Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Imagine this: you are spending the evening at the theatre with a group of friends.  You are enjoying the show, but the drinks you had during the interval have inconveniently made their way to your bladder.  Afraid that you are not going to be able to wait until the final curtain, and having no wish to suffer the discomfort of a full bladder for longer than is necessary, you decide to excuse yourself and make use of the theatre’s toilets.  Getting up, you clamber over your friends and the other patrons on your row and make your way to the nearest exit out from the auditorium. 

You are in for a shock, however.  An usher is standing in front of the exit, blocking your escape, and he refuses to let you pass.  Slightly embarrassed, you explain that you need the toilet and when he still refuses you say that you are desperate and cannot wait.  He is implacable.  ‘You should have gone during the interval,’ he says.  ‘You’ll have to wait until the show is over now.’

It is impossible for a child to
fully concentrate on her 
schoolwork if she needs to
go to the toilet. (c)
Defeated you return to your seat.  Maybe it would have been wise to have made use of the facilities during the interval, but you didn’t really need to go then and, in any case, the queues were fairly long and you have never liked a crowd when you use the loo.  You resume your seat, but you are unable to enjoy the rest of the play.  Your concentration is focussed solely on the steadily increasing pain from your bladder, and your growing fear that you are going to have an embarrassing accident in front of your friends, which will probably be part of the conversation of dinner parties for years to come.  You also hope that your companions do not notice your hand placed firmly in your crotch, and your legs crossed ever tighter as you desperately try to avoid wetting yourself in your seat.  The only other thought occupying your mind is your sense of anger towards the usher.  What gives one human the right to deny another access to the toilet?  Surely being able to use the toilet when you need to is a basic human right, isn’t it?

Wetting his pants in the
classroom is one of the most
 embarrassing things that
can happen to a child. (c)
The above scenario may seem ridiculous, but every day in schools children face a similar dilemma, needing to wee or poo during lesson time but being refused permission to use the toilet because ‘you should have gone at breaktime,’ or not bothering to ask because they know the answer will be in the negative.  Such children are then unlikely to be able to concentrate on their work, as the increasingly strong signals from their bladder or bowel occupies their attention, and they worry about whether they are going to have an accident in front of their peers.  For a child who is past nursery age, wetting or soiling your pants in class is one of the most humiliating experiences imaginable, and peers are not likely to let the poor kid forget their accident in a hurry.  And yet the child has done nothing wrong except needing the toilet at a slightly inconvenient time.

Every parent will know that when a
young child needs to go, he needs to
go NOW, but watering the grass is not
an option for him in the classroom. (c)

For several years I did volunteer work at various local primary schools, working with children aged from 3 to 11.  If a child asked me if they could go to the toilet I always said ‘yes’ without hesitation.  The teachers, however, were not always so accommodating.  In a Year 2 class in one school a 6 year old boy repeatedly asked during a lesson if he could use the toilet but the teacher refused him permission: ‘playtime is the time for going to the toilet,’ she told him.  The poor boy had to keep returning to his desk, increasingly desperate and unable to do much of the task he had been set.  In a different school, a 7 year old girl had to wait to use the toilet because of the rule that only one child of each sex from the class were allowed to go to the toilet at a time.  The girl was clearly desperate for a wee as she hovered near the classroom door, unable to keep still and lifting up first one foot and then the other as she tried to avoid the humiliation of wetting herself in front of her classmates.  It is one of the most harrowing sights I have ever seen. 

Let's encourage kids to poo at school
if they need to. (c)
As well as the risk of having a embarrasing accident in the classroom, there are also health issues involved in forcing a child to wait to use the toilet.  Withholding urine can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) and continence problems, and, as we have seen in my case, withholding poo can cause constipation and soiling problems.  The need to poo, in particular, can strike at any time, and a child should be encouraged to open their bowel as soon as possible when the need arises.  Many children who otherwise have no toilet issues are reluctant to use the school toilets when they need to poo, preferring to wait until they get home, by which time the urge might have gone, risking constipation problems, or they may have soiled.  Personally, I think that children should be encouraged ask to go to the toilet when they need to poo during lessons and should certainly not be denied permission.  I’ve thought up my own soundbite for a campaign around this issue: ‘It’s Cool to Poo at School!’

You can probably guess that I am fully supportive of ERIC’s ‘The Right to Go’campaign, which calls for schoolchildren to have access to safe and hygienic school toilets at all times, as well as highlighting every child’s right to good care for a continence problem at school.

Children should have
access to safe and hygienic 
school toilets at all times. (c)
Of course, it’s better for the smooth running of a lesson if children use the toilets during their breaks and I’m not suggesting that they should not do this.  But there will always be times when the need to go does not coincide with playtime or lunchtime and all teachers should make allowances for this.  Also, some children will feel uncomfortable going to the toilets when they are crowded, particularly for a poo.  Such children should not be made to suffer because of this and arrangements should be made to allow them to attend to their toilet needs in a manner that is comfortable for them.  And yes, there will be the odd pupil who deliberately uses the excuse of needing the toilet to get out of lessons they do not enjoy, or for nefarious activities such as smoking, but these should be dealt with on an individual basis, and not by punishing the whole class by stopping everyone going to the toilet in lesson time.

I’m sure that there will be teachers who disagree with me and predict chaos in the classroom if they allow their pupils unrestricted access to the toilets.  But ultimately it comes down to the question I posed in my imaginary scenario at the theatre: what gives one human the right to deny another access to the toilet?  


  1. So how can we support this,what can we do,is there anything?

    1. Hi Bianca, the UK children's continence charity ERIC has a long running campaign on this issue, you can find advice for schools and parents on their website: https://www.eric.org.uk/right-to-go

  2. how would your mum clean u after an accident

    1. We didn't have a shower in our home, so she would remove my trousers and pants and stand me on a towel in front of the sink in the bathroom. Then she would wash my bottom with a wet face cloth and a sink full of soapy water.

      If I needed changing in public toilets on a day out then she would use toilet paper and baby wipes to clean me. On the day when I had my worst accident at my grandmother's house when I deliberately added to the mess in my pants, my mother had to give me a bath to get me clean.