Last week thousands of five year olds heaved oversized backpacks onto their tiny bodies and trotted off to school for the first time.
A common concern for parents of first timers is their child’s ability to negotiate the school toilets.
For some parents, the risk of their child having an “accident” in the classroom or on the way to the toilets is of even greater concern.
Their fears are not unfounded; a 2000 Australian survey of 2,856 children found that nearly 20 per cent had experienced daytime incontinence in the previous six months. Further to this, a 2005 study revealed that constipation, one of the main causes of faecal and urinary incontinence, affected up to 30 per cent of children.
In response to the high incidence of urinary incontinence in primary schools, and the real risk of lifelong poor toileting habits starting at school, the Continence Foundation of Australia launched the Toilet Tactics Kit – a dynamic and interactive educational resource, which is part of its Healthy Bladder and Bowel Habits in Schools project.
Recently the 1000th Australian primary school signed up for Toilet Tactics, and parents of first-timers at these schools will have their anxieties allayed.
One of the most recent schools to register is Currans Hill Public School in Sydney. Principal Lyn Flegg, who had already implemented Toilet Tactics at her previous school, Warwick Farm Public School, is such a strong advocate for the program that she pushed for its introduction at Currans Hill.
Mrs Flegg said the programme was introduced to children at her previous school from day one, and was now firmly embedded into the school’s culture.
“It was utilised by classroom teachers, particularly at the start of the year with the little children from kindergarten.
Often the children are not fully toilet trained, and it becomes the responsibility of the school,” Mrs Flegg said.
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She said the programme’s strength was that it set up an attitude of normalcy around toileting.
“Just as we help children with reading or literacy, we also help with their bodies, their health and their toileting. It’s not a big deal for children and it’s not embarrassing.”
Ms Flegg said the impact on teachers was just as important. “I noticed an increase in confidence in teachers. The programme provided them with the tools to be able to address these sensitive situations, and it definitely gave us strategies to support the increasing needs of parents.”
The Toilet Tactics Kit also includes a checklist for school toilets, which pupils and teachers work through together to ensure the school toilets are safe, private and well maintained.
While it is understood there are many causes of incontinence in children, it is also understood that lifelong behaviours and attitudes begin early, which is why children, their parents and teachers are all targeted by this project.
The Continence Foundation’s project officer Danyel Walker said schools were finding out about the Toilet Tactics through teachers, parents and health professionals who had witnessed the good outcomes.
“Parents can ask their teachers if the school is signed up for Toilet Tactics, and request the school contact the Continence Foundation of Australia if they aren’t.
“Feedback has been fantastic and comments from schools highlight the user-friendliness of the kit,” Ms Walker said.
The Continence Foundation of Australia welcomes enquiries from parents, teachers and health professionals. Phone the free National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for more information.