Is your child doing a little dance the whole way home or running to the washroom as soon as you open the door? Parents are sometimes surprised when their children won’t use a school bathroom, and they’re often just as perplexed about how to solve the problem. As a former elementary school teacher and mom of a kindergartner, I’ve witnessed both sides of this firsthand. I also know that without helping your child establish a comfortable bathroom routine, the problem may continue into adulthood. (We all know some adults who still avoid an unfamiliar washroom.)
Navigating the school bathroom obstacles
There can be any number of reasons why a child may avoid using a school bathroom. Some of the most common, especially for kindergartners, include:
- Loud flushing toilets.
- It’s not private.
- Kids may fear asking for toilet paper.
- Kids may worry that the toilet will overflow.
- Kids would rather play or fear missing out on something fun, making going to the bathroom an afterthought.
Worse, kids are reluctant to talk about it. When they arrive home and you ask if they’ve gone to the bathroom, you’re lucky if you get an answer. Yet they race to the bathroom the minute they get home or do a little dance so they can keep playing. Here in Canada, where we now have all-day kindergarten, this can be a major issue. It doesn’t happen quite as often with kids who have attended daycare because they’ve been exposed to unfamiliar bathrooms from an earlier age.
Although kindergarten teachers are motivated to prevent accidents in the classroom, it’s not always top of mind. Some set up a system of making sure half of their class goes during recess, then the other half during a second break. But it’s important to note that teachers often aren’t allowed to help in the bathroom, so it’s up to you and your child to figure out a solution.
Tips for helping kids make the transition and overcome bathroom fears
- Put kids on a schedule a week before the school year starts. Teach them to go to the bathroom immediately after they get up. Then establish a morning routine. Leave the house at 9 a.m. and go do something. Make a bathroom break, outside of the home, part of your routine.
- Teach kids Wiping 101. Kids may fear embarrassing smells or tell-tale marks after they use the bathroom. Show them how to wipe thoroughly.
- Make sure they are regular. I was given free samples of Regular Girl, a blend of probiotics and prebiotic fiber, which promotes regularity and is safe for kids. The great thing about Regular Girl is if they have to go number two, they will go right away. They aren’t sitting on the potty forever. Without it, kids may strain to try to hurry the process. I also recommend teaching your kids to look in the bowl, and understand what ‘regular’ looks like. I use a kid-friendly poop chart to help with the conversation, and to remove the taboo of talking about poop. You can use Regular Girl as a boost of fiber or to help your children get into a routine of using the washroom every day to avoid prolonged constipation.
If you suspect that your child has issues using the school bathroom, talk to their teacher.
Hi my son has fear of going washroom. Their washroom is big and he thinks may someone come to the washroom. ( he started to not go alone when the teacher talked about terry fox) he always says I think terry fox is there and I don’t want to be alone there.
It’s so hard when they are afraid of the washroom. The buddy system normally does the trick but it takes time to regain the confidence to go alone. Good Luck!!
My kindergartner has a fear of loud flushing toilets.He tries his best but often gets scared and pees on his pants!We are dreading for a solution
This is a hard one with automatic flush toilets. If there are any toilets in the school that are manual that would definitely help, as he would be able to flush when he is ready to leave the washroom. Or you could get him a pair of sound canceling headphones and he can wear them in the washroom. I hope this helps – Caitlyn
My son 6 year old doesn’t go to school bathroom and often comes leaking.why he doesn’t go I still haven’t figured out.the washroom is very close to his class, teachers are also very cooperative but still he doesn’t say anything about washroom.can u please help
A fear of the school washroom is far to common. You can ask if your son would like to have the buddy system for the washroom or a teacher to stand guard on the outside of the washroom. Some kids have to take their time and do not want other kids coming into the washroom. Also I would definitely make sure your son is getting enough fiber and water so that when he does have to go to the washroom it is effortless and he doesn’t have to worry about it being painful from constipation. I hope this can help – Caitlyn
hi,my daughter holds her pee in school,she doesnt want to use their toilet.when she arrives home and go for a pee she need force to pee out..is this a sign of uti or what?
Hello, you should make an appointment to make sure she doesn’t have a UTI and to rule out any other potential medical condition. Holding in pee during the day is no fun for kids. Finding a way for her to get comfortable with the school washroom is very important. If there is a single stall washroom that she can use and have a trusted adult stand outside the door this can help get her comfortable. The buddy system can also work well as many kids find an empty washroom a little scary.
If she is having a hard time going to the washroom sitting in a warm bath can help relax her and can increase the urge to go to the washroom without straining.
My son started school this year and needed help using the bathroom at first. He over came that but then had two accidents in one day. He was sent home in just pants no underwear and no socks! When I asked what happened he burst into tears. Now since that day he’s holding his pee resulting in an accident at the end of the day. I think he was embarrassed at what happened. What can I do to help him gain back his confidence in using the bathroom at school?
This is sadly a very common issue in elementary schools. It might be helpful if the teacher gives specific bathroom times to remind the kids to go before it is urgent. For example before recess or right after recess. It is also very helpful to have a change of clothing in his backpack. In our school the extra change of clothing is frequently used after puddle jumping 🙂