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We hear a lot from families that come to ERIC about the difficulties their primary school aged children experience using the toilets at school. Difficulties that in some cases lead to children avoiding using the toilet. This is bad because not only can it create the situation where your child is left feeling uncomfortable all day, there are also unwelcome consequences such as: 

  • Soiling and wetting accidents in the classroom
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Withholding which can lead to constipation
  • Children reducing they amount they either eat or drink in the mistaken belief that this will stop them needing to use the toilet
  • De-hydration and lack of concentration which affects their school work
  • General anxiety around using the toilet outside of the home

Often it can be difficult to work out from children, especially younger ones, why this is. Here's a list of things you might want to consider if you think your child is avoiding using the toilet at school.

Getting permission to go to the toilet

Firstly, do you know what the arrangements are for children to get permission to use toilets during class time. Children, especially younger ones cannot be relied upon to need the toilet only at set times like playtime and lunchtime and so there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility for them to go outside these set times. Does your child’s school allow for this?

Unfortunately we know some schools take a fairly inflexible approach to this, and in reception in particular, this really isn’t appropriate for this age group. Some schools may lock the toilets during lesson time - a definite no-no from us.

Children will usually need to ask permission to leave the classroom, but can be nervous about asking out loud or worry about interrupting the teacher. If this is the case, speak to the teacher about a more discreet system for your child to alert the class teacher that they are leaving the room such as placing a magnet on the whiteboard or a codeword they can use.

Where are the toilets?

Have you visited the toilets yourself? Perhaps when you went on a tour of the school before your child started reception? If you haven’t, then ask to see them – a quick visit could be very revealing!

Is the toilet near your child’s classroom or do they have to walk down long corridors, through other classrooms or through heavy double doors. There’s obviously not much you can do about this, but you can discuss coping strategies with the class teacher such as setting up a toilet buddy scheme, where smaller groups of children go together or getting the Teaching Assistant to accompany your child until they feel more confident going on their own.

What to look out for

  • Are the toilets clean?
  • Is there sufficient toilet paper in each cubicle and soap at the sinks.
  • Do the taps work OK? Very splashy taps can be alarming for some children.
  • Are there hand-dryers that are very loud that might be making your child anxious?
  • What are the locks on the toilet doors like? Are they easy to use – some children can worry about getting locked in if the locks are a bit stiff or afraid of the doors swinging open if they are broken.
  • What are the flushes like – difficult to use, a bit broken?

Unfortunately there are very few legal minimum requirements governing children’s toilets in schools in the same way that there are for the staff that work in the school.

But it’s really important that all these things work well – children should be able to use toilet facilities that are clean and that feel safe to use.

Take action

If you think the facilities at your child’s primary school are lacking or in need of improvement – talk to the Head Teacher and/or School Governors and raise your concerns. Use our school toilet charter which sets out guidance for getting school toilets up to scratch. Find out how one parent Nicola used ERIC's resources to help make improvements at her child's school.