Does your child have a fear of using public restrooms? With these 6 tips, learn what to do when your child is scared to use public restrooms.
When my three-year-old was beginning to potty train, he refused to use public restrooms. He would also rarely use other people’s bathrooms in their homes.
This made outings hard. We’d either rush home in time to use our toilet, or clean up after a messy accident.
I didn’t get it—he was making strides with potty training. So I wondered when—and how—we were going to help him overcome his fear of using public restrooms.
When your child is scared to use public restrooms
Later, he started using public restrooms, thanks to his own learning curve as well as a few helpful tips.
Here are 6 tips to help a child afraid of public restrooms.
Respect his emotions and don’t dismiss his fear
Your child’s emotions are real to her, no matter how silly or incomprehensible they may seem to you.
While we’ve had plenty of experience and knowledge over the years, our little ones do not. A public restroom that looks nothing like the one you have at home could scare a child who has never used one.
When she starts feeling scared, acknowledge her feelings and empathize with her: “You seem scared of the restroom. I don’t blame you; it’s loud and crowded in here, isn’t it? And it doesn’t look like our restroom at home.”
Encourage her to give it a try, but if she refuses, don’t push it. Even though you know nothing bad will happen, don’t push her towards something scary to her.
And be patient when she doesn’t want to go. This is hard, and usually means an inconvenient rush back home or an accident to clean.
Start with child-friendly public restrooms
Some restrooms are just made for disaster, like the loud, stinky and crowded ones. Try instead to use restrooms that your child might have an easier time to use.
When I was pregnant with twins, I made many trips to the doctor’s office. They happened to have single-room restrooms that looked like someone’s home bathroom.
Or use restrooms without automatic toilet flushers or hand dryers. Both of these emit loud and startling noises that might scare kids. And use empty restrooms so your child doesn’t worry about other people’s presence.
Continue offering to use public restrooms
Your child may feel scared to use the public restroom at the mall. But don’t let that stop you from offering to use it or even walking by it the next time you’re back. He’ll need opportunities to overcome his fears.
This doesn’t mean pushing him to use it next time or even expecting he’ll get over it soon, but offer it as an option the next time you go. You’re conveying your confidence that it’s a safe place.
Explain the consequences without adding blame
Let’s say you’re with your child at the park and she says she wants to use the potty at home instead of at the park. Explain that that means having to cut her playtime short.
Let her know that one of the benefits of using public restrooms is you don’t have to stop playing or leave. They’re there so she can pee or poop and keep playing.
At the same time, don’t blame her for leaving. Just say that’s her choice, but that other options—such as public restrooms—may help.
Take your pre-potty training child to public restrooms
One of my regrets about public restrooms is that I hardly took my son with me to use them. Sure, that’s where we’d go whenever he needed a diaper change, but I wish I had taken him when I needed to use it.
I would’ve been able to show him the different features of the restrooms in a positive light. Things like the paper towels, automatic faucets, the many stalls.
When the time came for him to use it, public restrooms wouldn’t have seemed so foreign. And he would’ve seen me using it and feel reassured that this place isn’t anything to feel scared of.
Don’t make a big deal out of it
Treat public restrooms matter-of-fact so he doesn’t feel like pressured to put on a show. It’s something that you and plenty of other people do.
Making a big deal—whether trying to make it seem positive or getting upset at his refusal—only makes public restrooms seem more mysterious than it really is.
But praise him for every step he takes forward
Rather than berating my son for crying because he didn’t want to use the toilet, I praised him. “Even though you were afraid to enter the restroom, you stayed in there for a full 20 seconds!”
Little steps help, even if it’s walking into the restroom or pulling the paper towels. And of course, when your child actually sits on the potty, offer plenty of praise.
Your child will eventually master public restrooms
I don’t know many 30-year-olds with a fear of using public restrooms in the way toddlers might. Keep that in mind whenever you feel frustrated or impatient with your child’s fears. He’ll eventually use public restrooms—yes, even the loud, stinky, crowded ones.
Get more tips:
- 8 Simple Ways to Prepare for Potty Training
- How to Potty Train a Toddler in 3 Days
- Parenting Your Strong Willed Child
- How to Help Your Child Overcome Fear
- Do You Know What to Do when Your Child Acts Out in Public?
Did your child have a fear of using public restrooms? What steps did you take to help them?
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