When my oldest son began kindergarten, he started refusing to use the public restroom with me. He wanted to go into the men’s room because at school he had to use the boys’ bathroom. Boys, they were told, were not to go into the girls’ restroom and vice versa.
At the time, his siblings were still young and two were in diapers. While it was easier for me to herd all four of them into one room, Engineer Husband and I wanted to respect our son’s new-found independence and modesty. We talked about it and decided he was old enough to use public restrooms alone. How did we know he could handle the responsibility? It all came down to a few keys facts:
- He could dress and undress himself. There’s no use in sending a child into the bathroom alone if they cannot pull their clothes up or down to use the bathroom! Most of the time, our son wore easy to maneuver clothes. He only needed help with the occasional button or zipper and that was quickly taken care of when he came out of the restroom.
- He could handle all aspects of the bathroom independently. By five, BigBrother could use the bathroom, wipe, flush and wash and dry his hands without help. He could also enter and exit the stalls and room itself without help. If he was unable to use the sink, he knew to ask for hand sanitizer.
- He was responsible. That is, I didn’t have any worries about him goofing off in the bathroom. I knew he was unlikely to dawdle, make a mess or cause trouble. Not every five year old is capable of this. I know several who still need constant supervision in the restroom, and that’s normal too. As kids grow and mature, even the most impulsive ones will be able to resist making spit balls out of paper towels. BigBrother also knew that I wasn’t above going into the restroom and getting him if he was goofing off!
- He knew how to be safe. My husband and I talked to him about “tricky people” and reminded him that he could tell us if someone said or did something inappropriate to him.
- I was close by. At the time, BigBrother rarely went places without me and when he needed to use the restroom, I would often take a baby with me to change their diaper. I was close in case of an emergency and he could find me easily.
Not sure if your child is ready to use a public restroom on their own but they still want privacy? Try these ideas!
- Use a “Family Restroom.” Many locations now offer a family restroom, an extra large restroom with a sink, toilet, and changing table. These are great when you have a herd, like we do, and everyone needs to use the bathroom at once. I really liked these bathrooms on trips when I had a double stroller, because they were easy to move the stroller in and out of.
- Use a “personal” restroom. Smaller than the family restrooms, these are often for one person to use at a time. Your child can use the restroom in private while you wait outside, knowing that no one else is in there with them.
- Practice. You can send the child into an empty restroom appropriate for your gender (i.e., the woman’s if a female caregiver is with the child, men’s if male) and wait outside. That way, you can easily go in if they need help but they have a little independence.
- Get a buddy. Send them with a sibling or friend that is comfortable helping in the restroom. My little boys were able to use the men’s room at a young age because BigBrother could take them.
Now that BigBrother is ten, his days of needing me in the restroom are long over! It’s great to see what an independent young man he has become and how responsible he is in all areas of his life.