School Anxiety

School Anxiety and its impact on toilet training

Children can experience anxiety just like adults – especially when it comes to big life changes like going to school. School anxiety happens when your child becomes anxious about starting school or returning after a long break. Back to school nerves could be related to worries about a test, fitting in socially, or having trouble using the toilet.

On this page we will talk about:

Types of school anxiety

School anxiety is a catch-all term that refers to any worries a child feels or experiences about attending school.

Childhood anxiety is growing - with emotional disorders (including anxiety) in five to fifteen year-olds rising, from 3.9% in 2004 to 5.8% in 2017. We’ll explore five various types of anxiety and how they can relate to your child’s experiences of school – whether you’re prepping your toddler for pre-school or have an older child already at big school.

General anxiety

With general anxiety, your little ones (or big ones) might occasionally feel nervous but don’t necessarily have an anxiety disorder – think about how you might feel before starting a new job – worried and slightly unsettled.

For children, this could be back to school nerves or nerves about finding and using the bathroom on their own. This is all normal, but you should keep an eye on it in case it develops into a deeper anxiety disorder.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is the distress a baby or toddler feels when apart from their parent or caregiver. Doctors consider it normal and suggest it should stop by the age of three. Pre-school could possibly be the first time many children are away from their parents, so separation anxiety is common among slightly older children. Usually, this shows itself as crying at the school gates.

Social anxiety

Social anxiety is the overwhelming fear of social situations. It’s more common in older children and teenagers. However, younger children can also be affected. Your child appearing frightened of school and not wanting to play with other kids could be a sign of social anxiety.

Generalised anxiety disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long-term, non-specific anxiety. People with GAD get anxious and worry about lots of different and seemingly trivial things. For your child, that could mean consistently worrying about everyday stuff like going to school or using the toilet there.

Specific phobias

With a phobia, your child feels fearful or anxious about one thing, such as people, places, objects, activities, or situations. One common childhood phobia is the dark, but other examples include:

  • Animals
  • Insects
  • Heights

With school anxiety, a child could have a fear of PE or using the school bathrooms. If you feel your child’s anxiety is impacting their life, regular routine, or health, speak with your doctor.


How to spot anxiety

Though we’ve talked about several types of anxiety disorders, there are symptoms that apply to all of them. Whichever condition underpins your child’s school anxiety, as a parent you should look out for the following signs:.

Talking to you

The clearest sign of anxiety is your child telling you about it. If they speak to you about their worries or feelings, for example, that they’re struggling to concentrate, then it’s important that you provide reassurance. Tell them you understand how they are feeling – perhaps share experiences of your own childhood anxiety.

Alternatively, some children can clam up, especially as they get older. We know that many kids give one syllable answers to questions like ‘how was school?’. But if they used to be chatty and are now not giving the types of answers you might expect, it could be due to anxiety.

Fidgety and tense

Children with anxiety often feel fidgety and tense, so look out for your child not being able to sit still,. for example, when you’re sitting at the table doing homework or eating dinner. Poor concentration is another anxiety symptom that can reveal itself as restlessness.

Disruptive behaviour

Many children don’t have the emotional tools at a young age to express the anger or worry they feel. If they are getting anxious, they might not be able to tell you why. Instead, they might resort to physical acts – like becoming irritable or even lashing out. Depending on their age, this could be tantrums over not wanting to go to school, or refusal to do something you’ve asked them to do at home.

Struggling at school

Anxiety can be easier to spot in classroom environments as they might struggle to concentrate. If your child has anxiety, they find it hard to focus on simple tasks. This can cause problems with everyday school tasks and general learning. Anxiety can also make it difficult for children to put their hands up to answer a question.

Sleep problems

Sleep problems such as insomnia are common anxiety symptoms. If your child is anxious about school, they may find it difficult to fall asleep – being wide awake at 3am as their anxious brain works in overdrive. This lack of sleep exacerbates other school anxiety symptoms, making it harder for your child to concentrate and stay alert in class.

Return of toileting issues

Anxiety can also affect your child’s digestive system – we’ve all heard the phrase ‘an anxious stomach’. And if your child feels anxious, they may visit the loo more often, and perhaps have diarrhoea. This can potentially create anxiety at school itself around using the toilet, perhaps over worries about leaving a mess or not making it in time.

Also, it could lead to wet beds. Secondary bedwetting happens in older children who haven’t wet the bed for some time but have accidents out of the blue. If this is taking place in your home, have a look at the article covering bedwetting advice for parents for tips on how to handle it in a supportive manner. School anxiety could be an underlying cause of this.

Is your child ready for school? Check our School Readiness Checklist


What to do as a parent to support your child with school anxiety

If you already know your child has anxiety, or you’ve recognised symptoms covered on this page, you may be wondering what you can do to help. Follow these tips to support your child with school anxiety:

  • Talk to them: It sounds obvious, but talking to your child about how they feel and why is a good first step. Listen to what they have to say, and make sure they know you understand them. Don’t dismiss any feeling they have – even if it’s anger.
  • Rule out issues at home: Ask them if everything is okay in general. Are there any issues with their sibling/s, friends, or another family member – including you or your partner?
  • Talk to teachers: Arrange an appointment with their teacher and share your concerns. Request they keep a closer eye on your child at school. Ask about whether he or she feels your child is emotionally ready for school, and how best to support your child.
  • Be consistent: Children need routine. Try to ensure you have stable routines at home around meal times, homework, relaxing time and bed. Depending on their age, do the same with toilet use.
  • Seek professional help: Don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor if anxiety is becoming a problem for your child.


Witnessing school anxiety in your child can be a stressful experience. Here are some tools from Baby Soft® to help you and your child alleviate stress when it comes to toilet training anxiety and school:

-School Readiness Checklist (pdf)

-Toilet Anxiety and School Readiness