A guest blog post from Melissa Yapp, a speech pathologist, with some great tips for parents of children dealing with constipation, stool witholding, encopresis or wetting accidents.

'School' - It is meant to be a word that sparks excitement, the anticipation of a rite of passage and the promise of a whole new world to explore. But for parents with kids with bowel and bladder challenges, including constipation, encopresis and stool withholding, the word ‘school’ can evoke a whole different set of emotions – worry, anxiety, fear and downright dread…. and then grief that we are feeling this way.

For children heading back to school or for those precious little ones embarking on their first year of ‘big school’, preschool or their first Daycare experience, bowel and bladder issues add a whole new layer of emotion.

I can manage stool withholding at home – but school is a whole new world!

As parents of kids with bowel and bladder issues, we are dedicated to supporting our children as best we can. In the home environment, without even realising it, managing bowel and bladder issues over time can become, to an extent, an automatic, unspoken routine. Your child knows where their new clothes are, where the bathroom is, how to access you with a minimum of fuss if they need assistance and their favourite cuddly toy is (usually!) handy when they are feeling worried or lethargic. But what happens when your child now attends school for the majority of the working week without you there to provide this comfort and reassurance?

Teachers Have A LOT To Remember!

Teachers brains are amazing. As a former teacher myself, I can say honestly that teachers often spend more time thinking about the kiddies in their class than they do about their own children! They welcome, nurture and teach up to 30 little people at once, all day, 5 days a week. They remember who has lost a tooth, who visited their grandparents on the weekend and who needed to review their sight words for extra practice. Their minds are constantly ticking over thinking about how to extend children, how to cater for struggling children, how to incorporate children’s interests in lessons, how to implement behaviour management strategies and how to encourage and nurture friendship groups just to name a few.

The bottom line? Teachers brains are full and as we know, managing bowel and bladder issues in your individual child is not a ‘one size fits all’. They are extremely specific and not something that teachers should be expected to just ‘remember’. Helping teachers to help our child is essential to setting up the year for success.

Why Your Child’s Teacher Needs To be Informed of Your Child’s Bowel/Bladder Issues

Constipation, Encopresis and other bowel/bladder challenges are real medical issues. They are also very unpredictable – some days are ‘up’, some days are ‘down’ and establishing patterns can be difficult (and extremely frustrating!) And let’s face it, bowel and bladder challenges can be difficult to explain to others who are not experiencing the same thing. As parents, we may be forgiven for feeling that initial urge to keep these issues to ourselves, to ‘just get through the school day’ and not mention our children’s bowel and bladder challenges to staff.

Constipation, Encopresis and other bowel/bladder challenges are real medical issues.

It is important to remember however that bowel and bladder issues are real medical issues, just as real as asthma, anaphylaxis, diabetes or any other issue that we would raise immediately with the school. Your child’s teacher is there to help you and your child but to do that, they need the correct information, a detailed plan in place and clear communication. As dedicated parents, it is our job to provide teachers with the information they need and work together to come up with a plan.

Tips for Talking with Your Child’s Teacher:

  • Provide Useful Information: ERIC.org.uk has a wealth of helpful resources that you can take along to help your teacher understand your child’s condition better and how to help. 

  • Explain Your Child’s Specific Behaviours: Be clear about what the condition looks like in your own child. In the school environment, your child may be too overwhelmed or embarrassed to approach their teacher if they need assistance. You can help by alerting your child’s teacher to the telltale signs that they might need assistance or a bathroom break. Does your child fidget? Sit on their knees? Do they require a bathroom visit at certain times?

  • Secret Signals: Your child may be too embarrassed to communicate with their teacher that they need assistance or a bathroom visit. Work together with your child and the teacher to come up with a ‘secret signal’ that your child can use. It may be holding up a special card or using a secret code word when they need assistance or need a bathroom pit stop.

  • Create a Management Plan together: Documentation is extremely important in the school environment. A formalised management plan can be kept in a central place and easily accessed for not only the classroom teacher but also other professionals that may work with your child (substitute teachers, sports teachers, teacher’s aides). This helps ensure that all those who work with your child have the relevant, up to date information so that they can care for your child appropriately at school.

    When compiling a management plan, ensure that the following information is included:

    Your child’s identification details, including an up to date photo
    An emphasis on your child’s strengths and interests
    A clear explanation of your child’s condition
    The steps in the management plan
    Any medication that is required
    Protocols for extra curricular activities, such as swimming, sports carnivals, excursions and school camps
    An outline of any assistance required

Eric.org.uk have a free Health Care Plan template which you can print and personalise to help you and your child prepare for school. 

Embarking on school for the first time or returning to school for a new year brings many emotions for parents and children with bowel and bladder challenges. Through working closely with your child’s teacher, you can help ensure that school is the exciting, adventurous place that we hope for.

Download ERIC's free health care plan template

Author bio: 

Melissa YappMelissa Yapp is a speech pathologist and special education teacher. When she is not working or spending time with her husband and two spirited children, she can be found creating resources for professionals and families. For more resources, articles and giveaways, follow Melissa on Instagram @melissayappwriter