5 year old is afraid to go to the bathroom alone

I have a problem I'm hoping you can help me out with.... I gave a 5 yr old about to start kindergarten in 2 weeks and he gets soooo upset to go to the bathroom by himself. He wants mommy or daddy to come with him even at our own home. He says hes scared... We tell him he needs to go alone because at school we won't be there to go with him... He will stand in the bathroom crying his eyes out. After 10 min either he will go or we give up and go in there with him. Any advice?

You can help your son through his fear. I would start by telling him that you see how frightened he is to go to the bathroom himself, and you know that is really hard.

You've been frightened of things too, especially when you were little. Add that you know he can do it and that you will help him. Then, when he needs to go and asks you to go with him, give him a big hug and repeat all that. Tell him that you will go halfway with him. When he gets to halfway, smile and say "Okay, I will be right here listening and you will be able to hear my voice from here. You can do this yourself."

When he begins to cry, hold him and help the tears come, by saying "You are so scared. But I will be right here. We are connected by invisible cords between our hearts and nothing bad can happen to you in the bathroom without me." He will cry hard, hopefully. When he's done crying, smile at him and remind him that you will be right there waiting. DON'T carry on with anything else. Stand there and wait. Stay connected with your voice.

After he goes, he will feel proud. (If, by contrast, you aren't there waiting, he is likely to feel traumatized, which will just impede his progress toward independence.) As you do this day by day, he will confront all that fear and work it through. And you can gradually say "I will go 1/3 of the way" and then "I will go ten steps" and eventually he will go himself. (You can also cut back on using your voice, although stay available to respond if he checks to see if you're listening.)

This should help him master this new hurdle with no residual trauma. You can make it easier (fewer tears) by making sure that he gets plenty of laughter in every day. He can laugh about anything, but especially it would be good to get him laughing about separation, by pretending you're afraid to be apart from him. Ham it up so he sees it as funny rather than taking you seriously. The laughter will clear out some of his fear. Bucking bronco rides and anything that is a bit physically risky will also help, since that will help him experience fear and release it. This should not take more than a week or ten days, and hopefully will set him up to feel more courageous rather than more traumatized when he starts kindergarten. Good luck!
Dr. Laura Markham

Click here to watch Dr. Laura's video, "Helping Children With Childhood Fears."

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