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Starting School In Nappies? Here’s The Low Down!


So your child is starting school in nappies, naturally, you’re nervous about how the school will take it. Here’s the low down on how to get teachers and the school to support your journey!

I recently read some articles about children starting school that weren’t potty trained or going to school in nappies. These articles went on to say that more and more children are starting school unable to independently use the toilet, dress themselves or use knives and forks. The majority of these articles then went on to blame lazy parenting.

This got me thinking about my own experiences when sending my children to school. One of whom didn’t have any issues in these areas. The other who was not potty trained, could not dress independently or use a knife and fork. This child is almost 16 and still struggles with all of these things.

So What Practical Skills Should A Child Know Before Starting School?

According to many online resources. There are loads of things that a child should know and be able to do before starting school. The main 3 key practical skill however are:

  • Being able to go to the toilet
  • Should be able to dress themselves
  • Being able to feed themselves using a knife and fork

Every child is different and it is important to be patient and go at your child’s pace. By the age of 4, most children are dry during the day but not all and some children will still have accidents.

If you are struggling with toilet training you should speak to your child’s class teacher about it. Your child won’t be the first or the last and the school should be able to help. If anything it is worth monitoring and having some back up should it turn out that your child has additional needs. They may not and will get to grips with toilet training in their own time. Remember we are all so different.

If your child is struggling to pick up toilet training, being able to dress independently and use a knife and fork this could be an indication that something else is going on. Some children who are dyspraxic, autistic or have sensory difficulties may struggle with these practical skills. If you think your child may be showing signs of dyspraxia, autism and sensory difficulties it is important to speak to the school and your GP. Your child may need extra help and support in reaching these milestones. But don’t worry there is lots of help out there.

My Story – Early Years

I knew that my eldest wasn’t really ready to be toilet trained because she showed no signs or interest in doing so. However due to the fact that I was pregnant with my second child and I was being told by everyone that I didn’t want two children in nappies I decided I would give it a try. In short, it did not go well. It was stressful for both me and her and it just didn’t seem to be clicking. At this point, I became under more pressure from my health visitor to get Jamie out of Nappies before my baby was born. Jamie was speaking in sentences by 18 months old and reading at 2 and so I was told this was her just being defiant. I continued to try and carried a potty with me everywhere.

I would like to insert a quick apology here to all of the people who’s carpets got peed on, there were many – sorry.

One summer became two, and the health visitor now told me that the reason she wasn’t toilet training was because of sibling jealousy. Her advice was to leave her in wet clothes as a punishment until she decided she was going to start using the toilet.  Let me tell you now that I did not follow that advice and we never saw that health visitor again.

Jamie went to her first nursery in pull-ups. I spoke to them and explained that we were struggling with potty training and they said they would help and could I send her into nursery in underwear and not pull-ups. I did just that and every day she came home with a bag of wet clothes. She didn’t care, she was in her own world. The nursery agreed that Jamie should wear pull-ups but they would encourage her to use the toilet regularly.

My Story – Later Years

By the time it came to starting big school Jamie still wasn’t really potty trained. We had developed a system. Our system was to regularly take Jamie to the toilet to try for a wee. With my full attention at home, this worked well, but she was still soiling and having some accidents. I told the school and they said it was fine, all little ones have accidents and that schools do have regular toilet breaks when they are in reception class. Every day we sent in spare clothes because it was likely that she would have an accident. The school were more alarmed at the soiling than the wetting.

Bear in mind here that most kids can control their bowels before their bladder.

Jamie continued through school and as she got older the accidents became less and less until around the start of year 3 (age 7) I would say I was confident that she would only have an accident if she was too engrossed in something and didn’t realise that she needed to go to the toilet).

In conjunction with the toilet training, Jamie could not independently dress and also couldn’t use a knife and fork. There were other practical things she was struggling with like handwriting and using scissors, she couldn’t catch a ball or ride a bike and she was always falling over.

Jamie was diagnosed with Dyspraxia aged 5 and from there we were referred for an autism assessment. We received that diagnosis aged 7.

My Tips

As I said in the Introduction we still struggle with toileting, dressing and using a knife and fork today and Jamie is nearly 16. So over the years, we have put things in place to help.

Regular Toilet Brakes

We encourage regular toiler breaks. Jamie doesn’t feel the need to urinate until the last minute so we use verbal and visual reminders to go to the toilet at home. If we are travelling we plan our journey based on services we can stop and use regularly. This works really well.

Night Time Wetting

Jamie was not dry at night until age 13. When it came to night time wetting I let her lead the way. You can get some amazing pull-ups for bigger kids to give them that extra confidence. When Jamie felt ready to try without pull-ups we ought disposable bed mats and like above tried regular toiling during the night for a long time.


When it comes to dressing we buy what I like to call “easy clothes” tracksuit bottoms, leggings, elasticated jeggings etc. These are easy on and easy off. You need to remember this is important for toileting so don’t mess around with buttons and zips if you don’t need to. That being said we still practice buttons and zips as part of fine motor skills. When it came to school shirts and ties we adapted them for Jamie. We added velcro to the shirts and elastic to the tie. We encourage Jamie to dress herself daily. This means she often has clothes on inside out and back to front but we still need to encourage independence.


Jamie has a restricted diet which consists of mainly finger foods. If allowed Jamie would just use her fingers. We do let this happen at times, for example, McDonald’s (because who uses cutlery in McDonald’s?). But at home, we encourage the use of cutlery. We use caring cutlery which is easier to hold. Jamie does struggle with cutlery but has mastered the spoon and is getting better with a fork.


Every child is different. Be patient and go at your child’s pace. None of these skills can be rushed so if you’re a child isn’t getting them it is pointless adding extra pressure.

Be open and speak to your school. Your child won’t be the first or the last child struggling with these practical skills. I remember in the 80’s when I was in primary school having a spare clothes box because people would always wet themselves.

I’m pretty sure for many it is just part of growing up. But as with everything in this digital age, someone is always looking for a newsworthy story and what’s a better headline than accusing parents of lazy parenting?

We hope that this lowdown to when your child is starting school in nappies has helped you. If you need any more help, why not consider joining our free Sensory Support Group!

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