EYFS: the damaging myths around toilet training

Incorrect advice that children can't start school unless they are toilet-trained is causing stress, says Sue Allingham

EYFS: Incorrect advice stating that children have to be toilet-trained to start school is causing parents stress, says

I’ve recently seen several posts on social media about children starting nursery or Reception when they are still in nappies. 

This “problem”, if the press and social media are to be believed, is increasing year on year. 

But, as with so many things in the early years world, there are many, many myths in circulation.


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Meeting the needs of the youngest children in schools is often badly dealt with and rife with misinformation. 

In this case, I am reading a lot of advice that is worrying, with some bordering on abuse.

Early years: fears about toilet training

This is a stressful time of year for families and teachers, and anything that adds extra worry is a concern.

But when it comes to this issue, as with many others, a lot of stress can be avoided by having a grasp of the facts and using them appropriately. 

The most worrying story I read was about families being told at the meeting for new parents that their children, due to start nursery this term, had to be toilet-trained otherwise they couldn’t start.  

This resulted in several families having a stressful summer trying to train their three-year-olds; hardly ideal when the ages of these children could vary by several months.  

Stressful for parents

The Development Matters Guidance reminds us that children between 36 and 50 months may be independent in their toileting and self-care, but may well still need adult help. It remains inappropriate to insist that all children are toilet-trained before they enter Reception (although many will be). 

Having read about the stress that these families went through, I saw social media posts on the same topic. Yet again, I was reminded that social media can be a great place to seek advice, but can also reinforce unhelpful myths and bad practice.

Most of the posts were asking for advice about what to do if a child does start school still wearing a nappy. 

One user, in particular, asked about how and where teachers change children when they are wet or soiled. I found the responses shocking.

More than one teacher explained that, in their school, they don’t change the children; they call the parents to come in to change the child themselves. 

This is unquestionably making a perfectly normal situation – requiring a nappy change – into a very stressful one for the child and the family. This is not acceptable.  

The legal situation

Moreover, we have a duty of care. Our Statutory Framework, which applies to both nursery and Reception, states that:

3.1. Children learn best when they are healthy, safe and secure, when their individual needs are met, and when they have positive relationships with the adults caring for them;

3.27. Each child must be assigned a key person. Their role is to help ensure that every child’s care is tailored to meet their individual needs.

And It is not only our Statutory Framework that we have to abide by – the Equality Act 2010 also applies here, as the Children’s Bowel and Bladder Charity explains.

This website answers all the questions that schools have about supporting children with their toilet training and is a must-read. I make no apology for concluding with a point taken directly from this website:

My child is still in nappies. Can a school deny their admission?

No, they can't. The Equality Act 2010 states that schools must not discriminate against or disadvantage disabled children or those with special educational needs. A delay in achieving continence – or not being toilet trained – is considered a disability. It is therefore not acceptable for a school to refuse or delay admission to children who are not yet continent. 

 Dr Sue Allingham is an EYFS researcher

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