With the start of the school year, various publications have featured articles on how to make sure our children are off to a good beginning and get the most out of their school environment. Concerns range from how to promote effective communication between students and teacher in order to maximize a child’s learning potential, to minimizing tension and hassles.
Yet I’ve noticed that one subject is not talked about, and it happens to be something that can affect our children for the duration of their childhood and beyond. For the record, I speak both as a young mother of small children and as one who’s been in their shoes. I’ve also heard from others on this vital issue that gets no “airtime.”
The topic, I admit, is of a personal nature and may be too delicate for discussion in an open forum, at least for some. As a longtime reader of Chronicles, I am quite confident that you, Rachel, will agree with my contention – that the state of a child’s physical hygiene can impact his or her overall health for years to come.
To be perfectly candid, my concern centers on the development of good toilet habits. Almost any parent will testify to the frustrations of potty training their little ones. Part of the painstaking process involves emphasizing the urgency of heeding nature’s call, as well as impressing upon the little rascals the importance of cleanliness.
Then comes the start of school, or preschool, such as nursery, kindergarten and what have you, and all our training with regard to hygiene goes the way of the water in the commode. When my almost three-year old started nursery, I was impressed with the list of items parents were asked to send along: a box of tissues, a box of wipes, a spare pair of undies and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Fast forward to summer and day camp for my four year-old. No list. Hey, no problem. The camp fee was exorbitant enough to have them cover the necessary provisions. How naïve of me! While I had taught my son to wipe himself with each visit to the bathroom, I soon began to notice that he stopped bothering. His excuse: “There is no tissue in camp I just shake it and pull up my pants.”
When I asked him how he cleans himself when he really needs to “go,” he shrugged off my concern with, “I don’t ‘go’ in camp.” That same summer my cousin who lives in a different borough confided that her eight year-old twin boys complained about their day camp’s lack of toilet paper, tissues and paper towels.
I once took the initiative and broached the subject with my nieces and nephews some years older than my own kids. They shyly divulged that “nature” had to wait till they got home. One niece confessed to holding in her bladder the entire day for she could never see herself using the “yucky” toilets in school.
Rachel, I understand that schools exist to focus on the brain, but don’t the intelligent adults running our schools know that the mind cannot function normally while it is preoccupied with a sense of physical discomfort?
In my humble opinion, being too embarrassed to confront this issue is simply no excuse.
Health is Priority Number One
It is hard to believe that “embarrassment” is the culprit in today’s culture where just about anything and everything is out in the open. While children may be more prone to be embarrassed, in all likelihood they as well as the grownups find themselves much too preoccupied with other things to pay any attention to what they must see as a nuisance more than anything else.
You, on the other hand, have it right – this problem can end up creating headaches down the line. Just a couple of for instances: Girls who continuously delay relieving their bladder can end up with a tilted uterus. All children who push “the urge” aside are at risk of acquiring a lifelong constipation habit.
Another of life’s very unpleasant physical experiences comes in the form of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which is often the fallout of a compacted bowel – frequently the result of negligence in heeding nature’s call.
It is not unusual for small children to fear visiting unfamiliar bathrooms, and the less squeamish may not have the foresight to check for toilet tissue beforehand. If teachers cannot make time to give their new students, especially the little ones, a tour of all the school’s facilities at their disposal (no pun intended), some other adult should be assigned the task right at the start of the school year.
Unfortunately, even the most decent bathroom facilities require constant upkeep – not only in a school environment but everywhere else. Whereas children tend to be more remiss in their personal hygiene, there is unfortunately no shortage of clueless or indifferent supposedly mature adults (as witnessed by many of us who are way too often repulsed upon visiting a public restroom).
It is the duty of parents to see to it that their children are well-groomed as well as considerate of others. The responsibilities of a vigilant teacher should include practicing tolerance when assessing a student’s request to be excused from class, and the fundamentals of personal hygiene ought to be on the itinerary of every preschool teacher.
Another important aspect to reflect upon: Our children’s school curriculum includes davening as well as Torah subjects – both improper to conduct in a “need to go” circumstance.
Thank you for speaking your mind. Hopefully those in a position to make a difference are reading.
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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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