Pee Break Policies in Indian Schools Are Toxic for Children
In the absence of universal policies around students’ right to go to the bathroom at will, many teachers in Indian schools implement their own rules, which usually require students to hold it until it becomes convenient for the teacher to let them go.
As a result, “teachers don’t allow the children to drink water,” said Dr. Swati Popat Vats, president of child advocacy group Early Childhood Association. “Preventing children from going to the bathroom is a common problem over all ages.”
Indian schools usually have too many children per class, which makes it difficult for teachers to handle them, Dr. Vats said. Therefore, they set specific times for students to take a bathroom break, which doesn’t take into account individual children’s bodily needs.
“Our schools are structured in a way that activities are happening all the time. Letting a student take a bathroom break in the middle of them is considered a headache,” Dr. Vats added. “If [teachers] let them go, then they have to do the activity again for that student.”
Wielding a no-bathroom-break policy has also been a common method of corporal punishment for teachers, according to “Guidelines for Eliminating Corporal Punishment in Schools.” 18 percent of students surveyed were not allowed to take a bathroom break as a result of poor behavior, it added.
“I have been denied permission to go to the toilet by the teacher on numerous occasions. Believe me, it is not only the most painful, but it is the most humiliating as well,” 14-year-old private-school student Sudha Srinivasan told Telegraph India at the time of the report’s release.
For very young children, transitioning into a daily school routine is already difficult. Strict pee break policies drive home their body’s lack of control; in their helplessness, they often lash out, Dr. Vats said.
The problem boils down to potty training in young children, Dr. Vats added. A lot of children are not taught to go to the bathroom by the time they start primary school, she said. When they have the urge to go and they are not allowed to, it can lead to anger and frustration. “It’s definitely a stress factor [for them],” she added.
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Strict pee break policies can compound the shame that some potty training methods inculcate at home, she said. Tactics like scolding the child for wetting their pants serve to embarrass the child and lead them to associate natural bodily functions with shame. “The child freezes when the mother is being strict about it. Most parents are very embarrassed when their children wet their pants. The children then feel embarrassed due to peer pressure.”
While not being able to hold it is a “part and parcel” of growing up, it is imperative parents and teachers are sensitized about it, Dr. Vats said. Otherwise, such shaming can have dire effects on “the child’s behavior, personality and learning ability,” Dr. Vats said.
In addition to the psychological effects on the child, there are physical repercussions that come from being forced to hold in urine. Research shows that it can “weaken bladder muscles, causing leakage and increased susceptibility to urinary tract infections,” according to a “Survey of School Nurses Reveals Lack of Bathroom Policies and Bladder Health Education” by the Society of Women’s Health Research. And of course, the dangers of dehydration from being denied water — a common method used by teachers to control students’ bathroom breaks — can also affect children’s bodies, leading to diarrhea and vomiting.
“Female students are distinctly disadvantaged by restrictive bathroom policies and the lack of free and easily available menstrual products in school bathrooms,” Rebecca Nebel, PhD, SWHR’s director of scientific programs, writes in the survey report. Restricting bathroom use for girls can also lead to their not being able to change their menstrual pad, overuse of which can result in “health issues such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and in rare cases, toxic shock syndrome,” according to the survey.
Quoting famous Italian physician Maria Montessori, Dr. Vats emphasized the importance of “toilet learning.” According to Montessori experts, conventional potty training methods focus on “teaching” the toddler to use the toilet and exercise control over their bowel movements. “Toilet learning,” on the other hand is a more sensitized approach toward assisting the child that allows the child to communicate their needs and act with maturity. Apparently, it’s not just the kids who need it.