40 answers

5 Year Old Afraid of Self Flushing Public Toilets

I am trying to determine if this is normal behavior and it will eventually pass or if I need to be more pro-active about it.

My 5-1/2 year old daughter is afraid of self-flushing toilets (that exist in lots of public places). The origin of this is that she had one flush while she was still sitting because she moved enough to trigger the sensor. After that is took a while to get her to try again and the only way she would was to have me cover the sensor so it detected no movement. This had worked but then she seems to have taken a step backwords. Yesterday when we went into an airport restroom and I asked her to go she went into complete meltdown with the screaming and crying. Both her father and I tried to talk to her and she wouldn't use the toilet. When we explained the amount of time she would need to hold it she didn't care. I know part of the behavior was ending the vacation but what causes some concern is that she has other random fears (riding a bike, learning to swim) but is not afraid of other things (flying on a plane, sleeping in the dark). It is not the public things because today she used the restroom at grocery store with a manually fulshing toilet.

I am looking for your thoughts on these random fears and especially any suggestions on the whole public toilet thing.
Thanks for your sharing.

1 mom found this helpful

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Featured Answers

The same thing happened to my daughter at about the same age and for the same reason. She would rather hold it than go also. She grew out of it. So with time she'll be fine.

Hi G.,

You've probably gotten a lot of answers already. However in case you haven't, this has come up before. There are A LOT of kids who are afraid of self-flushing toilets. I think that what some people have done is to cover up the sensor, so the toilet doesn't self flush when the child is in the stall.

My middle daughter was the same way after an experience with an extremely short timed self-flushing toilet. I know you want her to go by herself, but what I had to do for her to use a self-flushing toilet was to go in to the stall with her and put my finger or thumb over the sensor until she was finished because not all timers are the same and not all of them trigger the same. It took over a year of doing this before she realized that the toilet was not going to get her and she would go by herself. It was the only way we could use public toilets for a long time.

Good luck and don't force the issue or it will just get worse.

More Answers

Normal. My son went through this. It never phased my daughter. You'll have to do more reassuring and talking. Just explain BEFORE you walk in... SOME toilets are loud and some aren't. Explain why: some people leave big poops and some don't and for the toilets to do their job, they have to be strong and that's why they are loud. And because the room is big and relatively empty, there is an echo.

Offer suggestions - want to cover your ears?

Afterwards - ask how that bathroom was. Rate and compare the bathrooms (for fun) this over time will pass.

(Costco's is the stinkiest.... etc...)

But do not negate the fear or discomfort (ow that IS loud and it does hurt ears). Validate and accept and explain and encourage instead.


1 mom found this helpful

Hi G.,

These types of fears are totally normal for a child at this age. Those automatic toilets can be very scary to a little person. The best way to help your daughter through this is to validate her feelings. Let her know that you understand how scary that experience was. At a time when she is calm (perhaps even at home), see if she is willing to talk and let you explain how those toilets work. Keep the conversation light and silly. You may even use dolls to recreate the experience. For now, allow for your daughter not to use the toilets until she is ready. When the fear dissipates, (either because you've validated her feelings, allowed for them or simply explained the mechanism) she will be able to use the toilets on her own. There is no need to push her (or to worry).

I hope this helps.
G. Brown, M.A.
Child Development Specialist & Parent Educator

1 mom found this helpful

Both my 5 year old and 3 year old are afraid of the toilets- I just cover the sensor with my hand so it doesn't flush while they are sitting there... she has probably had it flush while she was sitting there. Keep trying it- it works for my kids when I cover it.

Random fears of some things and not others are normal- I wouldn't try to understand them- they are probably not rational.

C., mother of 3, sleep consultant, sleep blog writer

Totally normal! Mine were afraid of any public toilet, they are so flipping LOUD! Try the sticky note, never thought of that! You could also get your self a little portable potty for your car. Or sit her in the car with a diaper. I know not fun or easy but could be the answer. Mine are boys, so we would just find a tree or a water bottle in the car. ;D They are starting to get better at almost 6. So have faith she will outgrow it.

Keep POST-ITS on hand. Just stick one over the sensor and remove it when your done ..... no more self flushing! :)

My son has the same fear. He has also had thenm flush while he is still sitting. We finally solved the problem by giving him 2 wipes to cover the sensor. This works better than me covering it, because he has the control. When he is all done, he is the one to remove the wipes which is just like him flushing the toilet instead of it flushing itself.

both my sons would rather "hold it" than use a public restroom. i think this is normal however the riding a bike and swimming i would just keep an eye on this. she very well could grow out of these fears easily but by this age i would just watch for anxiety.
my oldest had a lot of anxiety surrounding these things but he loved riding a plane and was never scared of the dark. I'm not sure if the anxiety was because of a sensory issue -noises and feeling their body is out of control- i have no idea. what helped was watching his friends do these things. he has a good friend who is a great swimmer so we set up swim dates and he started swimming... we have a neighbor who is a great little bike rider so we let them play everyday and his desire to ride a bike overcame the fear of riding.
i would just keep the dialogue open surrounding these activities give her lots of fun opportunities to try them. don't put any pressure on her with formal lessons (that set off major tantrums with my son) just very casual exposure so she can make up her mind if she would like to try them. I think of it as peer pressure working for you.
good luck

I know you've had a lot of responses but I just had to throw in my 2 cents. My daughter is 7 1/2 and still mortally afraid of self-flushing toilets. What I've noticed over the years is that a) when she's desperate, she'll go, even if raising a ruckus at the same time; and b) putting my hand over the sensor, or a post-it or something, is helpful. If she's having a meltdown there's nothing you can do, you can't force her to go and make going to the bathroom an even more traumatic event. I learned to always have a spare pair of panties and pants along, just in case of accident. Good luck!

I do not have a fearful daughter, in general. She is 10, and still does not like those auto flushing toilets! At 5 years old, she ran out of the toilet stalls. SHe also was afraid to get her head under water and did not wants swimming lessons...........just now starting to shower and get her face wet. SHe is pretty young - and since fears do not enter every aspect of her life, just keep an eye on it. Kids usually do things when they are ready - and if you push, it pushes them away, and can make them more fearful.


Hi girl-
my son, 3, used to be afraid too, until I said they were transformer toilets & now he thinks its cool! haha
but my daughter, 7 at the time, was deathly afraid of all toilets, self flushing or not.
shed have to hold my hand while going and then scream for me to wait til she was out of the stall or room til i flushed it. If it wasnt possible- like she wouldnt be safe unless I kept her in with me- then shed hold her ears and close her eyes. :(
she is 8 now and its been about 9 months since she has been done that.
so hang in there girl!


C. McElroy

Live your life in such a way that
when your feet hit the floor in the
morning, Satan shudders & says...
"Oh darn....she's awake!!''

Totally normal. They're loud, unpredictable, and they splash you at child-height.

<Laughing> It's ironic Julie mentioned the Japanese "squatty-potty". We were a navy family & I spent most of my childhood on bases in Japan. It freaked me out for YEARS on vacations home in the states to have public toilets be the chair kind we used in our house (in my mind public toilets should have been squatty-potty)s. The BIG difference though, was what I said above: LOUD, wet, unpredictable. I always felt dirty and unsafe using them (you don't have any part of your body TOUCH squatty-pottys...eeeeew HOW many people have sat and been sprayed and then dripped on that seat?) Even knowing WHEN they were going to become loud and menacing, it was still an adrenalin reaction...and I avoided them whenever possible.

Heck, as an adult it can be an adrenalin reaction if one of the sensor ones decides to start flushing while I'm sitting or in the process of standing.

She'll get over it. For one thing, she'll get taller, and she won't be misted in the face anymore.


Yup, perfectly normal :) Took some time before they got over it. I keep post it notes in my bag to put over the sensor until my kids are done so it doesn't flush. Just had to keep at it, letting them know it wouldn't do it again. The few times I've not had them I get told off by my kids LOL

G., my now 8 year old daughter is the same way. About 3 years ago she had the same experience with the auto flush toilet. To this day I have to go in with her to cover the sensor if it is an auto flush. Even over the weekend when I took her to see Jonas Brothers concert I had to go in stall with her. I don't know what to say about how to get over it but I'd like to know. When we have gone to Disneyland we have to find manual flush for her to go. It is hard at some places. Good luck in finding a cure.

G. - I have to say I really understand your daughter! It scares me too when that happens, which is often... As a therapist I'd say that you can really validate her fears. It is scary - and loud. But help her to understand that it's only loud water and it can't hurt her. And if its a self-flushing toilet, she might need you to go in with her till she relaxes. Good luck.

my 3 1/2 year old will hold his pee for hours (almost 10 hours one long day at disneyland) to avoid using the automatic flushers. A friend gave me a good idea, carry a pack of post it notes in your purse and slap one over the sensor to stop it from flushing.

good luck!

adding my story to the many - my daughter (turns 5 in two weeks) has only JUST started to go if it's a self-flushing ("magic") toilet.

I found this out by going to maybe 6 bathrooms at Huntington Gardens one afternoon looking for a toilet that wasn't "magic"! I finally stood behind her, blocking the sensor and holding her 'safe', but she couldn't let the pee out at that point. ... .

She now asks that I come into the stall and block the sensor, and will usually go. However, in June enroute from Los Angeles to Europe, we fought our way upstream like salmon to the airplane toilet to find a black toilet in a rattly-bump bathroom that was hard used (a tad smelly) and she couldn't/wouldn't go. She held it for another 2 hours until desperation forced a return. At that point I made light of the whole thing, and rubbed scented lotion on her arm to sniff while we were in "there". & at last, she peed (the flood gates were opened is more like it!).

Love the sugguestions for sticky notes on the sensor!

Patience, it will pass. . . . .

It seems like a very normal fear that many kids get. After all, it's a bit of a different feeling to feel that air swoshing on their tushy and that sounds isn't the most pleasant either. What I did with my kids.....they used try to rush so they wouldn't have that happen to them (but rushing didn't work so great!!!). I'd make it flush by waving my hand in front of the sensor and have them do the same. After doing it over and over, they get used to the sound and also used to the fact that it happens all by itself! Have fun flushing!


What clever & creative ideas you have been given by many !I like the "post it note" covering the sensor ,trick!! I guess this issue is a pretty normal fear for some children?!I had no idea self flushing toilets could be so problematic , in 2009,but thinking further, I'm not so fond of them, myself!!

IMO Some of this new technologies ,are scary for these small tykes!UGH! The fear of getting swooshed down the toilet ..etc.is an issue kids have had well before the noisy self flushers! Gushes of water & loud noises..are all scary for many little tykes!

I presume taking a young one to the "out house" for the first time( way back when???) because of that "big dark large deep & stinky Hole"... brought about all kinds of other Potty fears to generations of tykes, generations ago,. & that would make some of us Blush or is it..Pray for an automatic FLUSH? ;-)
Great advise Y' all!

I guess making this a "no big deal kind of issue" & reassuring her, you are there for her .. plus,.. letting her watch you,using the automatic toilets "a lot".. & allowing the sensor to swoosh early on U(but showing her ,you are still alive,& it is no big deal )might help? Then telling her she doesn't have to do it right then & there ..no biggy, ..but if she "can be a BIG GIRL just like MOMMY" & JUST DO IT NOW ,..& how ,this ,would make you so proud of her.. ..might help, her to become more confident & so on !

Would a "bribe " make her go? I know.. those are "No nos "with many folks, in 2009 , But? If,a promise of an "Ice Cream cone on Friday " or special extra story at bedtime,.. later that night & after the long plane flight (for a couple of airport flushes ),does the trick.,this so she doesn't ruin her kidneys or wet herself on the plane... and until she matures some and loses the fear of self flushers,.. then..just to get her over this hurdle...why not?? I am all for huge praise..whenever she uses the potty "bravely!

I don't know the answer, but I just wanted to let you know you're not alone. My 3 yr old daughter is afraid of them also, for the same reason. (Plus they're really loud when they flush.) I tried going first...sometimes that works. db

I'm looking for the same answer. My five year old is in full day kindergarten. Since returning to school after the Christmas break she started having accidents. I would pick her up from school twice and didn't make it home. I've had to go to the school twice because of accidents at school. The bathrooms are right in the classrooms so she doesn't have to interact with any of the older kids. Then she told me it's the automatic flusher that totally freaks her out. The teacher thought maybe if one of her girlfriend went in with her that maybe she'd feel more comfortable. The bad thing is I can't be there to put tape or anything on the sensor. The teacher has 18 other students to watch, I can't be expecting her to do it. Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you

Hello! Do not feel as if this is odd or of any concern. I also have 2 daughters, one 5 year old and one 3 year old. I have dealt with the same scenerio for a couple of years with both.I have found a wonderful solution. Prior to having your child sit on the self-flushing toilet, flush the toilet and then place a sticker over the sensor light. Solution complete! My daughter had the same terror of it flushing on her bottem at the age of 2 1/2 and she was PRETRIFIED...even when she returned home. She felt like it was going to flush on her. Try this resolution...keep the stickers in your purse to have on hand always! My children like to place the stickers, so they feel a part of the process. Good Luck!

My 5 year old has had the same fear for over a year. I still have to cover the sensor in every public restroom. She had the same thing happened to her. She moved just enough and the sensor went off. She also has random fears to stuff that I am like why but not afraid of other things. For example, she loves to hold our hands in big open outdoor areas but refuses in parking lots and malls where we want her too.
As for getting her over the fear, I have slowly been just not covering the sensor. I still stand behind her and act like I am covering it and do cover if she looks or squirms. She is getting better about just sitting and going but still have to go to the bathroom with her everytime.
Hope this helps.

If you dont have sticky notes you can cover the sensor with toilet paper to prevent it from sensing movement. Our church had them in one of the restrooms for a short time but by the time you got the paper seat cover in place and turned around to sit it would flush and take the seat cover with it. That restroom was primarily used by the senior ladies and they soon replaced them with standard handles.

I have 4 kids. All of them had fear of being in the stall when a public toilet flushed. Public bathrooms are so loud and echoey that it sounded like the end of the world to be in that tiny stall with the thing roaring behind them, so with the old style toilets they'd fix their clothes, unlock the stall, THEN hit the handle and bolt. With the new self flushing ones, even that teeny bit of control was gone, so they hated them. Don't worry, it eventually passes. Don't make a big deal out of it, don't offer treats, but look for old style toilets when you can.

All kids - and adults! - have bizarre, random fears. My ten year old is terrified of her bicycle, and still can't ride one, but has never even blinked at airplane travel. I am terrified by photos taken in deep water, but managed to go over 120 feet down in an actual submarine. Fears make no sense. It's just part of life.

Hi G.,
I know you've received a lot of response confirming this is totally normal and I agree! My 5 1/2 year old also has random fears (including self-flushing toilets) and then on the other hand, she's not afraid of other things that you would expect her to be. My opinion is that you don't make too big a deal out of it. The more it's an issue of conversation, the more she is telling herself that she's afraid of something and eventually the brain will believe it as fact and it will be hard to reverse. So I would just cover the sensor with sticky notes and I bet one day she will stop you and say, "You don't have to do that Mommy because I'm not afraid anymore." As for the other things, I think it's ok she learn to ride a bike at her own pace. My daughter still has her training wheels. As far as swimming, it's so important kids know how to swim so I wouldn't put it off too long. You can comfort her, but I have seen first hand that kids who are afraid of swimming, end up loving it once they learn to do it so it's just a matter of her getting used to it. My girls take swim lessons at the parks & rec and they gradually teach kids at their own pace (as opposed to forcing them to jump in and have them swimming in a few days like some private lessons). My 5 1/2 year old was never afraid to swim, but my 2 year old is. Each time we get in the water, it's easier and she gets more comfortable sooner each time. Again, it's the brain recognizing that "ok, we swam today and nothing happened, I can do this" The next time, the fear sets in at the beginning, but if you just stick with it, she'll get over it. Try not to talk about it too much... just keep reassuring her, you're there to help her and won't let her sink, etc. My 5 1/2 year old won't go to sleep on her own. She saw the movie E.T. and had a love/hate relationship with E.T. and now is convinced he's going to get in her room. She knows he's not real, but it's still a fear in her subconscious. I found the more we talked about it, the worse it got. So now I just don't make a big deal out of it, and it's easier.

I had this promblem with my 4 yr old.What She used to jump off the toilet when it started to flush.I finally took a piece off toilet paper and cover the sensor so it didnt flush until she was ready works great...I hope this helps..

Having taught Kindergarten, this is a very common fear, they think the toilet is going to suck them down, or its sprays them with the water. Either way, the fix for us was to take a sticky and place it over the sensor, when they are done, have them remove the stinky note, the toilet will then flush. Problem solved, it is like making a automatic flusher into a manual flusher. I would not be concerned about this fear, they are so little and this automatic flushing is frightening. Try the little sticky notes, throw them in your purse and hand her one when its time to use the restroom.

Total normal and yes, it passes. All three of my kids went through that and covering the sensor was not as big a deal as them having a melt down or risk having them hold it (my daughter did that once at Legoland since they have automatic flushers and almost filled the little potty we had with us (she was two). Just relax about it, tell her you're covering the sensor so it won't flush and know it'll pass.

Two of my three little ones are afraid of the self-flushing toilets. One hates the loud noise, the other is always startled by the spray. Try the sticky note idea from AS. Sounds like a great way to deal with it.

Aloha, G.! My daughter is afraid of the self-flushing toilets, as well. She used to scream and cry when we would open the stall and she saw that it was a self-flushing toilet and then refuse to enter the stall. I started placing a long piece of toilet paper over the sensor. When my daughter is finished, I then have her remove the paper when she's ready, so that it gives her the control as to when it flushes. Hope this helps.

Both my girls hate the self flushing toilets, and groan when they see one. I used to put my hand over the sensor, but then got tired of standing in the stall corner, and now give them post-it notes to put over the sensor. It gives them great control, although sometimes I have to go in and take the note off - they didn't want to hear the noise. I'm counting on them one day outgrowing this, or at least investing in the post-it note company! Good luck!

I hate self flusing toilets cuz when I put the little paper thing on and turn around swoosh its gone! lol. I once read about carrying a little postin pad to stick a paper over the sensor so that there are no problems with it flushing automatically. remove the post it when you are done and throw it in the trash (i wouldn't flush). Public toilets are really loud and scare lot of kids at least a little bit and if your sitting on them it would really freak a lot of kids out. I certainly wouldn't like it happening even as an adult.

Hi G.,

You've probably gotten a lot of answers already. However in case you haven't, this has come up before. There are A LOT of kids who are afraid of self-flushing toilets. I think that what some people have done is to cover up the sensor, so the toilet doesn't self flush when the child is in the stall.

This sounds totally normal. My son is terrified of auto-flush toilets too. He is four years old. One time when he would not go potty at a restaurant, I went out to the car and found the emergency diaper that I had put there like two years before. I brought it to him and told him he had a choice of either using the toilet or wearing the diaper. He chose to use the potty and he has been okay with me covering the sensor ever since. Don't worry about fears developing. It is normal for this age group and it will pass.

Hi G., I'm not sure about the flushing thing, but my daughter is 20 and still has issues about public bathrooms. Her's came about when she was 2, we were living in Japan, and we were at a place called Hostin bosh and her and I had to go to the bathroom, and we went in and there were no stalls, no toilets just this porcilin thing in the floor that you had to squat over to pee, out in the open, she held her pee until we got home, and thren in first grade the bathrooms had a lot of the daddy long leg spiders so she went all day and didn't use the bathroom, a few times she peeded on her self on the way home, so who knows but to this day 18 years latter she still has issues about public bathrooms. J. L.

It's totally normal. My daughter was like that, and eventually she grew out of it. One time we went to Sea World and we brought a friend, and the friend didn't go to the bathroom the whole day because of the auto flush toilets! But they both grew out of it. Yours will too. I just remembered, my daughter would go if I covered the sensor, so just do that until her fear goes away. Just keep telling her there's nothing to be afraid of, and let her see you always go to the bathroom on one and show her you don't get flushed down.

The same thing happened to my daughter at about the same age and for the same reason. She would rather hold it than go also. She grew out of it. So with time she'll be fine.

My middle daughter was the same way after an experience with an extremely short timed self-flushing toilet. I know you want her to go by herself, but what I had to do for her to use a self-flushing toilet was to go in to the stall with her and put my finger or thumb over the sensor until she was finished because not all timers are the same and not all of them trigger the same. It took over a year of doing this before she realized that the toilet was not going to get her and she would go by herself. It was the only way we could use public toilets for a long time.

Good luck and don't force the issue or it will just get worse.

When I was a little girl I was afraid of the toilet and that was before self-flushers. I had nightmares about a big pink blob coming out of that mysterious pipe in the bottom of the toilet right under my bottom. I would hold it at night and make my little brother go in the bathroom while I went during the day. This didn't happen for long-maybe a year or so. Maybe show her a diagram about how a toilet works and where the waste goes when it's flushed. Make it an intriguing science lesson and explain how the self-flush toilets works in terms she can understand. My kids were kind of afraid of the self-flushers too, so I tried to help them see how neat it actually is and it helped. good luck!

Hi, well my daughter is 7 years old and I thought she was the only one who feared the self flushing toilets. We have been on vacation before and she refused to go!She rather hold it forever she says! I have to hold her hand and hope it wont flush as she is sitting as it happened before. She will get up in the middle of going if she thinks it is going to flush. Well as for advice she has improved in the last months. I tell her that it might flush but nothing is going to suck her down, that seems to help! Also, I think with age she will get over it as will yours. Maybe you can go first and show her nothing will happen?

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