Potty training is one of the worst parts of parenting. And just when you think it couldn't get more shoddy than trying to teach your child how to use a toilet at home, you're forced to brave the outside world with your potty-training child. And that, my friend, is when you descend into the seventh circle of hell: teaching your kids to use public bathrooms. Because, to toddlers, bathrooms are scary, and getting over their fear of the public restroom is a daunting, often overwhelming task. Yes, for all involved.
It's understandable, of course. I mean, I hate public restrooms, too. They're loud, gross, and you never know what to expect. Will there be toilet paper? Will the person before you flush? Will there be soap? In my experience, the answer to all of those questions is a resounding "no." To make matters worse, the automatic toilet flusher will inevitably go off before your child is done and scare the sh*t out of them, the door lock won't work and someone will walk in on you, the sinks will be too high for your little one to reach so you will have to prop them between the sink and your body to help them wash their hands, and the water will be too cold or too hot. Then the way-too-damn-loud hand driers will go off, your toddler will be startled and probably run out of the bathroom, leaving you with your baby on one hip as you try to dry your still-wet hands. Or worse, your toddler will throw themselves down on the floor and throw a tantrum... in a public restroom. Who the hell even knows what lives on those floors, you guys.
Fortunately, over the years and in my many conversations with experienced moms, I've learned (and tried) a few things to make taking your kid to the bathroom a little bit less scary and stressful. So far, my favorite is using your hand or a sticky note (if you don't want to touch a public toilet) to cover the automatic flusher, and carrying baby wipes and hand sanitizer in your purse so you can avoid sinks, towels, and driers entirely.
I know I'm not the only mom with some go-to tricks and tips to making a visit to the public restroom with a toddler as pain-free as possible, so I asked other moms to share their knowledge with the rest of us. Since you can't stay home forever, it's best to rip off the Band-aid and grab some provisions. It will be gross, sure, but it just might be a little bit easier to manage if you do some of the following:
"I let her leave the stall before we flush the toilet, because she doesn’t like the noise."
"I covered my son's ears while he used hand dryers. The toilet flushing didn't bother him nearly as much as the air noise when there were no paper towels."
"Buying post-its. We cover the auto-flush for them so it doesn't go off and make them forever afraid."
"My daughter was very afraid of automatic toilets. They'd start flushing before she even sat down and the noise scared her a lot. She could avoid the air dryers and other noise makers, but not automatic toilets. It was bad enough that she'd torture herself by waiting until we got home. I eventually got her to see the humor in it. She still hates them, but now she cracks jokes the whole time."
"I got a little fold-up portable seat, so my daughter wouldn't fall in. When she went, I covered her ears. She was terrified of the sounds of hand dryers and flushing toilets. I carried disinfectant wipes to clean the fold-up seat."
"My daughter was afraid of how big the toilet seats were, so I bought a travel potty seat insert and carried it when we went out."
"My son always had a fear of the sound of the toilet flushing. It got really bad, especially in public restrooms, because of how loud the toilets were. We ended up buying him some noise-canceling headphones and that was pretty much how he got over it. Eventually he started going without them, and now they are collecting dust in a basket."
"I found some really fun Paw Patrol sticky notes in the Target dollar bin. Put one over the sensor of the automatic flusher, and you’re good. Paw Patrol to the rescue!"
"I got really tired of carrying the little potty seat around. Started turning my kiddos around backwards and that was much easier. Plus, they could 'poke the robot in the eye,' so it wouldn't auto-flush."
"She thought the toilet was going to suck her down, so I put a square Rubbermaid container in the toilet and flushed it and showed her how the container was way smaller than her and it didn’t fit at all, so there was no way she was going down it. She was also afraid of automatic flushing toilets, so we went in a public restroom and pushed all the doors open and danced wildly in front of them to try to get them all to flush at once and they didn’t bother her after that!"
"I get down on my knees and hold my daughter, so she feels safe and not worried that she will fall in. I use my hand to block the flush sensor and tell her when it’s going to flush — that way she can prepare herself and cover her ears. I never pushed her. I also have a potty in the back of my SUV. That potty is always available for her to use if she’s not feeling the public restroom. It’s not glamorous, but it works. People may look at me funny when they see a potty in the car, but whatever."
"My son has an extreme fear of hand dryers in public restrooms. We try and use the parent rooms as much as we can, even though he's nearly 5 now, because that way we can control whether it's turned on. If we have to use a normal restroom, there's lots of talking about how it's not going to hurt him, and we make sure to use the cubicle furthest away from the wash area. He's slowly getting better."
"I'd like to get over my own fear of it first."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.