May 12

Potty Training & The Dreaded Public Restroom

I hate them, you hate them, but they are a necessary evil.  I recommend that sometime, very early in your potty training journey, you venture out into the world and have your potty trainee use public bathrooms.  The longer you put it off, the harder it can be for your child to be comfortable using them.

Parents seek out help online every day saying “I’m scared to leave the house with my potty training child”, “I don’t know how to deal with accidents in public” or “We haven’t left the house for 3 weeks and I don’t know how”.  And is it any wonder…


Picture this:

You enter a cramped stall with your toddler, disgusted with the sticky floor and wet toilet seat.  As you cover the seat with toilet paper your toddler is peeking under the stall wall at the neighbor.  You finally get the seat covered, and get your toddler’s pants down, but he is fighting you every step of the way.  He says he doesn’t have to pee, but you know he needs to go, as just a moment ago he was doing his usual “pee pee dance”.  You pick him up and balance him on the toilet while he is squirming, and you’re trying to calm him down.  “Please pee for mommy, and then we’ll go have some lunch”.

Just as he’s finally settling enough to be able to relax and release, the toilet in the neighbor’s stall flushes, scaring your son who is now tense and upset.  Suddenly the toilet you are using auto-flushes and now your child is crying.  You abandon the mission, knowing this is just not going to happen.  Hopefully he can hold it a bit longer, or there’s going to be an accident to clean up.


A lot of moms have been there and it’s not fun.  Unfortunately the next time you try to take your toddler to a public restroom, he may not even want to go in the door, never mind get on the toilet.  The first few experiences are important for making your child feel safe and secure.


It’s important to set yourself (and your child) up for success right from the start.  Try my 3P’s of Public Restrooms: Planning, Practice and Products.


Planningpotty training

Do you know of any malls or restaurants in your area that have family restrooms?  These usually have a little more space, allowing mom and dad to be in there together with the child(ren).  Trust me, extra hands will be helpful, especially the first few times.  There may also be nursing areas, diaper change stations, bottle warming stations, and small toilets for children.  My local malls and my local Ikea had good family restrooms, and so this is where the majority of our outings were when we were early in potty training.  The best thing about family restrooms is that there is no one in the stall next door – they are usually a separate room unto their own.


Family restrooms are also helpful for me as my youngest is very sensitive to loud noises, especially if they are sudden.  I avoid restrooms with those high speed automatic hand dryers.  The regular dryers are fine, but those super-charged ones that have your hands dry in 3 seconds scare him.  Keep this in mind, as you don’t want anything to startle your child.  Even a flush from a stall next door can make a toddler cry and suddenly have public bathroom fears that are hard to get over.


Also in the “Planning” category, you will want to pack a bag with all of the essentials.  In the early days you may find yourself packing much more than you need, but preparation reduces stress, and you’re new to this so you want to be prepared for anything.  Think about changes of clothes for accidents, wet wipes (travel size or in a Ziploc bag), a seat insert if you’ll need to use the big toilet (so your toddler doesn’t feel like he will fall in), and a bag to separate wet clothes from your other items. Early on I used my diaper bag to carry everything, and later downsized to a much smaller bag.



Start small to build confidence, both for you and your child.  Take short trips away from home before you conquer longer trips.  I recommend 30 minutes for a short errand, and then head back home.  You may want to pick a more intimate venue for your first trip, such as a small coffee shop instead of WalMart.


Potty training public washroomBefore your practice run, try to coax your child into using the potty before leaving the house.  Don’t force it.  Say “everybody pees before leaving the house.  Mommy has to pee”.  Take the lead, and hopefully your child will follow.  The first few outings should be flexible enough that once your child pees you can leave right afterwards (versus being tied to a tight schedule and suddenly your child is having a bad morning).


In the car, make sure your child knows that they are not to pee in the car seat, and they need to tell you when they need to go.  Avoid diapering a potty training child for convenience when you’re going out.  Basically this tells the child that you do not trust them, and that pottying is optional.  For some children, doing this a couple of times doesn’t cause a disaster, while for others it completely derails potty training.  Instead in recommend lining the car seat so that you don’t have to remove the entire cover in the event of an accident (great carseat “Piddle Pads” are made by Diono, Kiddopotamus, or Summer Infant).  If you are really against an accident in the car seat or while out and about, try a plastic or nylon cover over your child’s underwear, or use disposable training pants on top of underwear.  Both options allow your child to still feel wet and know that they had an accident.  See my blog on disposable training pants for more information about why these should be avoided if possible.


Every time you are out, visit the restroom first.  You essentially want to introduce your child to the restroom and make sure he/she knows that there is one nearby for when they need it.  Children pick up their cues from us, so we need to model the behaviors we want them to exhibit.  It may help for you to use the public toilet, without also asking or pressuring him/her to give it a try.  This may help your child feel comfortable that it’s safe.  You may have to do this multiple times before they feel comfortable.


Once you have a few successful outings under your belt, you are ready for anything!

Products to Try

There are some products that can make outings and public restrooms a little easier on both of you.  After a lot of trial and error and some wasted money, I came across several products that I love and still use today.  Here are my favorites.  You may want to give some of them a try.



Other tips

  • Children that are used to a potty and now need to poop on a real toilet might have an issue with the splash.  There’s no water in their potty, so this is a new experience.  Try throwing some toilet paper in the toilet first as a “landing pad” so that there is no big splash.
  • Some children don’t like their legs hanging from a big toilet and need their feet firmly planted in order to poop.  Try squatting down in front of the child so he/she can put their feet on your thighs.
  • Stash some stickers or post-it notes in your bag or purse.  You can use them to cover the automatic flushing sensor so that the toilet doesn’t randomly flush and scare your child.


I hope you found my 3P’s of Public Restrooms helpful.  Have I missed anything?  What tips do you have to make public restroom visits easier?


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