Potty problems

Posted on: 28/03/2011

Let me tell you about yesterday.  And be warned, this is a long post, so bear with me if you can.

After school, it was nice weather, so we stopped by the park and the kids played for a while.  I read the paper.

graur codrin /

After a while, I noticed my middle child standing still, with a certain look on her face.  A cross between distress, concentration and something else.

I know that look.  Intimately.

You see, middle child has been through the mill since starting school.  About the time she turned four, she had a distressing experience where, having recently conquered the potty properly (it took a while for her to get it), she needed to go when we were stuck in a traffic jam.

And after twenty distressing minutes for both her and us, since we were helpless to help her out, unsurprisingly she couldn’t hold on any longer.

After that point, we went on for nearly a year with on-and-off potty problems.  (I say potty, I mean toilet – I think of it as an affectionate term).  Not the most fun when your child is trying to get on with her first year at school.  Now, many, many, many children have potty issues in their first year at school.  It takes a while to tear oneself away from all those exciting distractions in the early years class.  But after six months of no visible improvement, with me pregnant and failing to keep calm about it, in spite of the school staff working with her to try to get to the toilet on time, we decided to seek medical advice on the recommendation of our health visitor.

Roll on another four months before we got an appointment, and a specialist paediatrician tells us that middle child has severe constipation.  (Forgive the intimate terminology here.  It’s going to get worse, so feel free to skip to the end if you prefer.)

When a child has severe constipation, it is usually because of any or all of the following reasons.  Firstly, the child tries to prevent themselves from going when they need to, causing a build-up in the back passage.  Secondly, the child is not drinking enough, which causes the stool to dry out and become hard, making it harder to pass the stool.  Both these reasons cause the child to lose sensation both front and back, meaning that they miss the signals you or I might usually get to warn us to go to the toilet.  There’s a third reason, which is too much or too little fibre, which is less of an issue in our household.  The doctor tells us it’s the first two reasons that’s causing middle child the problem.  Probably as a result of the distress from that incident in the traffic jam all that time ago.

Doctor’s recommendations are regular toileting (2 to 2 1/2 hours after each drink), and regular drinking, as well as some delightful medicine which ensures the stools stay soft.  To be enforced at school, and since you have a five-week-old baby perhaps you can get extra help at home?  Fat chance, I have no family near me, that’s why we want to move.  Anyhow I digress… We take on board what the doctor says, apart from the home help bit.

School are magnificent in the first term.  They help implement a star chart to ensure that middle child has enough to drink and goes to the loo at the right time.  We still have an accident every once in a while, but things have vastly improved.

Keattikorn /

We all heave a sigh of relief, and start to relax about the whole thing.  I stop keeping spare clothes in the car, and we stop doing the chart.

Big mistake.

The moment we stop doing the chart, school staff seem to think the problem no longer exists.  I remind the class teacher at parents evening and any other opportunity I get that we are not out of the woods, that middle child is still on medication, and that when she needs to go potty, she really needs to go.  Class teacher takes this on board and I for one am grateful.

Unfortunately class teacher is only there in the mornings and another teacher, who I believe is excellent at teaching, takes the class in the afternoons.  But…whilst excellent at teaching, she has her own ideas about when children should be allowed to go to the toilet.  I have repeatedly asked for middle child to be allowed to go whenever she needs to, but – at least according to middle child, and I can’t see why she would lie about this – every time she needs to go a second time in short succession – inevitably for a bowel movement, the afternoon teacher is not letting her go.  This is nearly a year since we saw the doctor, and six months since we stopped asking the school to complete a star chart.

twobee /

Back to yesterday afternoon.

That look on middle child’s face?  You’ve guessed it, something’s happened and she is stuck there trying to hold it in when it really needs to come out.  There are already marks in her pants from trying to hold it in at school when she was prevented from going to the toilet.

I am armed with a potty, and we get her on there immediately, but the pants have had it already and the trousers caught some of the brunt as well.  There’s nothing left for it but to wipe, wipe, wipe some more, stick my thankfully skinny middle child into one of smallest one’s nappies, go for a sarong look with a muslin and leave the park early.  I curse myself for not getting around to putting the spare clothes in the car.

Middle child is understandably upset.  Outwardly I am calm.  Inside, I’m as upset as her, especially when she explains that it’s because the afternoon teacher wouldn’t let her go to the toilet in class.  Again.  (About the fifth time in a fortnight.)  In fact, I am more than upset.   I am fuming.  How dare the teacher not let my child go to the toilet?  A denial of basic human rights, if I let my anger run away with me.

I understand that there are occasions when children pretend they need the toilet to make mischief, but after repeating myself till I am blue in the face I am sick, sick, sick of having to come back to the school and ask again that middle child be allowed to go whenever she needs.

I realised that being cryptic about which teacher wasn’t letting middle child go was not getting me anywhere.  The teacher concerned had clearly thought that my requests didn’t apply to her.  So this morning I go directly to the head teacher and say, please can you have a word with teacher X and get her to stop preventing my child from going to the toilet.  In as polite a tone as I can manage. After all, the head teacher hasn’t done anything wrong.  And I don’t feel I can talk to the teacher concerned without losing my temper.

Head teacher has a good diplomatic approach.  If anyone can get it across clearly without said teacher getting the hump, she can.   I really hope that the message does get through though.  I am getting fed up with this, and I can’t imagine how fed up middle child must be.  Toileting issues are humiliating at the best of times, let alone in the park with nowhere to hide.

I just feel that five-year-olds have enough to deal with without any extra problems.   (And thirty-six-year-old mums of three could do without the hassle, too, of course.)  Roll on the day when middle child doesn’t need to worry about this any longer.


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