I have to admit that I never potty trained my children. Instead, I sent them to a Montessori preschool. By the time each was about 25 months old, he or she was completely potty trained. The Montessori approach simply integrates visits to the potty into the toddler curriculum. Since the teacher expects it and at least one of the other children knows how to use the potty, this gentle peer pressure quickly results in complete and effortless potty training. In other words, I had it easy.
The opposite seems to be happening in England, where preschools are reversing home potty training, resulting into previously trained kids regressing back into diapers (or nappies, as they call them in England):
Furthermore, nurseries do not generally help parents to potty train their children, inadvertently helping to promote a culture where it is increasingly normal for three- and even four-year-olds to be in nappies.
This is the situation that Nicki Purcell, a 36-year-old television production manager, discovered when she sent her toddler to nursery.
‘I got Minnie out of nappies when she was 18 months, but then she joined a playgroup where they couldn’t be bothered to take her to the toilet,’ says Nicki, who lives in South London.
‘I used to ask her what she had done at the playgroup, and all she could talk about was the accidents she’d had.
She was really upset about it. I took her out of the nursery, but she really went backwards because of the experience. It’s such a taboo area. It’s almost considered weird to want to get your child out of nappies at an age where it used to be considered completely normal for them to be toilet-trained.’
The attitude of nurseries means many mothers find the whole training process a lengthy ordeal.
Maria Davies, 41, a full-time mum from Saffron Walden in Essex, is now not going to bother to train her two-year-old son Dylan until he is at least three – because her efforts to get her older child, three-year-old Niamh, out of nappies were undermined at nursery.
‘I just don’t think they had the time to take the children to the loo,’ she says. ‘Niamh used to come home desperately upset that she’d had an accident, and it was easier to put her back in nappies.’
That’s not the half of it, since the same story reports that a bizarre combination of lazy parents, inattentive schools, super absorbent large size diapers, and antidiscrmination laws has resulted in an ever growing group of incontinent children as old as 7:
But super-comfortable nappies are not the only problem – it’s the attitude of parents which is also to blame, says paediatric nurse June Rogers, who works as a specialist adviser on child incontinence in Manchester.
‘I don’t know if you could say parents are lazy, but toilet training certainly isn’t a priority for a lot of them.’
As a result, increasingly older children are now effectively incontinent-This means primary school teachers are being expected to deal with growing numbers of nappy-wearing children starting full-time school.
Today, every new reception class of 30 will have more of these youngsters, and in some areas it is almost the norm.
Ann Nash, a teacher in Bradford and a spokeswoman for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she had recently heard of three children from the same family who arrived at school still in nappies. ‘The oldest of them was seven – and by then the problem is fairly well set in.
‘The invention of the large-size pull-up nappy has made it a lot worse, but the biggest problem is that some parents are increasingly aware that the disability discrimination law, introduced in 2005, means schools can’t legally reject pupils because they are incontinent, so they don’t bother to train them.
‘Head teachers in our area have suddenly seen a huge increase in the number of these children, and they are very concerned. Schools are overstretched as it is, and if a teacher has to leave the class to deal with a nappy-wearing child, it creates big problems.’
It is also becoming a health issue. Researchers in the U.S. and Australia-have reported hepatitis infections as a result of cross-infection from nappy-wearers in schools, and there have also been outbreaks of diarrhoea and stomach infections linked to dirty nappies.
One of the main problems is psychological. Because youngsters do not properly learn to understand the signals from their bodies, they develop hang-ups around bodily functions.
Many prolonged nappy-wearers also do not learn to fully empty their bladders, meaning they suffer painful repeated infections caused by the retained urine. Others develop severe constipation problems previously seen only in older adults.
My question for you: Do you have any sense that the same problem is occurring in America or this a peculiarly British problem? We do have several of the same contributing factors: large, super absorbent diapers; overworked nursery schools; the Americans with Disabilities Act; and, yes, lazy parents. I’m rather curious, since there was a time in my life when diapers and potty training loomed very large.