Helping children with anxiety of public, school bathrooms

I’ve heard of children having anxiety over using the bathroom in public places, like school. What are some steps I can take to alleviate this?

Shannon Forrestall, MSPT:

This is something we touched upon slightly in another blog post, Bladder Control: Supporting your child’s good bathroom habits while at school.

Yes, sometimes children may not be using the bathroom at all during the day at school. According to most pediatric urology specialists,  a properly hydrated child should be using the restroom at school, and of course in public if out for extended periods of time. Some children experience anxiety using bathrooms at school because they feel embarrassed about sounds and odors that may happen when they use the potty. They may be fearful of something like the automatic flush (they can be loud!) or even just being in a different  space (larger communal bathrooms, or stalls which are often small). Let’s face it, sometimes we don’t like to use public restrooms!

Have a conversation with your child and see if any of the above resonate. You might accompany your child to school first thing in the morning to observe the bathroom with he/she and have the conversation in the space. Asking children what they like most about their “home throne” can also shed some light on this issue. Think creatively about how that comfort can be reproduced at school, thus reducing the potty anxiety. You don’t know until you ask!

Tips on how to tackle bathroom anxiety in children

1) Talk to the school staff. Often times, teachers can allow children to use a separate space, like a staff bathroom.  Your child just might prefer privacy, or a different time to go aside from the group bathroom time.

2) Simple tip: if auto flushers are scary, teach you child to cover the sensor with a sticky note.  This way, they control the flush!

3) If your child is fearful, and you just can’t find a solution, you might consider finding a children’s mental health specialist to assist with uncovering phobias, fears and/or anxiety. It is important to get to the bottom of this!

Do you have questions about children’s bathroom anxiety? Let us know!