Pregnancy Articles

Braving the Public Potty with Little Ones

Tips to Ease Bathroom Visits When You're away from Home

With potty-training comes the perils of the public bathroom.

My son, who is about to turn 3, had no interest in potty-training for the longest time. We never pushed, but right around his second birthday--right before the birth of our second son--we mentioned "Peeing on the Potty" frequently, a fun activity he might like. He ignored us for six months.

That was, until just days before a 12-hour, two-plane travel day to see his grandparents.

As we embarked on a weeklong vacation, he wanted nothing to do with diapers. We took a crash course in dealing with toddlers and toilets in public.

In some ways, being able to lay a kid down anywhere, wipe off the nastiness and throw it away is so much easier. I am in no way advocating avoiding potty-training to avoid a public bathroom, but I am sharing some of the unforeseen difficulties we encountered and our best tips for dealing with them.

First up, avoid the public bathroom if you can. Always, always, always make your kids try to potty before you leave the house. Always. Even if he just peed five minutes ago. If you know you're going to be out and about, go easy on the liquids. Don't dehydrate him, but don't throw a juice box at him every other minute, either.

While you can, use the magic "traveling pants." For about two weeks, we got away with putting my son in training pants for naps and longer trips by calling them his special sleeping/traveling pants. Pull-Ups, in fact, got us through those plane rides. But then the jig was up: My son declared he was a big boy who wore only big-boy pants and those, even without tabs, were just diapers. He was not wearing them. It was nice while it lasted to have the extra insurance of training pants while out and about.

When you have to use the bathroom, look for space. Family bathrooms are amazing when you find them. Handicapped stalls, if you can use them without being rude, are great.

But be prepared to hold it--it being your child. Public toilets are not made for little bottoms. You're going to have to hold your kid up so he doesn't fall in.

Also, if you've got more than one child and you're on your own with them, always be on the lookout for helpful passers-by. I realized I was going to rely on the kindness of strangers one evening when, alone at a restaurant with my boys, the oldest demanded to poo. I had no idea how I was going to hold the baby--I had no stroller or seat--and keep the toddler from falling into the toilet. A kind waitress took pity on me and babysat for the few minutes it took my older son to do his business.

If your trust in strangers increases, so will your tolerance for germs. Your child is going to touch something in a public restroom that will make you cringe. Resign yourself to this fact, throw an extra pack of wipes and antibacterial gel in your bag and hope for the best.

Be prepared for panic. Industrial flushes are scary. I know I've been in a few restrooms where I wondered if the toilet was going to suck me in when I flushed. Now, imagine being 40 pounds and less than four feet tall. Terrifying. Many kids are especially scared of the automated flush toilets, which can go off unexpectedly. Cover the sensor with a spare hand--or foot or something--to keep the toilet from flushing until after the child is out of the stall. Hand-dryers, with their loud whooshing, also can be scary.

Those wipes you packed? You also might need them for wiping small bottoms--a fast wipe means less time to touch something gross--or cleaning up tiny hands. Sinks usually are too high for little kids, so here's another place you're going to have hold them up, and that makes it hard to help them scrub the germs off their hands. Wipes aren't perfect, but they'll help.

If you have boys (I'm assuming you're a woman), get ready to explain some basic plumbing questions once your sons have gone to a few public restrooms with Daddy. My son always wants to know, when he goes into the bathroom with me, where the urinals are. I'm anxiously anticipating the day my boys think they're too old to go into the women's restroom and I still think they're too young to go alone to the men's room. If you have an answer to that public restroom dilemma, I'd love to hear it.

Finally, keep your sense of humor. I know the old lady in the stall next to us certainly had a chuckle when my son shouted, "Wow! That was a big poo!" I might as well laugh, too.

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About The Author

Hillary Copsey
Hillary Copsey is a newspaper reporter in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats.

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