What do you do when an older child wets themselves?
We associate children wetting themselves with very young children but this happens to older children too.
Although bed-wetting in older children and adults is common, accidents can also happen in class and on school trips, particularly coach journeys.
It can be a highly traumatic moment for an older pupil to have a toileting accident around their peers and we need to be ready for it in case this happens.
Teacher training doesn’t prepare you for this so what can you do?
In a sense, the ‘same rules apply’ as they would for younger children and you adopt identical professional protocols although the sensitivities involved are much higher.
You might think that dealing with toileting issues is ‘above and beyond’ what you are employed to do but it is our professional duty to look after children in these circumstances.
When a child wets or soils themselves then they are going to be highly embarrassed and very distressed especially if this happens in class. I have had only five incidents like this in my teaching career with pupils over 11 years and it can be excruciatingly hard for them to deal with. Some of their peers can be cruel and it can have a devastating effect as the child concerned can be ridiculed and this can destroy their self-confidence and emotional well-being.
Not all children react this way and show tremendous empathy and concern. With extremely careful management, even the less forgiving children can be taught appropriate reactions to bladder and bowel problems.
If there is a problem in class and a student does wet themselves then the number one priority is to keep the situation low-key and to preserve that student’s dignity. You will always need help from another adult too and if you are lucky enough to have someone close by then a situation can soon be managed and without fuss.
In some cases the class will need to leave the classroom and be directed elsewhere either to another classroom, a library, to the hall or outside under the pretense of another activity (or without saying why). Sometimes it can be possible to deal with an incident in class by being discrete and directing a student to a colleague who can help arrange a change of clothes. Your response will depend on the age of the child involved but a change of clothes must always be an option and schools should make provision for this as a change into a PE kit isn’t always appropriate.
In all the cases I have dealt with I have always been surprised that the vast majority of children don’t even know something has happened and it has been kept private.
When an older student has had an accident then they should be directed to a staff toilet away from other pupils so they can clean themselves, change and compose themselves. A staff member should be available to have a private conversation too so that any concerns can be shared and reassurances can be given.
When dealing with any incident like this it is paramount that you adopt a non-judgmental and business-like manner and show respect and sensitivity. If a student is concerned about needing the toilet again then it is sensible to arrange a subtle non-verbal signal between you so that an exit can be made when needed without any fuss. It’s also the time to talk about what you will do if an incident happens again and what the child can do to save face.
There are so many reasons why a child might experience a toileting incident and this could include not wanting to use the toilets in school, having a urinary tract infection or being under stress. Be careful about involving parents as incidents could be linked to home circumstances. Privacy and dignity have to be maintained at all times.
See the article 7 Surprising Facts About Daytime Wetting from the website Health for Teens.
ERIC is the only charity dedicated to the bowel and bladder health of all children and teenagers in the UK. Their vision is that “Every child and teenager with a bowel or bladder condition can access support and live free from embarrassment, shame, isolation and fear.”
See the Mental Health and Growing Up Factsheet by the Royal College of Psychiatrists ‘Children who soil or wet themselves: information for parents, carers and anyone who works with children‘.