Bathroom breaks

Restrictive bathroom rules at school can be a problem for children with small or sensitive bladders

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When ya gotta go, ya gotta go. With young children, bathroom breaks can be needed fairly frequently and, at daycare or preschool, children are usually allowed to go as often as they want. Some kindergarten classrooms have bathrooms attached to the rooms.

New rules

By grade one, however, the rules often change. Teachers find it disruptive to have children leaving the room every time nature calls and often suspect some kids are asking to be excused just to get out of doing work. Some put restrictions on visits to the washroom or seek to reduce this behaviour in other ways, and this can be a problem for the child with a small or sensitive bladder.

“I began to feel concerned when Riley would come home from school and immediately rush to the bathroom,” says Lisa Cooper of Burlington, Ont.When she questioned six-year-old Riley, Cooper discovered the source of the problem. The teacher used a reward system to let the kids know when they were pleasing her: Students who behaved appropriately got a sticker, and those who earned a certain number of stickers could pick a treat from the teacher’s “treasure chest.”

“I do have a problem with the whole sticker reward system, to be honest, because I think teachers could motivate kids in more effective ways,” says Cooper. “But it wouldn’t have been a big deal if the teacher hadn’t decided to make going to the bathroom one of the behaviours she wanted to stop.”

Excited about getting more stickers, Riley stopped going to the washroom during class — even when she really needed to go. She’d hold it until she got home from school, and Cooper was worried that she’d develop a bladder infection or have an embarrassing accident in class or on the way home.

Talking to the teacher

While it’s generally better to talk to the teacher first, so you don’t upset her by “going over her head,” Cooper opted to go straight to the vice-principal. She says: “The vice-principal clearly agreed with me that this wasn’t a good approach and said he would follow up with the teacher. And I told Riley that if she needed to go, she should go and not worry about the stickers.”

And whether it was the vice-principal’s intervention or Cooper’s advice, Riley’s desperate dashes to the bathroom at the end of the school day stopped.

Cynthia Waiz of White Rock, BC, faced a similar situation when six-year-old Tavia was enrolled in a gymnastics class with a coach who took it pretty seriously. “The coach decided to restrict bathroom breaks,” explains Waiz, “and, as a result, Tavia became quite anxious about the whole thing. Whenever we’d make plans to go somewhere, her first question would be ‘Is there a bathroom there?’ She’d always make very sure to use the bathroom before we left the house, and worry that she might have to go and not be able to.”

Waiz removed Tavia from the class, but says it took almost a year before her daughter’s worries settled down. “I think that worrying about not being able to go when you need to can make you feel like you have to go right now,” she comments. “I think it would have been much better if he hadn’t made a big deal about it, and if it became a problem — if one or two kids were asking to go to the washroom very frequently — he could have dealt with those situations individually.”

When rules are creating a problem

If bathroom restrictions are creating a problem for your child, consider these suggestions:

• Remind your child to use the facilities during scheduled breaks like lunch and recess — even if she doesn’t really feel like she has to go.

• Bring a change of clothes and privately give them to the teacher to keep on hand, just in case (not a bad idea even if there aren’t restrictions — six-year-olds do sometimes have accidents).

• Talk to the teacher about your concerns, and if that doesn’t help, talk to the principal or vice-principal.

Yes, the topic is a little embarrassing and, yes, the teacher needs to keep order in the class — but letting the teacher or coach know that the rules are creating a problem for your child may encourage some flexibility. Because sometimes, you really gotta go!

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