Frequently we observe teachers and providers who want to close the door to the bathroom while a child is using the toilet to ensure privacy. This can be a problem with young children because the provider cannot see the child to protect their safety. Bathrooms have several areas that can be at risk to children.
- Drowning. Children can drown in less than a couple inches of water and in a matter of seconds. Bathrooms have toilets and sinks that hold water.
- Chemicals and Medicines. Bathrooms are often a storage place for cleaning chemicals, medications and ointments. Soaps can even be hazardous if swallowed; which is why they should be used under adult supervision. All other items labeled “keep out of reach of children” should be locked away.
- Burns and Shocks. Accessible outlets without safety covers. Especially in homes, you might find curling irons, straighteners or other hot appliances left out.
- Falls. We know children love to climb and bathroom toilets, step stools and countertops are all inviting surfaces for children to use as climbing structures. Climbing on any of these surfaces can quickly lead to falls. Bathroom floors easily become wet and slippery. It is important to be sure wet floors are wiped up promptly.
A lack of supervision can also lead to poor hygiene practices and uncleanliness. It is important to ensure children are using the toileting facilities properly and carrying out toileting procedures correctly, for example flushing toilets, wiping correctly, and washing hands. Providers need to ensure sanitary conditions are maintained by supplying enough toilet paper and paper towels for children, making sure no urine is left on toilet seats or floors, and paper towels thrown away.
With any area of child care, adequate supervision protects children from physical and emotional harm. When children are within sight and hearing, teachers are able to quickly stop teasing, bullying, and inappropriate behaviors.
The youngest children (toddlers and young preschoolers) will often need more assistance and closer supervision. Developmentally, toddlers and preschoolers are not ready to be left in the bathroom alone as they are more impulsive and do not have good judgment to avoid risks. Providers should be stationed by the bathroom door to provide guidance to younger children.
The amount of supervision provided to older preschool children (around 5 years of age to Kindergarten) will depend on the child. Some 5 year olds need more guidance than others. Once a child has shown the ability to properly use the bathroom facilities and understand the rules, they can be provided more privacy. However, these children still need to be checked on frequently and be within close hearing range. If toileting areas are not within the classroom, a teacher should accompany children to the restroom.
School-age children may be ready to use the bathroom alone. Again, this will depend on the abilities of the child and ensuring they understand the rules. Teachers should still stay near the bathroom and check on them frequently to ensure inappropriate behaviors do not occur. Teachers can make it clear privacy is respected, but if there is an issue the teacher will enter the bathroom area. It is important to make sure children do not lock the bathroom doors, in case there is an emergency.
For infants, toddlers, and preschoolers direct supervision by sight and hearing should be used at all times, whether it’s during outdoor gross motor, nap, meals, indoor play, or toileting. For school-age children, teachers/ providers should keep them within sight or hearing at all times.
All About ECERS-R, p. 116-120
Caring For Our Children, Standard 18.104.22.168: Methods of Supervision of Children