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Restrooms: Ready To Go It Alone?

During the potty-training years, moms routinely take children of either sex into the ladies’ room. But there comes a time when this convenience must end. 

“The real independence issue comes when you’re the mother of a boy,” says Dawn Grieco, a mom of three from West Chester, PA, who has grappled with the prospect of sending her 6½-year-old into public restrooms.

Experts note that children usually ask to use restrooms independently by their middle elementary school years. For parents, concerns range from hygiene to pedophiles. If you’re unsure about your child’s restroom readiness, here are some factors to consider.

Indicators That a
Child Is Ready

• Handles all bathroom activities without adult help

• Knows how to behave

• Understands the etiquette (such as waiting in line)

• Can handle an unexpected interaction with a stranger

Ready To Go Alone?

According to Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, a psychologist in Princeton, NJ and co-author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, the right age depends on factors such as children’s personalities, maturity and height. “By 1st grade, they are going down the hall (to use the restroom) and learning to handle that responsibility,” says Kennedy-Moore. If there are no issues using the bathroom at home, a child may be ready to take steps toward independence in public.

Stranger Danger

“Be very concrete,” in talking to your children, advises Dr. Kennedy-Moore. Rather than explaining why strangers can be dangerous, just advise them not talk to anybody while they’re in the bathroom. “Young children don’t understand who a stranger is,” she says, “‘We don’t talk to anyone in the bathroom.’ That’s all you need to say about strangers.”

Hygiene

Hygiene is important in public restrooms because the cleanliness is unknown, says Kate Cronan, MD, attending physician at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE. Dr. Cronan advises parents to tell children to always check the seat before using the toilet. “They should know they don’t have to use an unclean stall,” she says. She also recommends carrying hand sanitizer. “It’s a good back up if they were afraid or forgot to wash their hands,” she says.

It's Okay To...

For your child's reassurance (and your own), experts say it’s okay to:

• Stand right outside the door, within ear-shot

• Tell them to holler if they have any problems or if anyone bothers them

• Give a shout inside if they’re taking too long

• Send your child with a buddy (or a sibling)

Not All Bathrooms Are Created Equal

Dr. Kennedy-Moore recommends taking steps toward independent bathroom use. “Build up their confidence and your confidence that they can handle it,” she says. Dr. Cronan recommends parents accompany their child for a practice run, and then step outside the next time around. Practice at a  family-friendly location’s large public restroom or at a small restroom with only one sink and toilet.

Dr. Kennedy-Moore recommends trying a well-known restaurant or a restroom that has light traffic as a next step. Hectic restrooms with multiple entrances and exits should be the last step toward independence. 

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids and a Chester Counter mom of two.

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