More children toilet training later – how early years can help parents

More children are being toilet trained later, according to the results of a new survey of early years staff by ERIC and National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).

Of the early years staff across the UK that the Children’s Bowel and Bladder Charity ERIC and NDNA surveyed, 68% said they felt that over the last five years, children were being potty trained at a later age.

Support for parents

The biggest reason cited for this was busy parents postponing potty training their child for as long as possible or needing to spend more time at work. Nursery practitioners felt that parents needed more support, and 92% believed that toilet training should be a shared responsibility between nursery and home.

Busy lives

A nursery owner from West Midlands said: “Parents are busy, and it has lifestyle impacts. It’s about being consistent and showing them early on about what a potty is, but the morning routine is a busy time for parents to be able to do this. They rely on nursery to do this, but the potty should be the first place a child goes once they wake up to understand the morning bowel routine.”

Waiting for readiness

Many respondents felt that parents needed more support in tackling the issue. Health visitors and society generally gave parents the message that they should be under no pressure to rush in and wait for signs from the child that they are ready, according to 15% of respondents.

Working together

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA said: “It’s clear that parents and nursery practitioners need to work more closely together to benefit children so no child goes to school unable to use the toilet properly. We aim to empower nursery staff to feel confident enough to speak to parents about potty training.

A combination of factors are leading to children learning to use the toilet later.

Potty training crisis?

Ofsted’s most recent annual report referenced the amount of children starting school unable to use the toilet properly as a big concern.

The EYFS statutory framework progress check focuses on the three prime areas: personal, social and emotional development; communication and language; and physical development. Toilet training is included in the physical development area of the EYFS and comes under “Health and self-care”.

It asks practitioners to observe if the children “show some awareness of bladder and bowel urges” as well as knowing what a potty or toilet is used for. Of those surveyed, the majority of early years settings include progress with potty training as part of their age two checks. More than half of nurseries had a potty training policy in place.

A structured plan

Juliette Rayner, Chief Executive of ERIC said: “It’s good news that so many settings include potty training as part of their age two progress review. However, only 53% of respondents actually have a potty training policy in place. They tend to cover how to identify when to start potty training, how to use praise and recognition effectively, and a structured plan for potty training.

Only 53% of respondents actually have a potty training policy in place.

“Critically, the survey showed there is little or no recognition of the relationship between successful potty training and healthy bladders and bowels. Constipation is the most common bowel problem in children, affecting up to 30% of all children and particularly common among pre-school children. It can have a huge impact on potty training yet only 16% include how to identify and manage constipation in their policies.

Only 17% of respondents recognize the importance of drinking lots of fluids to maintain healthy bowels, keeping constipation at bay. Drinks shouldn’t be limited as the bladder needs to be filled and emptied properly to work.”

Lack of formal training

The survey revealed that 70% of early years practitioners have received no training in how to potty train. Many look online for information and support (27%) or contact their health visiting teams (25%).


For more information on how ERIC can support Early Years Providers and Nurseries, please contact [email protected]

ERIC, The Children’s Bowel & Bladder Charity is a national charity dedicated to the bowel and bladder health of all children and teenagers in the UK. ERIC provides information, support, resources, and training for families and professionals on toilet training, bedwetting, daytime wetting, constipation, and soiling.

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