I Never Prepared My Kid To Go To The Bathroom Alone Before Kindergarten
I inadvertently made a big, basic parenting fail. Learn from my mistake.
A week into my son’s very first week of kindergarten, I picked him up and he was wearing a pair of pants that weren’t his. They were about two sizes too small and three inches too short. He ran up to me and announced, “I got to wear different pants today!”
He was very happy and clearly wasn’t affected by my confused expression. When I asked him where his other pants were, he shoved his backpack toward me and ran to join his new friends on the playground for a few minutes before we went home.
I pawed through his backpack and found his very wet pants inside of a garbage bag at the bottom of his backpack just as his teacher found me on the playground.
“He had a little accident today,” she said. “We were having circle time and I saw his pants getting wet and got him right to the bathroom, but I was too late.”
My son had been potty trained for years and never had so much as an accident overnight, so I started searching my brain, wondering how that happened. Maybe he was so engrossed in the story sharing during circle time, he didn’t want to get up to go and miss anything. Maybe he was too shy to raise his hand and ask if he could go to the bathroom.
His teacher assured me it happened often and not to worry unless it became a regular thing. When I told her my thoughts about why it had happened, she assured me my son wasn’t shy and never hesitated to ask for anything, but she did tell me he never asked to go to the bathroom so she’d remind him a few times during the day to go from now on.
When we got into the car to go home, I told him accidents happen and it was okay. Then I asked, “Did you just not realize you had to go, honey?”
To that he responded, “No, I knew I had to go, but I was scared.”
“Scared to ask?”
“No, scared to go to the bathroom alone. You are always with me when I go potty unless we’re at home.”
My son was right; every single time he’d had to use the bathroom when we weren’t at home, even at a friend’s house, I’d go with him. Then I sent him off to school with a bunch of people he didn’t know, and he spent all day away from me and was expected to go to the bathroom in a strange place without me.
I was the reason he felt scared to go to the bathroom alone! I hadn’t meant to, but I’d taught him that if he had to use the bathroom when we were not at home, I needed to be there. It never occurred to me that I’d done that. It was a habit I’d started, and I never stopped to think the only way he’d feel comfortable using the bathroom at school was to have him practice using the bathroom alone when we were in different places. I felt like an idiot to say the least.
I immediately called his teacher and told her what my son had said, apologized, and assured her we would work on things. She was wonderful and said she could go to the bathroom with him and wait outside the door since it was connected to the classroom, if he needed her to.
The next day, I brought him to school a little early and told him to try and use the bathroom by himself so he could get used to going alone, and there was nothing to be afraid of. I also made sure every time we were in a place other than our house that he used the bathroom alone. That’s all it took, and he never had another accident again.
I had no idea that tagging along with him to the bathroom each time he went would make him feel scared when he had to do it without me. But it makes sense. If you’ve had someone by your side your entire life during a certain task, then you have to do it without them for the first time, it's probably going to cause some anxiety. So I went out of my way to prepare my younger kids, and everything was just fine. And if you’re prepping your own kids for kindergarten, don’t get so focused on the big stuff that you forget the smaller-seeming changes they’re in for.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.