Public Restrooms & Kids


Public restrooms can be the bane of a family outing. Parents are constantly on the hunt for clean, quiet bathrooms where they can change baby, keep a potty-trainer on track or ensure the safety of an older child who insists on going himself. 

We asked our Facebook friends about their favorite area public restrooms. Here's what a few of our readers had to say.

“Barnes & Noble in the Neshaminy Mall is always clean, fully stocked and close to parking.” —Katherine D.

“Ikea always has a family bathroom with a harnessed seat for the little ones and little sinks.” — Melinda M.

“I love the Bensalem Babies R Us nursing room. I have a preschooler and a toddler with autism, and this room is a lifesaver as a cool-down spot.” —Dena K.

Baby in the public bathroom

It’s rare that moms get stuck in a place where the women’s room isn’t equipped with a baby-changing table. (Bonus if the bathroom incorporates a lounge with a chair or couch to nurse or feed baby.) Men’s rooms, however, are another story, which leaves dads at a disadvantage when it comes to public baby-changing — until, that is, the state bill requiring all men’s rooms to have changing tables expands from California to the rest of the country.

The best public-bathroom baby-changing station has a table with built-in harnesses and hooks from which to hang a diaper bag. But the condition of this table varies wildly, depending on age and maintenance frequency. Therefore, never leave home without a diaper bag stashed with:

  • a changing pad (who knows when the table was last cleaned?)
  • multiple diapers (what if baby wriggles and causes you to drop a nappy on the restroom floor?)
  • wipes & ointment 
  • a change of clothes (in case baby poops through)
  • hand sanitizer (for you, after baby’s changed; there’s no guarantee the soap dispenser will be full)

Potty-trainer pointers for the public restroom

Public bathrooms are often scary for potty-training kids, full of bright lights and strange sounds that can impede the flow, so to speak.

“It’s a big job to find a bathroom without automatic hand dryers,” says MK mom Jennifer S. “My son is scared of them and won’t even enter a restroom if he sees one.”

Furthermore, self-flushing toilets are known to startle, often whisking contents away noisily before kids have a chance to stand up. When taking a potty-trainer to a public bathroom:

  • Use a family restroom if available.
  • If not, pick the largest stall and go in with your child.
  • Tell her it’s OK if nothing comes out; she’ll get used to going to the bathroom in a strange place.
  • Keep the routine as close to regular potty time as possible; if you usually read a book, make sure you’ve got one in your bag.
  • Cover the automatic sensor on a self-flushing toilet with a paper towel.
  • Help your child reach the sink to wash his hands.
  • Praise the effort, no matter the outcome.

Next page: How old should kids be to go to the public restroom by themselves?


The Boys Room vs. the Girls Room

Once kids can go to the bathroom independently, they reach the age when they want to go to a public bathroom on their own. This is especially true of a boy out with his mom or a girl who’s with dad. Safety experts warn that children younger than 10 tend not to be able to deal with emergencies or stranger-related interactions that may arise in a place like a public restroom. So what’s a parent to do?
• When you’re out as a family, insist that girls younger than 10 go to the bathroom with mom and boys with dad (or an older sibling of the same gender). 
• If a gender-appropriate adult you know isn’t available, ask the manager of the establishment if your child can go into the bathroom with a trusted member of the staff while you wait at the door.
• If your child is adamant about going in alone, make sure 
the bathroom has just one entrance, so there’s no danger of getting lost.
• Tell boys to use a stall, not a urinal.
• Stand at the door and check in verbally with your child while she’s using the facility, to reassure her that you’re there and let anyone else in the restroom know that the child is not unattended. 

The public restroom & sensory issues

The public bathroom can be especially anxiety-inducing for kids with sensory issues. Make the pit stop easier with the following tips.

  • Cover the automatic flusher with a paper towel.
  • Let your child leave the stall and wait by the sink while you go in and flush.
  • Carry earplugs or let your child listen to an iPod while in the restroom, to drown out flusher and air dryer sounds. (Just make sure devices are secure and not bound to fall into the toilet.)


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