Toilet Anxiety – How Common Is It and What Resources Can Help?

As a society, we’re pretty useless when it comes to talking about poo! And this is something our children pick up on from an early age. If your child is going through a phobia or feeling anxious about sitting on the loo, we have some resources that can help. Keep reading below.
What is toilet anxiety?
Toilet anxiety is mostly associated with children of potty-training age, but an aversion to the loo can happen at any age. Yes – lots of older children, teens and even adults can suffer from toilet anxiety too. It is – as the name suggests – an uncontrollable anxiety around going to the toilet, commonly children become anxious about pooing, but they can also develop a phobia about weeing too.
 
Toilet anxiety can manifest in lots of different ways and the worries can be very specific, from fears of poo getting ‘stuck’ to not wanting to poo in public or at school. Toilet anxiety can be very debilitating and can lead many children to hold in the urge to go. In the long run, this can result in changes to the bowel and can be extremely harmful to their health. It’s best to address toilet anxiety as soon as it appears to prevent any long term physical damage to the bladder or bowels.
 
How common is it?
Toilet anxiety is more common than you think. The toilet paper company, Andrex, has stated from their own research that as many as four children age 4-6 in every classroom can suffer from toilet anxiety. Plus, over 70% of early years teachers have reported to have encountered children with toilet anxiety. New research further suggests that as a result of the pandemic, more children than ever have started school this year without being fully toilet trained.
 
Why do we get it?
Like many mental health disorders there can be a variety of reasons children develop toilet anxiety and there may not even be one specific cause. Some common causes that can lead to toilet anxiety are:
  • A previous bad experience using the toilet
  • Noises or smells – children can find things like hand dryers especially scary and equate these with going to the bathroom
  • Changes at home, a new baby, parent separation, new move etc.
  • A stressful life change e.g. starting school, death of a loved one.
 
How can I help my child?
One of the main ways you can help your child is to be understanding and supportive. Do not punish them for accidents. Here are some tips below:
  • Open up the conversation around wee and poo
Children learn from an early age that there are things we don’t like to talk about! It’s certainly why the majority of 5-8 year olds find poo hilariously funny. But as a society, we’re useless at speaking about it. We get it – it’s pretty gross, but we all do it! Talk to your child openly about the toilet, the human body and about wee and poo – let them know it’s the most natural and normal thing in the world.
  • Help them understand their worries and emotions
Explore your child’s fear, teach them about why they are anxious (our brains are always trying to protect us but sometimes they get it wrong!). Talk openly about their worries around going to the toilet – our resources are great for helping children explore thoughts and feelings. More importantly, let your child know that their thoughts, feelings and worries are normal and valid.
  • Help them to learn about the human body
Learning about the digestive system and what happens to the food we eat and what we drink can help children learn to trust their body more. If there are fears around constipation or poo getting ‘stuck,’ you can show them how the human body works, and tell them how amazing it is that it takes all the vitamins we need from food and discards the rest!
  • Don’t scare them with stories about what will happen if they don’t go
Don’t scare children by telling them that by not going they may end up poorly or in hospital. This can cause them to worry more.
  • Make your toilet a friendly place
Give your bathroom a makeover and make it a friendly, calming place. You could even get your child involved too.
  • Visit your GP for advice
As with any mental health disorder, if you have concerns about your child’s physical or mental wellbeing, please don’t hesitate to arrange a visit with your GP. Your GP may refer your child to a specialist, or will give you some advice and help that you can’t find on the internet!
 
Take a look at our Toilet Anxiety Resource Pack below!
 
Our resource pack helps children to explore their toilet anxieties and what may help them. Let’s look at some of the activities:
Lou’s Poos Calming Activity – This activity is all about helping your child feel in control by thinking of things that can help them when they feel anxious about going to the toilet. They can use our print below for inspiration, or think of some things themselves. Write these on the poos, decorate and then stick to our Lou! Display in your bathroom as a reminder.
 
Ways to Stay Calm on the Loo Print – This poster gives your child techniques to use when they feel worried or scared to go to the toilet. You could display this in your bathroom where they can see it, or ask them to circle the ones they think will help them.
 
Mindful Toilet Games – We’ve come up with four mindful activities your child can do when those worries about going to the toilet appear. These can help distract and calm your child when they visit the bathroom.
 
My Digestive System – Help children learn about their digestive system and how food and poo moves through their body. Can they draw it on our diagram? Can they label the body parts?
 
Our resources encourage discussion, openness and learning around toilet anxiety, plus gives you some effective calming techniques to try at home. If you’re a member, you can download this right now from the Be Happy Hub.
 
 
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