A Conservative MP has come under fire for suggesting more children are going to school in nappies because of an increase in working women.
According to the Telegraph, Miriam Cates made the comments at the Alliance for Responsible Citizenships conference this week, where she spoke of a rising number of young children starting school not toilet trained.
“How has this happened? Well, toilet training is difficult... It’s not a pleasant experience for parent or child, but it’s necessary,” she said.
“From parents, it requires the sacrifice of individual autonomy to stay physically close to your child at all times. Potty training can take weeks of dedication to the task.
“This is increasingly impossible when our GDP-obsessed economic system demands that even mothers of small children leave their infants in daycare to return to the workplace.”
She then took aim at people’s parenting styles, adding: “And successful potty training requires a firm belief that a child’s emotional discomfort is sometimes necessary in the short term, for his or her long-term best interests.
“But our understanding of happiness has become so distorted that many parents now believe they should do whatever it takes to shield their child from discomfort – a belief that’s incompatible with successful potty training or indeed the training of a child in any virtues.”
The harsh reality is that, yes, more children are starting school still in nappies.
A report from early years charity Kindred2 at the start of 2023 revealed more than nine in 10 teachers said they had at least one child in their class who was not toilet trained or did not have basic language skills.
But are working mothers to blame? No.
Parenting expert Holly Zoccolan, founder of The Carol App, said the comments made by Cates “offer mum-shaming and working mum guilt trips which is absolutely not ok and is completely unwelcome”.
“Supporting mums whether they return to work or not is so important and the blaming and shaming offered by Miriam Cates in this statement is beyond hurtful,” she added.
So what’s actually behind the rise in children attending school in nappies? Well, it’s pretty complicated.
“Many studies have taken place into why some children are starting school not yet potty-trained with causes looking at Covid lockdowns and other factors and we know that it’s much more complex than this,” Zoccolan continued.
“The lack of support for parents and children with SEND [special educational needs and disabilities] issues should be at the forefront of Miriam’s statement, not working mothers.”
Potty training expert Amanda Jenner previously told ITV’s This Morning that the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns were likely to blame for the rise in children starting school in nappies.
Speaking to HuffPost UK in light of the MP’s recent comments, Jenner said she has personally seen “a huge rise” in cases of children starting school in nappies.
“However, it is more complex than just a sweeping statement such as Ms Cates has made,” she said. “Just because the parents feel their child is ready, this doesn’t automatically mean the child does. It is also not because the parents are soft or have to go to work, as was claimed.”
For her, the solution is for parents to work closely with nursery schools and provide consistency when embarking on potty training – particularly when children show signs of readiness, and not before.
“We need more education and help in schools, as well as the government intervening,” she added. “We need to do more to help the children and families to get potty trained at the right age.”
Rosey Davidson, another potty training expert and founder of Just Chill Mama, agrees parents need more support.
“There is definitely a lack of support for parents, who may feel overwhelmed or ill equipped to start [potty training],” she told HuffPost UK. “This can cause many to put it off, and leave their children in nappies longer than they need to.”
But just because a parent works, it doesn’t mean potty training gets thrown out of the window – as many parents, especially mothers, will attest. Even Cates proudly acknowledged in her speech that she’d potty-trained three of her children successfully.
“Working parents can potty train and work collaboratively with their childcare providers – whether that is a nursery setting, a childminder, or a nanny,” said Davidson.
“They will all be experienced in this area, and continue with the parent’s plan and wishes. Women don’t need to be tied to the kitchen sink in order for their children to be able to listen to their bodies.”