Fear of Public Restrooms

Reader Question: My son is petrified of using public restrooms. Am I destined to drive around with a potty in the back of my car for the rest of his childhood?

Public Restrooms.

Gross. And scary for the littles.

When we look at this through toddler eyes, public restrooms really can be horrible. Most restrooms now have the Dyson hand dryers. Which are LOUD. And just exactly the height of most toddlers.

Public restrooms are LIVE; sound bounces around the room, amplifying every small or big noise. Toilets are flushing at random. Parents are usually on edge, “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!”

It’s really a hotbed of scary things.

While yes, at first, I do recommend having a potty chair in the back of your car, here’s some more tips for acclimating your child to public restrooms.

Start with NEW toilets in FAMILIAR places. Visit friends and family in the early days of potty training, so your child makes the first step of new-to-them bathroom experiences.

Think of places to visit that have single stall bathrooms. Small businesses, coffee shops, libraries all may have restrooms that are one room. These can be less intimidating that multi-stall bathrooms.

Try not to freak out. As parents we might be totally grossed out by what our children might touch in a public restroom. But put your game face on. If you’re edgy and anxious, this won’t help your child.

The red solo cup trick. Obviously great for boys but with some finagling, this trick can be great for girls as well. The child can come into the stall with you and pee in the cup. This can be less intimidating than the actual toilet.

Prepare your child for the noise before going in. Some parents, especially with sensory sensitive kids, carry earmuffs or headphones to dull all the noise.

Don’t make a big deal about it if your child “tries” and has to leave the restroom. “That’s okay, we can try again next time. Let’s run out to the car and use your potty there.”

Remember your post-its! Put one over the automatic flusher. If the flusher goes off while your child is sitting on the toilet, I can assure you…you are done with potty training for a while.

Inserts to-go. You can find foldable inserts that reduce the seat size on the toilets. You can keep this in a ziplock in your purse. Having a small seat size goes a long way in helping your child.

DO NOT invalidate your child’s feelings. Public restrooms are indeed, really scary. Don’t try to tell your toddler that something is NOT scary when they think it is. You won’t get any where with logic.  Some kids do absolutely fine going in public restrooms right from the get-go. Other kids needs some seriously slow acclimation. It’s always better to move slowly into restroom situations than risk a potty rebellion due to fear.

A long time ago, I worked with a couple that approached potty training like a couple of Navy Seals. The dad spent a whole weekend with his daughter going from place to place to place trying out all the public restrooms. I loved this couple. They knew she’d need time to adjust and they approached as just a problem to work through with practice.

I’m not saying you have to do this exact approach but know your child and what (s)he needs. 


These posts, as well as my Youtube videos, podcasts, and Facebook quick tips are meant for your average bump in the road to potty trained. If you are experiencing severe struggles or just need a more personalized plan, please book a consultation with one of our Oh Crap Certified Experts.