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

What can I do next?

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!

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