Potty Training in Public – When Your Child is Afraid to Use a Public Bathroom

You’ve cleared a major hurdle in potty-training – your child has learned to use the bathroom successfully – but once you leave your house it’s a different story entirely. Your child becomes fearful and agitated and refuses to “go” in a strange bathroom. If you feel like you’re stuck in this situation, you’re not alone. Plenty of children make great progress in potty-training and then literally hit a wall when they have to go anywhere but on their own turf.

While getting to this middle-ground in potty training can be frustrating for many parents who thought that the job was done, there are several ways to help your child to make sure that this stage will pass quickly. Some strategies include:

Recognize the fear: Try to treat this not as misbehavior, but as a real fear. Many kids feel genuinely frightened by the loud noises, large toilets, and strangers who walk in and out of public restrooms. Plus, chances are you want to get them in and out quickly, so there is lots of pressure for your little one to “perform” on the spot. See if you can take the pressure down a notch and help them conquer this fear like any other fear, with understanding and patience.

Start small: Don’t head out to places with giant public bathrooms right away. Let your child have the opportunity to practice first at a friend’s house, or at a restroom in a small restaurant or store that has only one toilet. This gives them a chance to experience a different bathroom with a full-sized potty seat, and will gradually give them confidence to “go” in an unfamiliar place.

Bring a potty seat insert: Sure, it may be inconvenient for a few weeks, but for those little ones who are afraid of falling in, a portable potty insert can be a life-saver. Once they become adjusted to going in different places, the fear should decrease over time. (If you don’t have a potty seat insert, you should always hold onto your child and help him or her stay on the seat without falling down and splashing.)

Cover it up: For children who are afraid of touching the public toilet – and frustrated when the little paper guard keeps slipping off – try an adhesive potty seat cover designed for kids.

Delay the flush: Many children have a fear of the automatic flush function on some public toilets. Sometimes when a little person is on the toilet the sensor mistakenly thinks there’s no one sitting there and the powerful flush starts prematurely – which can be terrifying for a little one who is already afraid of falling in. When your child sits on the toilet, hold your hand over the red sensor to prevent the toilet from flushing until your child is ready.

While you are helping them get over this fear, remember to have plenty of wipes and spare underwear in the car or in your diaper bag. Accidents will happen, and you should treat them as just that: accidents. Give your child lots of praise when he or she able to use a public bathroom successfully. And don’t fall into the pressure of going back to diapers or Pull-Ups because that could send a mixed message to your child. All told, it may take several weeks or even months for them to conquer their fears. But remember that it is a stage that will pass, and before long this part of your child’s life will be just a distant memory.