How coronavirus lockdown led to more kids going to school in nappies

STANDING with the other school mums, Anna Taylor anxiously watched as her four-year-old son Dan* filed out alongside his new classmates.

Earlier that day, his Reception teacher had phoned to tell her Dan had wet himself during lunchbreak — for the fifth time that week.

Anna, 31, who works in marketing, says: “I could see immediately he was upset. The teacher had said other kids were teasing him. I felt a failure. My son had begun school and wasn’t potty-trained.”

But Anna and Dan are far from alone. The pandemic has fuelled a rise in the number of children starting school before fully toilet-trained, reports a survey from The Potty Training Academy.

It revealed 63 per cent of parents are struggling to train their kids, and 77 per cent found the experience daunting.

Academy founder and My Carry Potty inventor Amanda Jenner says: “In lockdown, I had hundreds of parents email me because they were struggling to potty-train. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s definitely become much worse because of the pandemic.”

Posts on parenting website Mumsnet back up the survey, with one mum claiming her four-year-old girl was left for 45 minutes in the school toilet in her own poo.

Another was distraught that she had been called into school to clean up her son twice in a week.

But the problem has been building for years. A 2018 survey by health firm Essity estimated teachers waste more than a million hours of lesson time a year toilet-training primary pupils.

Last year, Channel 4 revealed two-thirds of teachers had seen an increase in the number of new pupils not toilet-trained.

How to toilet train like an expert

TRAINING expert and My Carry Potty creator Amanda Jenner says:

  • SET up a reward system using stars and wrapped presents. Award your youngster one star for a wee and two stars for a poo. Tell them they have to collect a certain number of stars to get a reward.
  • Give them a star to take in their pocket to school. Tell them if they have not had any accidents, they can put that star in their reward box when they get home.
  • lIt is important to maintain clear communication with their teacher. Explain the situation to them and outline what you are doing at home.
  • Ask the teacher to show your youngster where the toilet is – and explain the importance of going regularly throughout the day.
  • If you feel your little one won’t take to the star system, set up a special treat jar which can be filled with sweets, little toys or prizes. Tell them they only get to choose something from the jar if they come home that day with dry pants.
  • Don’t begin potty training if there is a significant change in circumstances – such as a toddler being unwell, there being a new baby in the family, a house move on the go or a switch in childcare setting.
  • Don’t start too early. First, make sure your little one is showing all the signs they are ready . . . and make sure you are ready too! Don’t be influenced by what other people say. You know your own child better than anyone else.
  • Don’t let yourself become cross. Yes, it can be frustrating when potty training. But remember that little ones do not want to disappoint you – so try not to become angry when those inevitable accidents do take place.

But the pandemic has created a perfect storm. Amanda says: “During lockdown, children were at home for a long time and out of their routines, missing nursery or grandparents, and this made it harder to potty-train. 

“New Reception children were not allowed to visit the school before they started. So even if they were successfully potty-trained in lockdown, many regressed in new surroundings, out of their comfort zone.” 

Strict Covid rules and social-distancing have not helped, with teachers under pressure. Amanda says: “We’re hearing of schools only allowing toilet breaks at certain times. That’s difficult for a child who has only just got a grasp on using the toilet. But of course, teachers are under a lot of extra stress and have less time and patience.”

For Anna, from Bournemouth, who also has children aged 14 and 11, trying to potty-train Dan was fraught. She says: “My older children did it easily but I was at home with them, not working. 

‘IT’S TABOO SUBJECT’ 

“When I started with Dan, I was working full-time and unable to properly focus on it. 

“Then lockdown hit and, though I was furloughed at home, I was distracted by homeschooling my older children.”

“Two weeks before term, I thought I finally had it nailed. But then accidents started. I’m sure it was because Dan was anxious about starting school, especially as he hadn’t been able to visit first.”

When it had been time for him to start school, Anne had decided not to put him in a nappy in case it attracted teasing. 

But accidents kept happening, and, when children made mean comments, Anne decided to only send him to school in the mornings. She says: “I spoke to his teacher about him not being fully potty-trained before he started but she slightly brushed it off. She had lots of other things to worry about, and when the accidents happened the support just wasn’t there.”

Anne knew there were other kids in Dan’s class who were struggling, but she was too embarrassed to speak to fellow mums. She says: “It’s a taboo subject — as a parent, you can’t help blaming yourself.”

But the repercussions for the thousands of kids like Dan can be serious, Amanda warns. 

She says: “Children think they’re ‘naughty’ for having accidents and will get emotional and detest going to the toilet. Some will even hold it in, not eating or drinking, to the point of doing damage. I’ve had clients whose children have ended up in hospital because their bowel is so impacted from holding it in. Other kids suffer from a lack of confidence or have become insular. They don’t want to run around in the playground in case it makes them go to the toilet.”

Amanda believes that now, more than ever, there needs to be dedicated help for struggling kids.

She says: “Teachers must show children the toilets, talk to them about the importance of going and explain how we all have to do it so they’re not embarrassed to raise their hand and go.

“Starting school is daunting enough, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, without having to worry about having accidents. This has to change.”

*name has been changed

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