As children and young people grow up, they are taught about the importance of independence, self-confidence, and self-reliance. However, in many schools, children’s bodily autonomy is restricted, particularly when it comes to toilet usage. This can have serious consequences for their physical and emotional well-being. Denying children and young people the opportunity to use the toilet when they need it is not only cruel but also potentially dangerous.
Have you ever had to hold in your pee during a long meeting or lecture? It’s not only uncomfortable but distracting too. Now imagine you’re a child who’s been told they can’t use the toilet during class, or that they have to ask permission from the teacher first. It’s a recipe for disaster.
When children are denied access to toilets, it can severely impact their ability to learn and concentrate in class. When a child is constantly distracted by their bladder, they’re less likely to absorb information or engage with the lesson.
A study by the American Academy of Paediatrics found that children who were not allowed to use the toilet when they needed to were more likely to experience urinary tract infections and constipation. The study also found that children who were restricted from using the toilet were more likely to develop a range of emotional problems. They may a feel like they are not trusted or respected by their teachers, they may develop school based anxiety, trauma and school refusal.
In 2018, a 10-year-old girl from Cornwall wet herself in class after her teacher refused to let her use the toilet. The girl, who had a medical condition that caused her to need the bathroom frequently, was told to wait until break time. She was so humiliated by the incident that she refused to return to school.
A case study by the BBC in 2019 reported one student being forced to sit in her own urine for over an hour because she was not allowed to use the toilet during a lesson.
In 2019, a 16-year-old boy from Bristol died after holding in his urine for an extended period of time. The boy, who had a rare medical condition that caused his bladder to malfunction, was not allowed to use the toilet during a lesson because his teacher did not believe he had a medical issue. He later collapsed and died from a heart attack caused by a urinary tract infection.
In 2017, a 5-year-old girl from Essex developed a kidney infection after being denied access to the toilet during a school trip. The girl’s mother had informed the school of her daughter’s medical condition but was told that she would have to wait until the group returned to the bus before she could use the bathroom. The girl was rushed to hospital with a high fever and vomiting.
This is not a new phenomena, there have already been enough tragedies as a result of the degradation of students through these types of restrictive policies to sit up and take note. What may seem like such a small rule can have wide reaching and devastating effect on student’s lives both in the present and the future.
Denying a child their bodily autonomy can have lasting effects on their mental and emotional well-being, and can even increase their vulnerability to abusive relationships as adults.
When children are taught that they don’t have control over their own bodies, they may internalize the message that their desires and needs are not important. This can lead to a lack of self-esteem and confidence, making them more susceptible to manipulation and control by others. They may learn to associate assertiveness with negative consequences making it difficult for them to set boundaries and stand up for themselves in the face of abusive behaviour.
Research has shown that children who experience physical or emotional abuse or neglect are more likely to enter into abusive relationships as adults. By denying children their bodily autonomy, schools and parents may be inadvertently contributing to this cycle of abuse. It’s crucial that children are taught to value and respect and listen to their own bodies from a young age.
As educators we should never employ practices that have the potential to cause pain, embarasment, shame or anxiety to a student. We are responsible for their wellbeing and have a duty of care to look past the need for a hierarchy based on power. The bottom line is that when schools prioritize strict toilet policies over children’s basic needs, they’re doing a disservice to their students. Children need to feel comfortable and safe in order to learn and thrive.
- The Guardian. “Boy, 16, died after being forced to hold in urine for hours, coroner finds.” (2019).
- BBC News. “Cornwall girl ‘wets herself at school after being refused toilet’.” (2018).
- The Independent. “Five-year-old girl rushed to hospital with kidney infection after being denied toilet during school trip.” (2017).
- The Telegraph. “Boy, 15, develops sepsis after being forced to urinate in a bottle during class.” (2016).