heater so no wonder she wanted me out of those nappies pretty quickly. She had a massive incentive!

Without judgement but being practical, most children are ready for potty training around the age of two – and since raising children is not an exact science, some are ready and some are not. There’s no exact age but if parents know that they should be looking for signs that their child is ready & that it’s a normal part of parenting to teach their children to go to the toilet around the age of 2 then expectations will change and the onus will go back to parents preparing their children not teachers.

Language, maturity, and the intention to empower children to feel independent, capable and competent all matter. While most children have sufficient bladder control for potty training by the age of two, lots of other factors are important too like a child’s communication skills, their personality and their temperament. At the age of two, children are learning what they can control in their lives – they are striving for independence so potty training, eating and sleeping, doing things for themselves like doing up their car seat or pulling on a jumper become important for a toddler. The secret is to embrace this stage of development to help a child become more independent without turning everything into a battle.

Here’s My ABC Checklist For Potty Training

At some point you will have to go cold turkey on nappies because consistency is key. It’s no good potty training at home for a couple of hours, then sticking on a nappy and heading out of the house for the rest of the day, or trying to do it before your mother in-law comes to stay for Christmas, or when you’re away from your normal routines. Schedule a few days at home, set the intention to teach your child how to go to the loo and ditch the nappies for good.

 On average, most children begin learning to use a potty by around their second birthday, but, as with everything in children’s development, each child is different.

Up to the age of 20 months, toddlers’ bladders need to empty often, and their muscles aren’t always fully developed which makes it difficult for them to master holding on for the loo. Coupled with their lack of dexterity as they haven’t yet developed how to master their clothing going to the loo is still a tricky and difficult skill to manage.

Some parents find it easier to toilet train their children during the summer, when toddlers can run around with fewer clothes on but if your child is a winter baby then this might not be the right time for your child, however old they are.

The secret to toilet training is your child’s readiness for it and your relaxed and positive state of mind.

Just trust your instinct and intuition and always go with your toddler’s readiness.

It can take longer for boys to learn, especially as they also have to master the act of going while standing up and most boys learn to go sitting down first and then Dad, mum or an older brother can then show them how to do it the other way.

Here is the ABC of potty training

A — Assess your child’s readiness

B — Buy the right equipment

C — Create a routine

D — Ditch the nappy

E — Explain the process

F — Foster independence

G — Grab some training pants

H — Handle setbacks gracefully

I — Introduce night training

J — Jump for joy — you’re done!


FREE Resource

You can download my FREE ABC Checklist For Potty Training that I have created especially to support you during this process

Additional Article: 

Potty Training Tips: Poo Problems

In addition … 

For members of my Online Parenting Club ..

I have a whole range of Quick Win Videos around Potty Training – you can access them from the link below

Quick Wins – Potty Training

I have also created the 24 Week Toddler System for raising happy, confident, independent toddlers


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