By Dawn Sandalicidi, PT, RCMT, BCB-PMD
I have been working with children who experience bowel and bladder issues for over 30 years. One of my primary concerns is that children are not allowed to use the bathroom during the school day except for scheduled times. This leads to holding patterns and decreased fluid intake throughout the day, which can lead to constipation and bladder and bowel problems!
This is a crazy cycle that needs to stop! Parents need to educate themselves on normal bowel and bladder health.
I can certainly understand the concern teachers have with children taking advantage of bathroom privileges. However, in the elementary school population, children always want to please their teacher and feel ashamed if they need to ask to use the bathroom too often. Middle school students lose homework passes and classroom privileges for using the restroom and are given rewards for NOT listening to their bodies.
Shana Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, had a unique approach. She allows her students to use the bathroom whenever they feel the need as long as they're respectful when they get up to leave the room and return without disruption. Her approach was not always well received with administration however it has worked! In her article (linked below), she discusses trusting the students with their own bodily functions.
A survey of 4,000 teachers, co-authored by Hillary Copp, M.D., a Pediatric Urologist at the University of San Francisco and Lauren Ko, a Harvard University Medical School student had some interesting findings.
~36% of teachers encourage holding by offering rewards to students who don’t use bathroom passes or punishing those who do.
~88% said they encourage students requesting bathroom access to hold their pee.
~18% of teachers surveyed had received professional training on voiding health or dysfunction.
On the bright side, teachers who were trained on toileting topics were more likely to qualify as voiding “health promoters.”
“Teachers are pulled in so many different directions and so have many pressures,” Dr. Kopp says, “but they really can make a difference with simple measures, like paying attention when kids bring notes to school, allowing students to use the bathroom when they need to and opening a dialogue with parents.”
As parents and professionals we need to create an environment of safety and acceptance to listen to our bodily functions and take care of them as needed.
If you ever find yourself having difficulty with the school schedule for toileting, please feel free to call our office so we can help with written documentation and support for your child's bladder and/or bowel program.