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.