Fear of Public Bathrooms

Updated on July 18, 2010
L.W. asks from Hoffman Estates, IL
17 answers

My daughter is a little over 3 years old and suddenly has developed a fear of using public restrooms. She never had a problem before (she's been potty trained almost a year now). It has become a big problem because she refuses to go even when she can't hold it anymore. Yesterday we went to the aquarium and were gone the entire day. My husband had to literally wrestle with her and force her to sit on the potty and go. She screams and cries and it gets very stressful for everyone. It's also probably not good for her to hold it that long.

Does anyone have any tips for helping her get over this strange phobia?

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answers from Chicago on

There was just an article about this in adults in the tribune. It's an actual phobia. Though at three it may just be a phase you might be able to find some info in it. It was in the Tribune last Sunday.

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answers from Kansas City on

my daughter is terrified of the automatic toilets. She will scream and cry and throw huge fits about how it "will automatic" on her. A coworker of mine came up with a brilliant solution - post its. Put one over the sensor and it wont flush while she's on it. It has changed our lives, silly as that seems.

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answers from Chicago on

My son is afraid of public restrooms, not because they are public but because the toliets flush by themselves and the hand drier are too loud.
Could this be your daughters problem?
To solve the toilet flushing problem, I make sure to cover the sensor with my hand before my son moves, that way it won't flush until he is ready. We also don't use the hand driers, I keep an old cloth diaper or my own paper towels in my purse to use instead. Now we don't have problems. I still have to reassure him everytime we need to use one that there won't be any suprise flushing or loud noises, but eventually he will get over it.

Good Luck,

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answers from Chicago on

Put her in a pull up when you go out somewhere. It is very bad to force her to go if she is scared. With time, peer pressure will do its thing and she'll be fine. But forcing her and wrestling her is very bad...

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answers from Denver on

My daughter is 3 and doesn't care for the public restrooms either. We have something called a pottete (I think) that we got at Babies r Us. It's basically a folding, travel pottty that you put a bag into. We set it up in the back of the car for her and it has solved a lot of problems. Good luck.

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answers from St. Cloud on

My 3 year old daughter JUST got over her fear of public bathrooms. It was a horrible phase and one day......like magic....it was over! I have no explanation for it. Everything WE tried was a dismal failure and it was up to her to "get over it".
This to shall, hopefully soon, pass!



answers from Chicago on

Buy a pad of cool post it notes. Let her know they are magic ones that make the potty safe no matter where you are. Show her how to take one and put it over the automatic flush sensor when she enters and pull it off when she is done. We did this when my daughter was 2 1/2 and we went to Disney World and she had no issues after she saw how great it worked.



answers from Chicago on

I agree with the posts that you shouldn't force her to go. You need to let her know that you will respect her fears. Maybe ask her how she will go potty if she doesn't use the toilet...give her an option to come up with another idea. It might shed light as to what she is fearful of. It might be the loud sound... the different toilet seat...the smells...the automatic flush..who knows. :) My son will sometimes ask for a diaper/pull-up when he has to go poopy when we are out b/c he doesn't like to use the public toliets either. I would suggest that to her as an idea and take her in the public restroom stall to put it on and then change it so she still wears her underwear the rest of the time. That way, her potty training won't regress. Maybe also using the toliet yourself first might help...sometimes that works for us. Try not to let it get too stressful if possible...that can sometimes make it worse for her. Good luck. :)


answers from Bloomington on

Its actually not strange at all. Lots of kids do not like the sounds that come from a noisy public restroom. Maybe that is why she is scared. My son still covers his ears in public restrooms and he is now six.



answers from Philadelphia on

My youngest child became scared of the automatic toilets at age 2 yr and 2 mo. This fear lasted 10 mo. I was forced to constantly have a foldable toilet with me. In the supermarket,airport Disney World..you get the picture. Then one day we had to run into the supermarket for a few items I didnt want to bring it in. She told me she had to go the bathroom we went to the bathroom and she realized I didnt have her toilet with me. She said actually mama I dont have to go. I bent down so we were eye to eye and I said we are not leaving until you go to the bathroom rather firm. She meekly said ok mama. That was the start of the beginining of her again using public toilets again..but the fear is still there. When we use a public toilet she asks me if its a friendly toilet. She is now 4yr and 2 mo.



answers from Chicago on

My daughter won't go on automatic toilets. You might want to see if that's her issue. Good luck!



answers from Dallas on

Maybe you can try to get her used to the bathrooms again little by little - stop at a restroom even when she doesn't have to go just to wash her hands. Flush the potty if it's a noise issue without going potty.
When my daughter is reluctant to go, I pretend it's a race and I try to 'beat' her as to who can go first to make it into a game.

Bring wet wipes if the dryers are too loud (probably a good ideas on outings anyways!).
The portable potty is a good idea, but it's probably good to fix the root of the issue as well.



answers from Chicago on

My daughter struggled with this for a while, and still has trouble some times. She's says public bathrooms are scary. She just turned 3. What I usually do is let her pick the stall. If she doesn't want to even go in the bathroom, let alone the stall, I tell her I have to go, and she can just come with me, but that she doesn't have to go. Then I ask her to help me pick a stall, and when we get in there, I'll ask her if she wants to go or should mommy go first? If my husband is with me and she doesn't want to go, I ask her if she wants to go with mommy or daddy? It seems like the more choice I give her, the less resistant she is. Maybe it feels more voluntary, less forced. Also, sometimes we talk about the toilet, how it's a nice toilet, and it won't flush until we tell it to (those auto-flushes can freak them out), or we might use toilet paper to cover the seats and she helps me put it on and then is more willing to go.



answers from Tulsa on

I know exactly what you are going through...we watched "Flushed Away" when K was potty training and she refused, loudly, to sit on it and go.. I had to literally leave the stall door open so the store managers and people coming in could observe I was not molesting or abusing her. It took forever for her to forget she hated it. I feel your pain but if you keep reinforcing the idea that it is safe then she will eventually get back to normal.

I just let her wear pull ups on days I was going to be away from home or a friends house for more than a few hours. I always made sure she went before we left and that she went as soon as we got home.


answers from Dallas on

Try to find out just what it is that scares her. For example......is it germs? If so bring baby wipes with you and give the potty a cleaning before she sits down. Make a big show on how now it is clean.



answers from San Francisco on

It's not an uncommon phobia at all for that age. Like others have said, try to help her explain *what* it is about the public restrooms that scares her. If it's the automatic flushers, bring something like a post-it note to stick over the sensor so it won't flush until you're ready, if it's the loud sound of the flush, open the door of the stall before flushing so the sound doesn't echo so much (one of my girls would actually stand outside of the stall while I flushed for her up until she was around 6YO.) If it's just that they look different or she feels afraid of falling in, try bringing one of those padded toilet seat inserts (I had to do this for my other daughter - yes it was a bit of a nuisance to lug the padded seat insert in a back pack whenever we went out, but it was worth the peace of mind in knowing I could put the paper liner on the seat and then put in her insert and know she had a clean seat to sit on and that she would go potty without potty panic. We had tried using the folding seat covers but she got 'pinched' by one of the folds once and wouldn't use it after that)
Good luck - it's a phase she *will* get over :-)

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