How can a mother be too idle to potty-train her child?

How can a mother be too idle to potty-train her child

Although he’s now in his 80s, my father still boasts unusual prowess in mental arithmetic. He puts this down to a primary school teacher who refused to allow him and his classmates to go home until they’d each solved a complicated blackboard sum in their heads.

If the answer he whispered in his teacher’s ear was right, he was free to go. As you can imagine, competition to be the first to leave each day was intense.

When I told this story to a friend who happens to be a primary school teacher, she laughed mirthlessly at the very idea of trying something similar with her own pupils today. ‘I’d have outraged parents storming into the classroom to complain,’ she said.

Parenting is the most important job you can do, but has the nanny state left many unable, or unwilling, to put in the hard graft needed

Parenting is the most important job you can do, but has the nanny state left many unable, or unwilling, to put in the hard graft needed

Why — because pupils weren’t leaving school on time No, she replied, because they’d all be worried their child might suffer from coming last. These are the same parents, she added, who send their children to school unable to perform basic skills for themselves.

As we learned from a chilling survey this week, two-thirds of primary school teachers report that increasing numbers of five-year-olds are not toilet-trained by the time they arrive at school. In addition, many can’t even put on their own coats or change into their PE kits unaided.

A portion of the blame can be laid at the door of schools: of the 850 primary school staff polled, only 36 per cent said their own school demanded that children should be out of nappies and able to get dressed on their own.

Most of the fault, however, surely lies with parents themselves.

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In a week that’s seen the horrific story of a mother who regularly gets drunk with her 11-year-old son, it’s tempting to dismiss poor parenting as a problem for an inadequate few.

But there are many middle-class parents who’ve been so infantilised by our twin prevailing cultures of instant gratification and nannying by the state that they no longer see why they should put in the hard graft of child-rearing themselves.

Small children are eager to learn, but instilling in them the idea of self- discipline and independence is an endlessly time-consuming task. It used to be made easier by the extended family, with aunts, uncles and grandparents all helping out.

Today, many parents live far from their families and feel isolated, with no one they can turn to for advice.

Nor does it help that the last government invested so much time and political capital in persuading new mothers to go back to work as soon as possible — after all, the last thing either parent wants to do after a tiring day is engage in an exhausting battle over a potty. Add to that more than a decade of increasing state control over almost every aspect of childhood — from sex education for eight-year-olds to teachers rooting through children’s lunchboxes for ‘unhealthy’ treats — and you can see why parents no longer think it’s their job to teach fundamental life skills.

For centuries, the role of a parent has been clear: to teach children how to be responsible, independent adults. As the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran so movingly put it nearly 100 years ago in his poem The Prophet: ‘You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.’

Shocking: Two-thirds of primary school teachers report that increasing numbers of five-year-olds are not toilet-trained by the time they arrive at school

Shocking: Two-thirds of primary school teachers report that increasing numbers of five-year-olds are not toilet-trained by the time they arrive at school

Parenting is the most important job many of us ever undertake. Yet our sense of responsibility is continually being eroded by the knowledge that the state now controls — or tries to control — so much of our children’s development.

If the state was doing a good job, this might not be such a problem. But only yesterday a group of child experts warned that the relentless focus on formal assessments in nurseries is robbing children of the ability to play.

Not only do these formal assessments — the so-called ‘nappy curriculum’ imposed by New Labour — stifle creative teaching, but they also lower standards to a common denominator and allow little space for natural development or aspiration.

That’s only just about tolerable if parents can pick up the slack. Reading a toddler a fairy tale, for instance, helps him learn to speak, teaches him that reading is a wonderful pastime and instils in him an innate understanding of right and wrong.

Sitting down not just to family meals but also to pretend tea parties teaches children how to use a knife and fork as well as how to be sociable, while games of dressing up are invaluable not just for developing imagination but for helping a toddler learn how to do up buttons and how to put on clothes.

The sad truth is that a great many parents have stopped doing any of these things with their children. So what can we do about it

Well, we could put childcare on the senior school curriculum for a start. At least then the generation that’s missed out would have some idea what to do with the next.

We don't mind you have a daughter David...

We don't mind you have a daughter David…

David Beckham, whose near-naked body (save for a pair of white boxer shorts) is on lifesize display all over the UK in the windows of fashion store H&M, says now he has a daughter, his days of stripping off are over. But Harper’s still only seven months old. Take your time putting those clothes back on, David. No need to rush.

Here’s my perfect dating agency

Online dating is now the second most common way to meet someone. Not surprising, I suppose, in our time-poor age — but I can’t help wondering how effective it really is.

What online dating does is match you with someone whose interests mirror your own — yet the happiest couples I know usually have diametrically opposed tastes in many areas.

So if she likes yoga, shopping and the theatre, he will like rugby, the pub and watching action films.

Isn’t it time someone started a dating service called Opposites Attract

The idea would be to link people together who on the surface have nothing in common whatsoever — but who just might, on meeting, discover they agree on the things that really matter, such as raising children, having a laugh — and how to cook the perfect Sunday roast.

I'm stuck in slow gear!

A friend who’s just gone back to work after some years being a stay-at-home mum arrived slightly late on her first day because she’d completely forgotten just how long it takes to get dressed for the office.
I sympathise entirely with this dilemma because, despite years of working in an office myself, I still have days when I’ve no idea what to put on.
Now, the fearsomely organised Kirstie Allsopp has given us the answer: a working wardrobe that consists solely of dresses. She says it means she’s out of the door in ten minutes. I’m afraid that’s how long it would take me just to choose which dress . . .

Dawn French says she never felt miserable being large and sometimes misses her old body, which she still views with fondness. As she’s managed to lose an astonishing seven-and-a-half stone by ruthlessly cutting out bread, pasta, potatoes and chocolate, I find this particular showbiz morsel pretty hard to swallow.

Amanda Holden: Speedy return

Amanda Holden: Speedy return

Slow down, Amanda

As she's previously suffered a stillbirth and a miscarriage, Amanda Holden made national news when she was rushed into hospital a month before her baby was due.

We were appalled to learn she’d nearly died — we still don’t know the exact medical reasons — and were thrilled to hear that both she and baby Hollie are now fine.

But her first statement on coming home was not to give grateful thanks for her life or even to the medical staff at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, but to announce that she hopes to be back on the judging panel of Britain’s Got Talent by Saturday.

As money is clearly not an issue, we have to assume she’s going straight back to work because she’s terrified of losing out to new recruit Alesha Dixon. How deeply unedifying.

Say what you like about Madonna — and in the past I certainly have — but the older she gets, the more inspirational I find her. If she retired now to contemplate her yogic navel while drinking her bonkers Kabbalah water, she’d still retain her status as a kick-ass legend.

Instead, at an age when many of us have succumbed to gravity, not to mention hot flushes, she’s directed a film and put on a performance of breathtaking athleticism in front of 111 million viewers watching the Super Bowl. Yes, she’s an arrogant, self-obsessed autocrat. But she also has iron self-will, total professionalism, a work ethic equal to Mrs Thatcher’s and a willingness to continue taking risks. Respect.

Pitiful Piranhas

There's nothing new about a woman marrying a man for the size of his wallet, but now a divorce lawyer has warned rich men to be on the lookout for another threat.

Piranhas are young women who don’t want to work or marry, and who deliberately get pregnant by wealthy men in order to drain them of money: house, car, maintenance and even school fees.

It’s truly pitiful that after 50 years of feminism, we should have come to this.

Home truth on aid

There are children in Britain who don’t have enough to eat, whose homes are inadequately heated, and who go to school with holes in their shoes and without a warm coat.

Six months ago, I wrote that as long as this remained the case — there are 3.8 million children who are officially classified by the Department of Work and Pensions as living in poverty — I failed to see why we should spend so much as a single pound on overseas aid. Now we learn that India, a country with more billionaires than Britain and its own space programme, asked us to stop giving aid more than a year ago, yet we continue to do so in order to save political face.

This is an utter, shameful disgrace. I’d like to see the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, visit every one of those British children — and personally explain why the money that could help them is going to India instead.