Child at school playing

Starting school can be an exciting, yet daunting, time for children and their parents. There’s so much to think about and get ready; school uniform, the school-run route, new friends to make, will they like the school dinners? All important stuff! Many parents and carers may also be thinking about how their child is going to manage using the toilets in their new reception class. We know this is a hot topic for lots of families and something which can cause a great deal of worry and stress. Here are a few tips to help parents and children feel prepared for this new challenge and some strategies for dealing with any potential issues before they become a problem…

Preparation and practice

There are lots of things that your child will be expected to do when they start school – dress themselves after PE, use a knife and fork at lunchtime and, of course, use the toilet independently. It's really helpful if schools give new parents guidance on toileting well before the start of term. This gives an opportunity for you to practice these new skills with your child and give them confidence about doing a wee or poo at school without you there.  

Encourage your child to be as independent with their wees and poos as possible at home so, hopefully, the transition to school-life is less overwhelming for them. Help them to feel confident wiping their bottom, flushing and washing their hands. If their school has them, double check that your little boy knows what urinals are and how to use them!  

Blackboard

Communication is key - ask questions!  

Check that the school do a tour of the toilets for the children early on so they know where to go. Ask the school staff questions and get permission to visit the toilets yourself. Are they near the classroom? Will the children be allowed unrestricted access? (we think they should). Will your child need a step to help them reach? What’s their policy if your child has an accident and needs help to get cleaned up (they shouldn’t call you in to help with this). You may even spot that the flush is different from the one you have at home and perhaps you need to give them some help using hand dryers; especially if they find the noise frightening. 

See our guide on Toileting Best Practice at School to help get answers to the questions you may have.

Stick to a routine at home 

Try to keep a regular toileting routine in place built around the school day:

  • Encourage your child to sit and try for a poo 20-30 minutes after their breakfast. 
  • Check if they need a wee or poo before leaving school at the end of the day.  The walk or drive home can be a stressful experience for you and them especially if they’ve been withholding all day!
  • Find out what the routine is when your son or daughter needs the toilet in class. Do they have to ask permission? Make sure they have the confidence to ask the teacher or supply teacher if they need the toilet.
  • With you not there to remind them, your child may be so busy at school they forget to drink. Explain why having 6 - 8 drinks a day is so important to keep them healthy. Reward them when their water bottle comes home empty. 

Starting school in nappies

We know, from families that come to us for help, that not all school-aged children will be out of nappies during the day. Some children might be comfortable using a potty, but haven’t yet got the hang of ‘the big toilet’. Toilet training can be a stressful time especially if school is looming. If it doesn’t happen easily, it can create a lot of anxiety for parents and children. Legally, schools aren’t allowed to turn away children who haven’t yet mastered potty training or are still in nappies. They have duty of care to your child and in an ideal world school staff and parents should work together to support children who need help getting reliably clean and dry. 

Take a look at our potty training pages for more help or give our bladder and bowel helpline advisors a call. 

Difficulties using the toilet?

For some children their issues may be more complex – chronic constipation with overflow soiling, overactive bladders or recurrent urinary tract infections – and may require medication. If a child is on the autism spectrum there can be sensory issues affecting their ability to use the toilet. Children with a physical impairment might require adjustments to be made by the school to enable them to access and use the toilets. 

Getting help 

The most important thing is to talk to the class teacher, the school's SENCO (special educational needs co-ordinator) and the school nurse so they are aware and can help. The Children and Families Act 2014 places a statutory duty on schools to support pupils with medical conditions, including bladder and bowel problems. Schools have a responsibility to meet your child’s needs. 

Our Right to Go campaign has lots information about what help you should be able to expect from your school to ensure your child can enjoy their education and not be disadvantaged.

The Right to Go
Accidents happen!

And finally, even for children that have been dry during the day for a long time and are confident using toilets, accidents at school may still happen. It’s a busy and exciting time for children, they are learning new routines, getting used to new people and engaging in a round of constant activity – sometimes children will just forget to go! It’s worth considering packing a bag of spare clothes, underwear and wipes that can be kept in school, just in case. We have a range of vibrating watches which can be a really useful way of reminding your child when it’s time to go to the toilet or have a drink.