How to Help a Small Child Use the Potty in a Public Restroom


When you have a small child in tow, trips to a public restroom are usually inevitable, especially if you're running errands for more than a few minutes. Between your fear of the germs and your tot's fear of the loud toilet, a restroom stop is often anything but pleasant. Variations in public restroom options make it difficult to know what to expect when nature calls. Planning ahead and learning how to navigate a public restroom helps you avoid accidents -- and keep your little one safe.

  • Locate the restrooms when you arrive at your destination, especially if you're staying for a while. For example, look for the public restrooms when you arrive at the park for an afternoon of play. This way, you'll know right where to go if your little one suddenly decides she needs to go.

  • Check for a family restroom rather than a general restroom first. Family restrooms are usually larger and have the toilet and sink in one room. You can better to contain your child in the larger space.

  • Enter the general restroom for your gender if a family restroom isn't available. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking your child into the restroom with you at least until age 4, even if it means that your child is using the restroom for the opposite gender.

  • Choose the largest bathroom stall available to give yourself more room to maneuver. Handicap stalls often have the largest space, and some are equipped with changing tables or child seats. If you use a standard stall, hold your child as you enter so she doesn't get pushed up against the toilet while you try to get in and close the door.

  • Cover the toilet seat with a disposable seat cover if one is available. If not, cover the seat in toilet paper. Young children usually can't hover over the toilet seat. The cover will keep your little one's skin from coming into direct contact with the toilet.

  • Hang a piece of toilet paper or your hand over the sensor if the toilet automatically flushes. The industrial toilets are often very noisy and scary for young children. Covering the sensor prevents the toilet from flushing while your child is using it.

  • Lower the necessary clothing -- and then lift your child onto the toilet so she doesn't have to touch the seat to boost herself. Hold onto her body if necessary for her to feel secure. Encourage her to hold onto you instead of touching the toilet. If you have a boy and he only has to go number one, you can skip covering the seat and simply instruct him to aim and go.

  • Warn your child before you flush the toilet or uncover the sensor. This gives her a chance to prepare for the loud sound of the flushing.

  • Wash your own hands first after exiting the stall. Lift your child so she can reach the sink and soap without leaning on it. Turn off the faucet with a paper towel so you don't get more germs on your hand. Help your tot dry her hands.

Tips & Warnings

  • Your own attitude can affect how your child perceives public restrooms, according to the Zero to Three website. Try to keep your own negative feelings about public bathrooms to yourself so she's not afraid to use them.
  • Keep a mental note of the cleanest and most accessible restrooms at the spots you frequent with your little one. Make a stop in one of the clean restrooms if you know your tot will likely need to go soon.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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