(Public) Bathroom Humor

Or really, just public bathroom stories. That’s what I’m looking for, readers. As I start pondering the idea of writing another book (and, more to the point, FILLING it), I’m going to be asking for anecdotes from the real world, from YOU. And what I need first, believe it or not, is bathroom lore!

Specifically: Can you tell me about the time you let your kid use a public bathroom WITHOUT you? Was it a big deal? A small one? Scary? Surprising? Wonderful? (Or at least as wonderful as something like that can be?) What age?

Moreover: Kid reaction? Onlooker reaction? Spouse reaction — if any (and printable)?

That’s it. Thanks for any and all stories — we’re on a roll! (Ha ha.) — L.

145 Responses

  1. My son is 5 years old, almost 6. He started using the Men’s room without me about a year ago. I usually stand right outside the door and wait for him.

    One of the first few times he used the men’s room by himself we were at Chick-Fil-A. My younger daughter was playing with a friend in the playground, so I opted to stay with her, rather than wait outside the bathroom for my son. I could easily see the bathroom from where I was sitting so I wasn’t worried. Well apparently he had to poop and didn’t tell me this, so after about 10 minutes I started to wonder what he was doing. I had visions of toilet paper strew all over the bathroom, because he got distracted and decided to play instead, as 4 year old boys sometimes do. I made my way back to the bathroom just as another gentleman was coming out of the bathroom. I must have looked concerned, because he said, don’t worry, he is in there singing his little heart out. I just heard a flush, so I suspect he will be out in a minute. Sure enough he came trotting out a minute later, very proud of himself. Nobody said anything to me about not letting him do that. In fact to this day, only one person has ever said anything to me about it, and it was a positive. It was a women with all girls, who liked the fact that I didn’t allow my son to use the ladies room anymore, she said, “kids have to grow up sometime, when he is a teenager he can’t follow you into the bathroom, so why not teach him now”

  2. My kid is 2.5 weeks old, so not using bathrooms by herself yet.😉

    BUT!

    When I was in a washroom in Disneyland a few years ago, I had a funny encounter. A 4 year old girl came out of the stall and met her mother at the sink. The girl turned on the taps and washed her hands. She reached for the soap which was too far. She stood on her toes and streeeeetched. She got some soap, but when she pulled her arm back she whacked her elbow on the counter. Her mom jumped in right away, finishing washing the child’s hands, saying “See what happens when you don’t let me help you?!”

    I imagine she is still washing that girl’s hands in her teens…

    Lin

  3. My elder son is on the verge of 4. This past summer, my two sons and I met a friend and her son at a children’s museum. The boys all scampered off, and she and I got to chatting. After ten minutes or so, I looked around and couldn’t find either son. They weren’t in any of the exhibits. I know they couldn’t leave, but I couldn’t figure out where they were. In the far corner of the museum are the bathrooms (single rooms– doors open into museum). I saw one of the doors open. I peeked inside, and there were my boys. The elder was washing his hands and the younger was unrolling the toilet paper. He said he needed to go, so he took it upon himself to find the bathroom and take care of business. It never crossed his mind to tell me what he was doing or to have me go with him. His little brother just followed him in. They are very independent.🙂

  4. My oldest will be 5 tomorrow. I’ve been letting him use the bathroom alone (some bathrooms, depending on place and crowd size) for maybe… half a year? More? He became adamant that he wanted to use the Men’s room and I decided that while I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending him into some bathrooms by himself, most of the time I don’t see an issue.

    Empty bathrooms are obvious. If I can tell the men’s room is empty, and the hall is quiet enough that I can hear into the room, I really don’t see the issue at all. For bathrooms that have other people in it I’m a bit more choosy, though I don’t bat an eye if he runs into the bathroom at the children’s museum or church.

    A couple months ago, though, I made a choice that many moms would probably condemn me for. We were visiting family out of town, up in Maine. We were in the Portland airport late in the day and it was pretty empty, except for the line to check in. I was traveling by myself with a 4 year old and 10 month old, and I had a week’s worth of luggage including car seats. The 4 year old pulled two of the bags on rollers for me (got some comments there!) which he loved. We were halfway through the line to get our boarding passes when the 4 year old lets me know that he reeeeeally has to go to the bathroom. I looked around and saw a bathroom pretty close to us, maybe 30 feet or so away. I then made my oh so dangerous choice: I sent my 4 year old, alone, into the men’s room at an airport. And while for a second there I was a little worried, I realized that I was honestly more worried about being judged by other adults than I was about my child being abducted, molested or in any other way harmed. He found the bathroom just fine, did his business and cleaned up, then came right back to me, and I in turn didn’t have to force him to hold it nor did I have to lug the baby and all the luggage to the bathroom 30 feet away and lose our place in line. He was just fine. Now, had it been a very large airport with a lot of people bustling about I probably would have made a different choice, but I guess that’s the point. You just have to use your best judgment of the situation at hand and figure out what is and isn’t dangerous.

  5. My son was 4.5 and he asked to go by himself to the men’s room. We were at Sweet Tomatoes and the bathroom was 10 feet from the table. So I let him go. And so it went on from there.

    I starting let him go with his little brother when they were 7 and 4. I stayed outside the door for awhile just to make sure they could get themselves back together. Predators rarely cross my mind.

  6. I let my kids go by themselves whenever they were ready. The first time my oldest, then 4 or 5, went by himself, I realized after a few minutes that he had to poop. After a good long while, idly wondering where he was, I tried to peek into the men’s room.

    I couldn’t see far in, but somehow I realized that he had not closed the stall door! I guess he didn’t think of it? Or couldn’t figure out how to lock it or something?

    There were men and boys going in and out of the bathroom quite frequently while he was in there, but he seemed unconcerned when he came out.

  7. My son had started to get very frustrated by me insisting on following him to the bathroom and that was making me very frustrated. So during dinner at O’Charley’s he said he needed to go to the bathroom and I asked him if he knew where it was and he said he did. I could watch him the entire way to the bathroom and back and when he did return to the table, he had a huge smile on his face and was very proud of himself. I wouldn’t trade that moment to build up his confidence in himself for anything.

  8. My daughter is 3 and a half, and enrolled in pre-school twice a week for a half a day. She must be using the bathroom there somehow, because when I pick her up her panties are dry. Initially she did wet them a little bit, so I brought a potty seat cover to put her at ease with the pre-school bathroom. I talk to her teachers, and they still seem to be unsure about what’s going on in the stall. But she does drink a lot, so she must be peeing as well.

  9. My son’s first experience with going by himself was when he was 4 and at our local science center. I had no problem with it and it felt like a good time to start. The problem that I saw was that he can’t reach the taps or soap to wash his hands. So often he comes out of the Mens room, then we need to go into the family room where they have a stool or in the Women’s room where I lift him up to reach.
    I’ve only had positive comments from other adults.

    Dawn

  10. My identical twins are 7 months and like the previous poster, nowhere near going anywhere but in their pants and on me when I’m changing them. =)

    However, this post got me thinking about the school I teach at. It’s a middle school (6-8 grade). We are so pressed for time in between classes that it is rare I get to use the bathroom (it’s called teacher bladder). When I just can’t NOT go, most of the time the staff bathroom is being used. So, where do I go? I go to the boys room–the one the students use. I’ve gone in there many times while students are doing the same.

    I feel a little iffy/nervous going in there because of the potential that a kiddo will make up a story. It’s sad I feel that way, but unfortunately, that is the society we live in. I still go in the student bathroom if the staff is occupied cause “when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

  11. My boys turned 3 this past July. By September, they were insisting on going into their own stall in public restrooms. Rather than argue with them, I decided to give it a go. So far, they’ve done quite well. They’ve figured out stall locks, different flush mechanisms, and a variety of sinks – all without my assistance. They’ve also learned how to discreetly check to see if a stall is occupied rather than crawling on the floor or under a door (a pet peeve of mine). All of this is taking place in the women’s wash room for now, but I’m pretty much ok with them going to the men’s room once they decide they’re ready.

  12. Oops, that should be their own stalls.

  13. Okay… I’m reposting myself, but here’s a message I posted to the freerange kids feedback section back in August.

    I was taking my younger daughter to a Philadelphia Phillies game. I’ve taken each of the girls to two games this year.

    This night, I was with my 5 (now 6) year old. We were waiting in line for the in-stadium restaurant (Harry the K’s for any Phillie fans familiar with the place) and my little one told me she needed to go to the bathroom… the line at Harry the Ks can get pretty long and we were about 6 parties away from being seated at the time.

    The bathrooms were about 20 feet away… or I should say, the exit to the bathroom was. I’m still not sure where the entrance to these bathrooms is – nowhere in sight, to be sure.

    But I realized that even though there were 45000 people there – they were almost assuredly there to see a baseball game and not to cause harm. I told my girl to head in the exit, do her business and then come right back.

    A ladies bathroom with a high volume of turnover – people walking out every 10 seconds or so – is not likely to be a hiding place for someone looking to snatch a kid.

    After she disappeared, I was a bit concerned – mostly because I couldn’t see where she might come out if she got turned around and decided to go out the entrance – which must have been on the other side of the restaurant building.

    About 3 minutes later – just long enough for me to start feeling anxiety, but not long enough for real fear – she came hopping out of the bathroom and joined me back on the steps – the next party to be seated.

    Here’s what felt so liberating – I knew that she knew where I was and where I was going to be. I knew that she could do her thing and find her way back. And I knew that the reality in a situation like that is that if she had any problems, the VAST majority of adults would be there to HELP – not harm.

    In the last year, I’ve sent my kids on a few errands or small adventures – joining us in the grocery store at the far end of the shopping center from the Taekwon Do school after a lesson was over. Going out into the parking lot of that same shopping center with key to the car in hand in order to retrieve a book or video game. But those “trial runs” were in a local community where it was pretty likely that we or the kids would see someone we knew well on any given day in that parking lot.

    This was different – this was the “big, scary city” and crowds of STRANGERS (oh my!).

    I knew my daughter wasn’t afraid (though I also know that she is not reckless when it comes to adults approaching her – part of what she is learning in self defense in Taekwon Do) and I wasn’t afraid either.

  14. The first time our oldest, then aged four, used a public loo was at our local Lido (giant open-air swimming pool). I hovered outside for what was quite a long time. My son couldn’t manage to pull up his wet swimming trunks, and was too embarassed to come outside to find me. Eventually I asked a passing teenager to go in a find him. The teenager came out and told me what the problem was, so I went in and helped the son. Since then we’ve been back to the Lido and I’ve sent him off to the loo with no problems, and don’t hover outside.

  15. I have a same sex child so going to the bathroom by herself has not really been as much of an issue as I imagine that it would be with a boy. She has been using different stalls than me in the bathroom since she was 3.

    The first time I let her go into a public bathroom by herself was right around her 4th birthday in the children’s section of the local library. I continued to look at books while she went in. The children’s section is not big and the picture books are right by the bathroom so I didn’t consider this a great free range feat.

    For the last 6 months or so, I’ve let her go to the bathroom by herself in small restaurants and stores – completely by herself with me staying at the table and not waiting outside the door. I even tried to let her use the bathroom by herself at the Taco Stand which requires her going outside and walking around the building to an outside entrance bathroom but that didn’t work too well – she was too short to turn on the light.

    I allow my child to use the bathroom by herself even though I lived in San Diego when a young boy was brutally murdered in a public men’s room. While it’s made me pause to think for a minute, in reality that boy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and unfortunately ran into a delusional person hellbent on killing someone – something that could happen to any child whether we are present in the room or not.

  16. No stories here. But I did witness a dad holding his kid over one of the urinals to take a crap, because all the stalls were taken. He did have the right mind to clean it up after. lol

  17. My son was four or five, and we were at some outdoor festival. He had to go, and the line for the women’s room was about a mile long, so I sent him into the men’s room by himself. It was one of those portable trailers, but it only had one entrance/exit, so I told him to remember to wash his hands, and off he went. No onlooker reaction, spouse was fine with it–I think I was the most worried person involved.

    My son is now 13, and has been freely riding his bike around town for last year or two. The only reason I won’t let him ride to school is the idiot drivers–the only route to the middle school is along a major artery (speed limit 35 mph, most drive 40-45), and there is no traffic light at the left turn onto the school street.

  18. 4 to use bathrooms in familiar places, 5 to use bathrooms in unfamiliar places, 6 to go find the bathroom himself while I finished dinner or shopped. Everything’s been a complete non-event.

  19. My oldest is 5 and insists on using the men’s room “just like daddy.” Since he’s not wrong, I let him. Generally I try and keep within earshot of the restroom (not because I am afraind of “what might happen” but in case he needs help with something).
    I was doing this in a grocery story recently and was chastised by an older woman who felt the need to educate me on all the horrors of the men’s room. I just smiled and thanked her for being concerned but let her know that *I* wasn’t concerned.

    Another thing – I have four children total (two are still in carseats and the baby is generally sleeping when we are out and about). When we have a potty emergency, I have been known to pull up to the door at McDs and let the two oldest go in together (buddy system!) while I stay in the car. They are 5yo and 4yo and have never had a problem or had anyone say anything negative to them (or me!).

  20. Oh, and a funny story! Once when letting my 4yo use the bathroom at a grocery store she took so long I was getting a tad concerned (not that she was being molested, LOL, that she was sick or something) when she came bounding out followed by a staff member. Apparently she had locked herself in the stall and couldn’t get out. The nice employee helped her out with a chuckle.

  21. After 5, I started encouraging my son to go in to the men’s alone. If they were particularly crowded, he sometimes came back out and asked to go into the ladies with me. I didn’t mind that. After all, I was listening to him and taking his lead on what he was ready for.

    Now that he is 7, he goes alone consistently. After a movie, for instance, I usually pop in the ladies and tell him to meet me in the lobby when he’s finished in the men’s.

  22. My boys–ages 4 and 6– still go (very reluctantly) to the ladies’ room with me. Luckily, the “family bathrooms” that are popping up more and more make this a non-issue.
    I think I will stop accompanying them when they are 16 and 18 (or go off to college, whichever).

    http://mothersofbrothersblog.blogspot.com

    MOV

  23. I honestly can’t remember exactly when I quit having a kid with me in the stall, because my youngest is going to be 10 in January. I suppose it’s been since he was 3 or so. All 3 of my kids are afflicted with “This is a new place so we have to check out the restroom facilities” as well as “We’ve been here lots of times and the bathrooms are really cool” so I learned a long time ago that if I ever wanted to get any errands done when I had my kids with me, I should let them go potty by themselves.

  24. My daughter is 5 now, but she has been going to public bathrooms by herself for over a year now. The reason we waited so long is for us to be sure that she won’t leave a mess behind her. She knows how to clean up after herself and to flush and wash her hands.

    As her dad, I don’t go into the ladies bathrooms, although one time I heard her call for me to come help her, so I cautiously opened the door, and warned anyone else in there that I was coming in. The problem ended up being that the soap dispenser was too high for her to reach.

  25. My son is 5.5 yrs old. He started using the men’s room at Disneyland sometime last year. He refuses to go into the women’s room when he can. It is frustrating but I really don’t have any issues with it.

  26. I think this is an interesting topic. My mother-in-law admonished my husband and I for letting our 5-year old son go to the bathroom by himself in a restaurant. It was a one-person bathroom, and we could see it from our table! We just laughed at her.

  27. For us, the hardest part is being female (my sister and I) and having a young boy who has refused to use a women’s bathroom since he was 5. The boy tends to be pokey in the bathroom sometimes, so we just hang out outside wondering what is going on. Eventually we ask a man coming out of the bathroom what is going on inside, and wait it out. It’s never really been a problem.

    Interestingly my father (80 years old) thought we were nuts for letting him, at the age of 5, go in alone (like we could have stopped him at that point!!) He seemed to have a dim view of what went on in public mens’ rooms.

  28. My son is 5 and, honestly, I can’t remember the first time – likely at the toy store, if I had to guess. I do have my limits still – rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike still need parental supervision because it just gets nasty in there – but beyond that I let him go. I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a comment on it, and on the rare occasion where he is taking too long I just ask someone coming out if they saw a shaggy little blond boy in there and they will give me a status.

    On another note, I was at church about three weeks ago, and I had to go. I walked into the ladies room, and there were two little boys of about 8 and 6 in the ladies room waiting for their mom. They were obviously siblings and, well, that just made me plain old uncomfortable! There was absolutely no reason for them to be in there besides a paranoid mother, and it just wasn’t natural. I felt bad for them. I mean, if they had to go, why couldn’t they go into the men’s room together????

  29. And I taught the kids the number-one hard-and-fast rule of public restrooms:

    ALWAYS, always check if there is toilet paper before you select a stall!!

  30. We let our boys use public bathrooms all the time and they are 7, 5, and 3. Particularly in restaurants where we can periodically keep an eye on the restroom door. We figure, they are all together, the big ones can help out the little guy to wash hands and what could happen? It has been a complete non-issue. I don’t think it’s a big deal at all. I’ve let them use the men’s room in Barnes and Noble, and other stores and restaurants as well.

    I have friends who think this is INSANE and have told me in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that is is unsafe. My husband and I are both in agreement over it and that suits us just fine.

  31. A little different from some of the other stories:

    I was at the mall with my three girls, at the time 3, 5 and 7. We had just gotten lunch in the food court, unwrapped everything and started to eat when my youngest announced she had to go to the bathroom. I surveyed all the food, the shopping bags, the stroller; thought about packing it all up and dragging it all into a germy mall bathroom. Looked around, saw a nice-looking older couple at the next table and apologetically said, “Excuse me, my youngest here needs me to take her to the restroom; would you mind keeping an eye on her two sisters?” Of course they said yes, of course the big girls sat quietly and ate and of course everything was fine.

    Trusting those around us and asking for a hand when necessary–what a concept!

  32. I’ve mentioned this story elsewhere:
    I had to use the men’s room at the mall. I had to wait for a 8 year old boy standing 6 inches away from his dad between the urinals to move. Both gave me a dirty look for trying to use the only open stall next to them. Never mind that technically the dad was exposing himself to his son. There was no sense in saying anything to a guy that looks like he hangs out in the gym when I’m partially disabled, have weak kidneys, and weigh only 130 lbs.
    Bathroom graffiti from a Yale University radio station’s bathroom around 1981 was:
    If you’re going to tread on thin ice, you might as well dance.

  33. I started telling my sons around age 4 that by the time they were six, barring crazy situations (like bathrooms known for drug dealing… I know that sounds bizarre, but I do know of one in a place we have occasionally visited…) they were expected to use the bathroom in the men’s room without me. At age 5, they began using the men’s room alone in places where they were comfortable already. As they approached their 6th birthday, I urged them to go to the bathroom alone, with me waiting for them, in most places. However, I noticed something strange. I seemed to be the only parent doing this. I witnessed as parents with kids older than them took their opposite gendered kids into the bathrooms with them. A couple of times, my sons were with friends who were also male and needed to use the bathroom. I sent my sons into the men’s and the other mother ushered hers into the women’s, much to my boys’ confusion. No one’s ever said anything to me about it. However, this has finally started to change and now my kids have gone to the men’s room a couple of times with other 6 yos whose parents seemed to think if my kids were doing it, it must be all right.

    Amusingly, one of my sons, who has long hair, has been stopped from entering the correct gender bathroom a couple of times by adults who thought a little girl was alone and lost and had wandered into the wrong place. Um… he can read, you know!

  34. When my oldest (now 9) was 4, he begged to go to the men’s room instead of with me and I was panicked. I had him do recon, then come back to me and tell me how many people were in the bathroom. He did and when it was empty, I sent him in and guarded the door (it’s funny now). A young man came up to the bathroom and I wouldn’t let him in so he went and got security. Luckily, the officer was quite nice and explained to the teenager that “moms are sometimes paranoid and the last thing you want to do is piss them off” – I got quite a message that day and my son was free to go to the bathroom without me ever since.

  35. My friend Ronda reported this:

    “There are few restrooms I’ve let my son (age 5, now 6) go in solo already… depends on the place or how busy. I’ve taught him to whistle while he goes then I can keep an ‘ear’ at the door for him and everything being OK.

    I do have a funny retold story to me… about two young girls that had to use a boys restroom at a school once. They came out commenting that yes they had washed their hands using the blue soap in the strange sinks hanging on the wall. YUCK!”

  36. My father stayed at home with me from the time I was two until I went to school, and we had all sorts of adventures together. I do remember him taking me into a men’s bathroom in a very crowded place once when he felt it was too busy to send me alone to the ladies room. He sent me to a stall, did his business at the urinal, and returned to the stall to wait for me to finish.

    On a camping trip, some friends and I stopped at a convenience store. A local Amish family was there to sell some baked goods to tourists. When I went to use the bathroom, two little Amish girls were playing with the electric hand dryer. They looked like deer in headlights seeing that we caught them, but then they looked quite relieved that it hadn’t been their mother walking in on them.

  37. My kids (boy and girl, aged 7 and 8) started using the public toilets by themselves from about 5 or 6 – in other words, once they had started school. Suddenly at school the toilets are separated into boys and girls, so my son was no longer happy to be going into the female room. And also, because the children are let out of their classrooms to walk to the toilets by themselves, they suddenly had no problems with going by themselves.

    Was I nervous the first time? Hell yes! Do I clock watch while they’re in there? Absolutely. But it’s a total non-issue to them, they don’t even realise that I’m slightly nervous about them doing it.

  38. I don’t really remember my son’s first trip solo any more. I think it was when he was about 5, as he had started Kindergarten and I figured if he could navigate the school halls and use that bathroom alone, surely he could handle a public restroom. It must have been a non-event, because it doesn’t stick in my mind. My daughter’s first solo trip was a bit more memorable. We were on a field trip with my son’s class in the spring, and I had been working on giving both kids more independence. We were eating lunch in a pavilion, and the door to the ladies’ room was open, and right by our table. She needed to use the bathroom, I was still eating lunch. She is 5, and now in Kindergarten, so I figured she could handle that trip solo. Well, the door got stuck closed, and she could not get out. She completely freaked out, and would not listen to reason (crawl under the door!). I could not fit under the door, nor could I reach the lock over the top of the door. My son’s teacher is taller than I am and ended up reaching over the door and unlocking it. She will finally use her own stall again, but refuses to go into a public bathroom without me. It’s funny now, but it was really embarrassing at the time.

  39. My kids started going on their own – in selected public bathrooms – soon after they turned 3. Of course, since my kids are short, it only works if I know they can reach the sinks. And it has to be a bathroom where I know it’s reasonably clean and safe. Other than that, the only difference between going at home and going in public is the need to wipe the seat first. Not a very hard thing to learn.

    People’s reaction (if any) is usually negative, unfortunately. Some people seem to live for the purpose of imagining horrible events.

    Which makes me wonder – has anyone ever actually known a little girl who was abducted or otherwise harmed in the ladies’ room, when her mom was aware she was in there? I mean, the ladies’ room doesn’t seem to be a likely hangout for child molesters, especially since it’s usually full of everyday moms.

  40. We were at a local playplace. One of those places with pizza and tons of tunnels and tubes and slides that kids climb through. I was sitting talking to my friend at a table, our 4 kids were playing. My son was 3 at the time. I hadn’t seen him in a while but assumed he was up in the tunnels. All of a sudden he comes running up to me in only a shirt telling me he needed help in the bathroom! I quickly followed him back to the bathroom (luckily he had chosen the ladies) where I found his socks, underwear, and pants on the floor and a roll of toilet paper that was stuck, which is what he needed help with. The kid didn’t even tell me he needed to go, just slid down a slide and ran on in there alone, he would have been fine too if it weren’t for that darn stuck toilet paper🙂 He is 7 now and uses the mens room by himself all the time.

  41. My very shy and quiet son was about 4.5 when he asked me if he could please go to the bathroom on his own at a B&N bookstore. I let him go, and the only thing he needed help with was the heavy door in and out. I was so happy that my son was speaking up for his wants, which he doesn’t do much of.

    He almost always goes in on his own now. It’s just easier to let him go, and really good for him to learn to deal with people on his own just a little bit. He’s very shy, and if there are a lot of people in the bathroom it’s difficult for him to go in alone. When I point out that it’s go into the men’s bathroom alone or go with me into the women’s (I stand outside the stall if he chooses this), most times he’ll make it on his own into the men’s room.

  42. You have to use this story, its not mine its from ESPN and I think very well written. My own son is not our of diapers yet but this captures my own memories of an intimidating situation:
    “Last fall I stood in line in a men’s room at Giants Stadium while a kid no older than six approached a urinal at least two inches too high for him.

    For football fans, these were anxious moments — minutes before kickoff, when each of us in the full-bladdered rabble was eyeing the glacial progress at the front of every line. So the boy’s exertions did not go unnoticed.

    We all saw him rise on his toes, as if trying to fool a cutout clown that says you must be this tall to ride the cyclone. First one shout of encouragement (“You can do it”), then another (“Higher”), and after 30 seconds an urgent chant echoed in the lavatory: “Go! Go! Go!” And go he did, like a cherub in a fountain.

    By Meadowlands standards, this was a Norman Rockwell painting. And when the boy had finished — and turned to receive the glove-muffled applause of two-dozen drunken Giants fans — he was smiling, relieved in mind and body. And well he should have been. He had just completed a rite of passage, in every sense of the phrase.”

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/web/COM1172869/index.htm#ixzz15UT5ejCM

  43. I met my wife when her son (now my son) was 4 1/2. We were at Disneyland when he had to use the restroom. He followed me into the mens room and I pointed to the childs urinals (assuming he knew how to use it). I took care of my own business and turned around to check on him. There he was standing in front of the urinal, cheeks hanging in the breeze. He had completely dropped trow. Rather than freaking out, I let him finish his business, made sure he washed his hands and told him of the minor faux pas later. I’ll never forget trying to not laugh outloud when I turned around and saw him standing there. Priceless.

  44. I let both my boys go by themselves (they are 4 & 6.5). I usually just wait outside until they’re done. The only issue I have to deal with is trying to get them to wash their hands when they are done. I wrote a blog post about the first time my youngest went by himself when he was 3.5. Here’s the link. http://neumanngroup.com/call-me-crazy/

  45. When I saw “bathroom humor,” I’m sorry, but I thought Lenore was requesting adult-type of bathroom humor. I was like–what?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d been happy to oblige–yes, I’m tasteful, but I’m sorry, I laugh at “adult” toilet humor all the time–but then I read the rest, it makes more sense.

    The only story I have of this type? Well, I do train my children to behave well, but I also like to have fun too. My 3½ girl, on command, with very little prompting, I can get
    her to tell almost anyone “I farted.” Ha ha ha.

    It goes like this:

    Me: “Tell ’em Helen.”
    Helen: “I farted.” (And she smiles because she knows laughter is coming.)

    Ha ha ha.

    Sorry I couldn’t help better.

    LRH

  46. I am by nature a fairly free-range person, and have had my share of close calls, I’ll admit. Also, having 4 kids of both genders fairly close together means it can get complicated at the grocery store when one has to use the restroom. At around age 5, I started letting my oldest son use the men’s room by himself as I waited outside the exit, and because he insisted. The last time I did so, a man came out and warned me that I should never do that because HE had had a terrible experience in a men’s room as a child, and that there would be no way to know, even standing where I was. I took him seriously, since he seemed honest and genuinely caring. Now I’m not sure what to do except use my best judgment. Do I teach him to yell? Expose him to what might happen and give him some self-defense training? I’m not sure, but I do let him still go himself. I wonder though, about that man and his advice.

  47. As an aside, as a 34 year old man, I’m afraid to go into the Birmingham Greyhound station’s bathroom by myself. If you’ve been there you’ll know why.

  48. I have all girls so I assume this ‘problem’ is more prevalent with mothers of boys who want to go to the big ‘boys toilet’

    I’ve found having a larger family helpful. Ofcourse my poor eldest child had me hanging around her till she was 7 or 8 or so. Now they can ‘go together’ so that my my third girl who is 4 is off doing many things with her older sisters that the older ones werent allowed to do.

    My 9 and 7 year olds frequently go to the toilet without me .. and the park.. and play outside on the street.

    I suppose I ‘feel’ safer because they have eachother. I know my eldest wasnt playing out on the street at 4 yet her 3rd sister is! It really is unfair being the eldest!! lol

  49. I think my son was about 2 1/2 – totally Mr. Independent. I’m pretty sure there were times he couldn’t reach the soap and/or water but a bit of hand sanitizer works I guess. My daughter was probably 3 1/2 – not nearly as independent. I sent her to the public restroom within the building where the pediatrician has her office. I was sure we would be called if we left and it wasn’t far away so I figured she would be fine. She wasn’t. She came back with eyes so big I thought she’d seen a ghost!! When I tried to ask what happened while attempting to stay calm, she managed to blurt out that the toilet had tried to swallow her WHILE SHE WAS STILL GOING!!! And then it dawned on me that the toilet had the automatic flushers and she’d probably triggered the sensor somehow. Poor kid is almost 13 and still hates those kind of toilets!

  50. On Saturday, after their swimming lesson at the Y, my sons and I were splashing around in the pool. The three-year-old (who has recently mastered potty training) said he needed to go, so the six-year-old took him off to the men’s room while I waited in the pool.

    We all lived to tell the tale!

  51. “Which makes me wonder – has anyone ever actually known a little girl who was abducted or otherwise harmed in the ladies’ room, when her mom was aware she was in there?”

    Yeah. My best friend had a man come into the girl’s bathroom and expose himself and try to get the girls to touch his penis. She was not a really little girl – older elementary or middle school – when it happened.

    And there was the 9 year old in San Diego who had his throat slit in the boy’s room at a park while his aunt waited outside about 12 years ago.

    All in all, like everything else, it has happened but is not a common occurrence.

  52. My son was 4 1/2. We were late to a gymnastics class at the local community center. We go to this community center all the time and he knows where the potty is. My daughter (2 yrs) was lagging behind on the stairs so I called out to him to go the the potty by himself. All the sudden I heard the voice of the woman who checked in all the students booming over us from upstairs, “NO CHILD UNDER 6 YEARS OLD IS PERMITTED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM ALONE”. So I yelled back upstairs to my daughter (so the woman could hear) “YOUR BROTHER IS NOT ALLOWED TO BE ALONE IN THE BATHROOM SO I HAVE TO LEAVE YOU ALONE ON THE STEPS. DON’T FALL!”. He still went by himself since no one was watching.

  53. My oldest boy gets distracted, and will wash his hands forever. I let him go on his own starting last year. He is now 8. He is also very trusting of people and would do anything that an adult asked, so I was not comfortable until then. I particularly like letting him go into the one at the store that says that parents must accompany their kids into the bathroom!

    I also have a 5 year old boy. He has long hair down to his bottom (like his dad.) Despite dressing in boy clothes, he gets called a girl a lot. I do let him go into the mens room, and will also send him to get his brother to finish washing up so we can go. He has gotten quite a few comments about going into the wrong room – but he does have the same “equipment” which any guy could see as soon as he goes up to the urinal. Oh, and the comments have always been from women. I guess they wanted to save him from the “trauma” or something. Or, maybe the guys from embarrassment…nah, mostly the first.

  54. Not quite the bathroom, but it is the “changing” room. When we lived in Bozeman, MT, when my daughter was 3, I enrolled her in swim lessons at the local outdoor pool. The lessons were in the morning, and while the water was heated, it was cold outside. The changing room was really cold concrete block.

    As soon as the kids got out of the pool, the parents stripped them down on the deck of the pool, wrapped them in a towel while the did the same to the other kid(s) and them put them in clothes. This went on with boys and girls up to age 6 or 7. There would be about 30 kids every hour doing this. I thought it was great, and did the same with my two kids as well. Public nudity, and it was great. No one ever said a word about not doing it.

  55. From the other side. I frequently have kids ask me for help in the bathroom. Sometimes it is reaching the soap, or getting the automatic sinks to work for them.

    The twist is I can’t touch the soap – it will burn my skin. So I tell them this and offer to give them a boast. The only thing a parent has ever said was to the child that she shouldn’t be bothering me.

    The kid responded but she is a teacher and teacher’s help kids. Now this mall was 30 min from where I teach and this kid was not one of my 700+ students. (There are so few blond blue eyed kids at my school I would probably recognize them out of context)

    So I asked her how did you know that – she pointed to my belt. I keep my ID and keys on a lanyard that I tie to a belt loop, and I had stopped on the way home from work. Pretty clever kids.

  56. I’m not a mother, and I don’t remember the first time mum let me go to a public toilet on my own, but this made me think of something my mum told me. My mother is a primary school teacher, and she was absolutely speechless when a girl in kindergarten came up to her at lunch time recently and said she had to go the toilet, but she couldn’t wipe her own bottom. Please bear in mind that this is Sydney, so by October this child has been at school for nearly a year!! (Free range? what’s that?!)

  57. I just had a first experience with the Grandparents in a public place and letting my children go to the restroom.

    See, first of all, I had to learn that my kids take FOR-E-VERRRRR in the bathroom. I don’t know why, they just always have, home and while out. It was scary to realize that in a public place, but while guarding the exits and listening, I realized I don’t need to pace the bathroom doors and scare people who just need to take a wee.

    Needless to say, now, when they go, they get a while before I even start to worry. My in-laws were here for my son’s birthday dinner. Of course, my daughter (a good 15 minutes in the pot), wanted to go. After about 5 minutes, in-law#1 gets fidgety. Suggests, maybe, I should check? I tell her with a wave of my hand, nah. It’s all good.

    5 minutes later, twitchy McGee says, “You sure she’s alright? I mean, it’s been a long time!” I say, “Yep. She’s fine. She takes forever.”

    5 minutes later, ants-in-the-pants says, “She really does take a long time… you sure she’s ok?” Since she looked like she was about to pass out, I agreed to check on my daughter. I get up from the table and lo – daughter wanders back to the table, ready to resume dinner. I look at Gma and shrug with a smile: “Told you.”

    Gma: “Oh my goodness! You do take a long time!”

    Moral of the story… if you know your kids, you know your kids. 😀

  58. Not my kids, but one of the more funnier things I’ve ever seen.

    I’m shopping at Costco with my Mom waaay before I had kids. A girl about 8 comes in with younger sibling aged about 3. Older girl takes little one into the stall. About 15 seconds later we hear quite clearly

    “Alright, now go potty. But don’t you dare go poop! ‘Cause I’m not wipin’ your butt!!”

  59. Just last week I allowed my children (boy 7, girl almost 5) go to the bathroom alone in the grocery store. I told them to meet me back in the produce section where we were and let them walk away. The restroom is at the opposite corner of the store. I couldn’t see them at all. Yes, my heart was in my throat. Yes I looked around nervously wondering what crazy predator might have heard me and was now following them. Yes, I lingered over the cucumbers for what seemed like eons waiting to see or hear any sign of them coming back to me. And they did – smiling from ear to ear. Today they asked to go again. Guess that taste of freedom was sweet.

  60. My oldest is 8 and I began to ask this question to parents of older children around the time he was nearing 6. I think at around 6 – 6 1/2 I would let him go if it seemed to be a safe place (Whole Foods) versus a scary gas station. Now he and his younger sister (almost 6) frequently get up throughout the meal at a restaurant to use the bathroom. On our last overseas flight I think they visited the bathroom no less than 7 times each! They love their independence. Sometimes people give me a strange look or ask where they are going. I just let them know that my children can use the bathroom by themselves.

  61. Here in Perth, Western Australia, we had a terrible tragedy a few years ago. A young girl was assaulted and murdered in a public disabled toilet at a shopping centre. The link is here.
    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/police-name-murdered-girl/2006/06/27/1151174178075.html
    It’s not clear from the article, but from what I remember, she may have gone to the toilet while her family waited nearby – I’m not sure about the ‘snatched/abducted’ part.
    Anyway – why post it here? I think the key is to think about it in the context of risk. As far as I can tell, there are only about 6-8 murders of females in WA each year. And only 1 or 2 are of children. So this type of assault, although a terrible tragedy, is also incredibly rare. It probably best serves as an example of the ‘what if’ that every free range parent worries about – ‘what if my child is the one in a million who crosses the path of a psychotic?”
    Although I know in my heart that I could live my whole life and never hear of another tragedy like this, it does worry me. But my head says that I can’t let that stop me from letting my children be free-range.
    However I think its fair to recognise that many of us free-range parents still DO worry, even though we know that the chance is one-in-a-million. We just hope that our child won’t be that one.

  62. We’ve been letting my 9 year old stepdaughter use public restrooms on her own for as long as I can remember – I’ve known her since she was almost 5. The only trouble has been the fact that she does many things very, very slowly, including using the bathroom sometimes. So often it is suggested that someone go check that she’d OK in there. She nearly always is. The only real trouble I can recall is heavy doors that were hard for her to open herself when she was little.

  63. I started letting my son use public men’s rooms by himself when he was about 3. It was an independence and a “just like Daddy” thing for him.

    Since he could pee standing up, I wasn’t worried about dirty toilet seats, messy peeing, or the like, and we would usually go into the women’s room afterward to wash up.

    I definitely got a few surprised, questioning glances from friends and strangers, but no one challenged me. And I did feel the occasional touch of nerves while he was in there. I couldn’t totally escape the question in my own head, “What if there’s a pervert in there?” But I swallowed my fears, remembered the stats, and let him go for it. He’s now 4, pees quite well by himself, thank you, and is a pretty self-assured, independent, but reasonably careful kid.

  64. This just happened…

    We had just flown into Orlando International Airport, and my husband was at the car rental desk & I had the cart with all of our luggage. My 4 1/2yr old very loudly exclaimed that she had to pee – NOW! I couldn’t get my husband’s attention, or leave the luggage unattended so I wheeled the cart over to the bathroom & told her that I had to wait outside with her sister (3 1/2) & that she had to go in by herself, but that I’d be waiting right outside. She was a little nervous, but kinda smiled as she went in. She came out just fine moments later – she even washed her hands.🙂

  65. When my older son was 4 we were attending a childrens playgroup hosted by a daycare in a local elementary school. I was speaking to the playgroup facilitator when my son told me he needed to go to the washroom. We had been to this school many times before, and he know exactly where to find the washrooms, so i said, “Go ahead, hurry back.” The facilitator looked at me anf say “Oh no, he can’t go to the washroom by himself. You need to go with him for safety.” She then proceeded to tell me that her 12 year old son still accompanies her into the ladies washroom. I almost threw up in my mouth.

  66. I will never forget the time my husband, 4 year old daughter and I went out to a restaurant on vacation. It was a small restaurant and really informal. We sent our daughter to the bathroom (we could see across to where the bathrooms were) and waited for her to come out. Which she did about 5 minutes later exclaiming, “Mommy! Daddy! I went poop ALL BY MYSELF!” – the whole restaurant clapped for her as we tried very hard to be proud and not embarassed.

  67. *

  68. i am a proud mother of five free-range children. our children are ages six, almost five, three, almost two, and three months. having children so close in age has allowed me to allow them more freedom because they can look after each other. however, there is something about the public restroom that scares me. it’s not bacteria. it’s not that i’m afraid they’ll fall in or stream toilet paper all over. i’m afraid of others. but, i’ve got to tell ya, lenore, after reading your book i feel so much freer. just reading the simple statistics in your book has been the most wonderful weapon against my fear and against helicopter parents that i could have asked for. now, if i know the kids can find us, i let the two or three oldest go to the restroom. i even let the two older ones go on solo trips. i’ve never had anyone say anything to me about letting them go, but i have gotten a few “I can’t believe you’re letting them do that in this day and age” looks. i smile like i have no idea why they are looking at me in disbelief. the pride and independence that my boys and girls have when they come walking up to the cart is worth all the glares.

    our worst bathroom story was actually when our whole family was in a pool changing room/ restroom. get ready for the most disgusting disturbing thing you’ve heard in a while. the two oldest boys are too old to see mom changing, so i sent them in to the stall while i changed in the main room. my innocent five year old came out blowing up what he thought was a balloon. however, when his father and i gasped in disgust he quickly dropped the CONDOM and started crying. after all the health issues were addressed and resolved we still took the time to teach the kids not to just pick up stuff and put it in their mouths. even after all the grossness of this event we still proudly let the kids use public restrooms without coddling.

  69. My kid, who is now eight and a quarter (sigh), has been regularly using public washrooms on her own for … I guess about three years? About the time it finally occurred to me, well, she needs to go, I’m eating, I can go with her and let my food get cold or I can let her go on her own. She’s not a large kid, so the main issue we’ve had has been with places where she couldn’t reach the soap, the taps, etc. She also really dislikes those auto-flushing toilets … so do I😛

    We did once have a Washroom Incident. In our old neighbourhood is a tiny mom-and-pop fish & chips restaurant which we like very much, and we used to eat there every couple of weeks. As is common in that neighbourhood, the washrooms (one toilet for each sex) are down a long, steep flight of stairs; the doors are a bit rickety. The first time DD used the ladies’ on her own at this place, she seemed to be taking a loooong time, so I went down to check on her, and found she was sobbing behind the door — it had stuck (you know how doors sometimes get too big in damp weather?) and she wasn’t able to get it open on her own. I let her out, and all was well — she hadn’t had any trouble until the washroom refused to release her😀

    We have never had anyone comment on our neglectful behaviour, that I can recall…

  70. I don’t have any stories right now. My husband is the primary caregiver and has been able to take our boys to the bathroom whenever needed. They’ve been on their own since around 5-ish.

    Although, I do worry about what will happen when our baby is born in January. Where will he be able to change the baby’s diapers?

  71. Hi Lenore, I have a very simple story of the first time my son Cam (now 12) used a public loo for the first time. Cam and myself were out walking up and down Brentwood High Street in Essex with Cam’s brand new baby sister in a pram. Cam needed the loo. The public toilets in Brentwood are underground, you access them by stairs. I was preparing to take the baby out (this was winter…lots of layers0 do the usual “stop the pram from flipping up now the baby is out” thing, when Cam said “No I want to go in the mens like I do with Dad”. A man about to go down to the toilets overherad and said “I’ll take him down”, I hesitated and he quickly followed up with “If you stand at the top of the stairs you can see the entrance to the mens, I’ll stand there in th doorway and make sure he’s OK and you can keep an eye on me”. I felt embarrassed that this man has anticipated my waryness, but his kindness really touched me. When he came back with a proud Cam I thanked him and he was so nice, and said that he only did what he knew his wife would be happy with. The baby is now nearly 7 and many a time at the shopping centre her fabulous brother will walk her to the loos and wait outside the ladies for her (why do they always want the loo when you are right in the middle of the food shop from hell?)
    I just love community minded people.

  72. Both my boy and girl got to go on their own at around 4. I stand near the bathroom because the doors are heavy enough that they sometimes struggle opening it..but I never worry about anything else. If they can take themselves potty at home, they can take themselves when we’re out. My oldest were able to take themselves while I shopped or ate or whatever at around 6/7.
    I’ve never had anyone say anything but I’ve gotten some looks, you know the ones. Doesn’t bother me. I know that while their 14 year old can’t pee on their own my 9 year olds can be trusted(and able) to go get a cart or can of food forgotten at the store and find me again, even if I’ve moved on. No panic from my kids but I’ve seen kids that are similar ages(9,9, and4) having down right panic attacks because mom turned the corner and out of sight.

  73. My 6-year old daughter has been going to the bathroom in restaurants by herself now for a year or two. She wanted to do it herself and we let her. She is now happy to ask the waiters where to find the bathroom and we wait at the table for her. She is so proud about doing it by herself! So far we have not received weird comments. Sometimes other parents are surprised that we do it (but less worried then about the fact that our daughter walks 5 blocks to the school bus stop by herself…)

  74. About places with rules against unattended kids. I get an ad for gymnastics camp at a local rec center. It’s for kids age 3 and up, and only kids who can use the restroom alone are allowed. So I guess it is not terribly unusual to have a 3-year-old go to the bathroom alone. It just depends on the place.

    As far as horror stories, I almost hate to use this, but I know I’ve mentioned it here before. My kids’ ex-nanny isn’t as free-range as I am, so she would not let the girls go into separate stalls after their swim lesson, even though the younger one begged and ended up being unable to wait her turn. How sad. She’d been taking herself independently for months while out with me.

  75. One of the first times I let my oldest son (Nathaniel) go to the bathroom by himself he was 5 or 6. We were in a truck stop and he insisted he goes in alone. So I stood outside of the door waiting for him. After a while I tried to sneak a peak in the door when ever some one would come out or go in, because he was taking longer than normal. At one point the door opened and there was some guy holding him up at the sink so that my son could wash his hands. My heart about stoped but then the next time the door was opened it was that same man walking out and saw me waiting and let me know Nathaniel was drying his hands, but he couldn’t reach the sink to wash his hands so he had asked for help. When my son came out we headed to the car, and the whole way I contemplated whether or not I should talk to him about it. But I let it drop, he handled himself well even if he asked a stranger to pick him up.

    My daughter (Savannah) is four and constantly asks to go to the bathroom by herself, most of the time I let her (As long as I know the bathrooms are fairly clean), but even when she goes alone I usually have to stand at the door because most bathroom doors (not the stall doors, but the main ones) are too heavy for her to pull open by her self.

    My youngest son (Roscoe) is three and most often I let Nathaniel take him to the potty, I have gotten a few bad looks when I’m standing in check out at walmart and send my boys to the bathroom alone, I just shrug it off, no one has actually ever said anything to me.

    The funny thing is, that before I read free range kids(a year or so ago I think), I probably wouldn’t have let them go alone. I was overwhelmed with the idea that as soon as they left my sight that they would disappear … But the book helped me realize that I survived a free range childhood so the chances that my kids would too were pretty good.

  76. My almost 5, very serious, independent son wants to go to the bathroom by himself for the first time at a restaurant. It’s not high class, but not the bus stop diner.

    I let him go, watching the door a bit anxiously. No one else goes in while he is there, but suddenly he comes RUNNING back toward me with a super strange look on his face. My stomach sinks, my heart races, he gets back to the table and says “Mom, there is a Kleenex box with a BOX TOP on it in the bathroom.”

    Did I mention I’m the box top coordinator for his preschool? Yeah, after my heart rate returned to normal, I told him we couldn’t get the label off a full box of Kleenex in a public restroom.

    He’s gone without incident ever since. If it is a very scary place, we go in the women’s. (He’s only 6.) Otherwise he also takes his 4 year old brother in with him when he needs to go too. No incidents.

  77. I always go in with my daughter, even if it is just to hold the stall door shut. She’s 4.

    Earlier this summer, just before she turned 4 I let her use a washroom alone. We were at a play area in a mall, climbing structures, slides and the like. In order to be in the structure all children had to be in stocking feet – no bare feet. Parents could go inside with the kids if they wanted to, or could sit in the observation area. Being the free range parent that I am, I signed her in and sent her off to play while I sat down.

    After a while she hollered at me that she had to go to the bathroom. There was a washroom for her to use, but she wanted me to come in. The catch? I had flip flops on, and no socks.

    The attendant refused to let me in to the area to accompany my daughter unless I had socks on. Socks were available at the sign in desk for $6. I figured that she was perfectly capable of going to the washroom on her own, so I told her to go in, and to ask another mom if she needed any help. In she went, and a couple of minutes later she came running out, proud as can be, to tell me she did it on her own and that she had washed her hands and got her own paper towel. The look of accomplishment on her face erased any doubt I had about sending her in on her own.

    My husband is way less free range than I am, and would probably have kittens if he knew, but she did just fine. It was a really controlled environment and I could see where she was. Much different than sending her off on her own and hoping for the best. Now we both know she can do it, and we will try it again, as the situation warrants.

  78. My son has been using the bathroom by himself since he was 3 years old. The first few times were a little scary, since I didn’t know if he could reach the sink without my help, but he has done just fine. Sometimes someone comes out and says that they helped him. Others say that he is really polite in there. Some say that he is playing under the air dryer. Dirty boy bathroom germs? Scary. Strangers? Piece of cake.

  79. My son has been using the public restroom alone since he was 6. So far we’ve never had anyone ever even raise an eyebrow at us. He’s 9 now and we let him walk across where ever we are to use the bathroom. The girls have also been using the bathroom since around that age and have been taking their baby sister with them since she was 3 (helping her onto the toilet and to wash her hands).

    My favorite potty story happened just last month. We were at a pizza place that was pretty packed. Since we’re a large family (5 kids) they seated us at 2 different tables. Me, hubby, the baby and our 4yo daughter were at one booth and the older kids (10, 9 and almost 8) were about 3 booths down across the aisle from us.

    Anyway, the place is mainly a pizza buffet but you can also order steak and ribs cooked to order. Just as our steak and ribs arrived our 4yo decided she just HAD to go to the bathroom. This usually results in a game of rock/paper/scissors between me and my husband or we tell the girls to take her. Our son (the 9yo) just happened to be standing next to the table (trying to steal some ribs) so we asked him to take her.

    So off they went. We could actually see the bathroom doors from our table but that wouldn’t have mattered to us. She refused to go into the boys room so he opened the heavy door to the girls room and waited outside for her. It was so cute. When she was finally done she came out with a big smile (and wet hands) and they came running back.

    The waitress just smiled at them and no one thought anything of 2 kids using the bathroom on their own.

    And there was this time I had to run into Target to pick up something quick. My son (then 8) had to go really bad so he came in with me (other kids were in the car with my husband and it was pouring so we didn’t want to drag everyone in). So we get inside and I’m like, “go use the bathroom.” At first he freaked out because I was implying he go alone which he’d never done in a big store before. I pointed to where the bathrooms were and told him where I would be. We went our separate ways. He never showed up to where I told him I would be so I went back to the front of the store to find him hovering near by. He didn’t see the sign that said the mens room was around the corner so didn’t know where to go. I explained it to him and then he went to the bathroom and I checked out. I was waiting for him at the front door and he was so proud. Now the kids wander all over the store when we shop and he has no problem going to use the bathroom on his own.

    And he’s not stupid. When he was 7 or so we were at Red Robin for lunch and just as we were leaving he said he had to pee. I told him to go use the bathroom and we’d probably meet him at the car. No big deal. Ten minutes into the ride home he started complaining he really had to go. Come to find out he went into the mens room but there were so many adults in there he didn’t feel comfortable using the urinals and the stalls were taken so he left. Who would have though a 7yo could make a rational decision on his own?

  80. My daughter is 2 1/4 and is starting to demand to use the bathroom by herself in public since she can do it at home herself now and apparently now needs privacy to go. When we are at the public park we go to 3-4 times a week she will run in there and go all by herself – granted I’m not very far away so it doesn’t make it seem like that big of a deal. She can’t reach the sink there by herself, but it doesn’t have soap or paper towels anyway, so I just use a wet wipe on her when she’s done. If we’re at a place with a multiple stall bathroom she takes a stall by herself while I wait for her to finish. I have a very independent child, and a very capable one as well. I like to chalk it up to the fact that I never just do things for her without getting her to try to do it herself first and always telling her “you can do it! Its okay, just try it!” And she knows I’m always there to back her up if she can’t quite do it alone.

  81. As many people here, the first time I let my daughter use a public bathroom on her own was one of those times when I needed to be at least in three places at the same time.
    Just picture a crowded supermarket, a long cash line, a mum with four kids (6, 5, 3 and 1 1/2) running late for an appointment.
    Just one more customer to go, and when I start to lay my purchase on the belt, the eldest realizes she has a strong urge to use the bathroom. Damn. People behind me in line start to drool, thinking I’ll leave with my kids (one less customer to wait for). After half an hour waiting, and running late? No way.
    Fortunately, this is a place we come to almost daily, so I think my daughter will remember where the bathroom is, and how to proceed. Maybe. With luck. So I ask her if she feels up to going on her own. Her face lights up and immediately answers “yes!!”. My second daughter sees her opportunity and quickly states that she also has to use the bathroom. The customer right behind me seems ready to pounce. I think, fine, there’s safety in numbers, right?
    So I just improvise the rules: keep together. If you need help, ask a lady for it (someone who can go in with you). When you finish, wash your hands. Don’t fool around and come right back to help me carry our stuff in the car. If you don’t, and I waste time having to look for you, there’s no TV in a week.
    And so they left (gentleman behind me glares accusingly at me). They came back 5-10 mins. later to help me, and told me everything went fine, but they needed someone to help them reach the tap to wash their hands, and a lady helped them, and she seemed amused (I could see her in the distance, watching them, seeing me, waving “OK then”, and returning to her business).
    As to other people’s reactions, no one looked scandalised. They seemed more intrigued to see how we’d manage, and certainly everyone in line were craning their necks as much as I did, waiting for the girls to come back. Good thing, too, because if the proverbial looming kidnapper happened to be around, there were another ten people at least who would raise the alarm.

  82. Coincidentally, I read the post[1] over at Susan Senator’s blog and tought about sending you the link. Susan’s son Nat is autistic but she is giving her some free range, after weighing the risks:

    Again, why would someone talk to Nat, other than the fact that he’s very cute, and why would it be a problem? Most likely there would not be a creepy guy in this family-oriented place.

    I like her concept that there is dignity in risk.

    [1] http://susansenator.com/blog/2010/11/the-dignity-of-risk/

  83. I’ve been letting both my boys (6 and 3) go to the selected public toilets by themselves for as long as I’ve been able to be certain that they’ll do it in the right spot and not make a mess.

    Generally, though, they only go in the women’s or unisex toilets – partly because that’s where they always go with me and partly because I want to be able to go in and check if I feel like something is amiss.

    My six year old asked to go to the men’s toilet in a shopping centre by himself for the first time on the weekend. I said sure and arranged to meet him outside the door once I’d been as well. I hadn’t even gotten into the stall in the women’s when he came up behind me. He’d skipped into the men’s, gone for a slide on something on the floor and landed with a painful thump on his butt. I gave him the serious life lesson that one should never, ever skip, run or jump in the vicinity of a men’s urinal and tried not to laugh.

    For the last few weeks I’ve been letting three year old go into the women’s change rooms and toilets on his own at the swimming pool. It’s a little bit of laziness on my part. That kid goes to the toilet every 10 minutes when he’s swimming and I got sick of following him in and out of the toilet – but it also interfered with me supervising my older boy in the pool.

    That said, I’d think twice about letting them go into the toilets alone in a place I wasn’t familiar with.

  84. Here is one possible source of our worries:

    When I was about 10 years old (about 1975) my girl scout troop leader sat us all down and spent about 10 minutes telling us graphic horror stories about what could happen to us in public restrooms. She seemed especially afraid of what could happen in the JC Penney’s restroom.

    Those stories have always stuck with me. Now I am wondering if the thing to be wary of was girl scouts?

  85. Late last spring I took the girls to see Babies (after seeing the trailer here) and one had to use the bathroom during the movie. She was 6 at the time. I didn’t want to go! So, I did the mental check list… it’s a matinée, the theatre is almost empty. The restroom is just a bit down the hall outside our screen, there’s an employee just a bit further taking tickets. So I said, go for it, come right back, don’t make me come find you. And she did! Of course she also took the lonnnnng way around to our seats but just as I was starting to think maybe I should go look for her I spied her down at the front row checking stuff out. And naturally her sister wanted to go immediately after.

    I did get a little flak at home, my partner thinking it was too soon. But seeing how proud they are when they do something independently has brought her around. Well that and the fact that nothing terrible happened!

  86. Oh and I wanted to clarify, the girls (7 now) have been using the toilet by themselves since they were 3, usually with me in the next stall or waiting outside the bathroom. The movie was the first time I’d sent them off any distance to find it and get back on their own.

  87. I started sending my 2 girls into public bathrooms as soon as they were able to ‘take care of business’ themselves. I got a few looks but nothing ever happened. It was rather boring (as one would expect), aside from my oldest telling me of a few things she READ on the bathroom walls. I didn’t know you ladies wrote stuff like that on bathroom walls like some guys do…..

    Actually, come to think of it, there were several times where the girls told me ladies helped them with sinks or dryers…

  88. It is worth noting per my previous post, the places they went to public bathrooms have included Jimmy Buffett concerts, Pitt basketball games, and other concerts and sporting events.

  89. My son has travelled from Italy to Canada and back again with me several times. He is now almost 8 and in airports he goes in the male’s bathroom while I wait outside the door. We also travel cross-country every summer to go from Northern Italy to Southern Italy and on the way we stop at what are called “AUTOGRILL” , basically diners with small supermarkets inside. If he is with his Dad and needs to go, he goes in with Dad, if he is with me, he goes into the boy’s room and I go to the ladies’, he ends up waiting outside of my stall….

  90. my younger son has always been pretty independent and confident in knowing his own mind, so when i picked him up from preschool a few years ago i was not surprised to hear a funny story. his teacher told me that while all the children were playing outside she’d found my kid off to the side, blissfully peeing on a tree. she was laughing as she told me this and that she’d had to help him understand that at school he needed to use the potty. i was pretty impressed with how she handled it and how he just took care of business w/o needing an adult.

  91. I let my four year old start using the men’s room right after he turned 4. He started to recognize the difference between the signs on the door and wanted to go to the BOYS room. I let him go by himself for the first time in an Arby’s at lunchtime. He was fine except that he had some trouble reaching the soap. He got some help by another fellow who was in there at the same time. That’s right – helped by a stranger! go figure. I let him go by himself all the time now; I wish I could convince my husband to do the same!

    On a different public restroom note, I took my younger son to the bathroom and left my older son in line (at the same Arby’s) to order turnovers for dessert. He walked up, placed the order and handed the money over as I was walking into the restroom. Turns out I was in the restroom for a little longer than I expected (maybe 5 minutes?) and when I came out my older son was standing at the counter surrounded by people. He was still waiting for the turnovers! I guess they figured he was just standing there for no reason because they asked me what we were waiting for when I walked up. My reply was something along the lines of “ask him, he ordered it”. GRRRR!

  92. I have 2 girls (7 & 9) and twin 5 year old boys. They are all quite capable of using the bathroom without me. My boys enjoy the freedom of the men’s room because they know I can’t come in after them if they get distracted. I do occasionally get comments from other adults about how they would never let their own kids go by themselves. My sons find it very funny though when they see other boys walking into the ladies room and think they must not know how to read the sign on the door.

  93. I’m an elementary school teacher, and about 7 years ago I took a field trip to the Bronx Zoo with my 1st grade class. We did the usual thing, broke the 28 kids into 4 groups and sent them off with parents and teachers aids. I kindly took the group of 7 impossible-to-control boys myself (I’m sorry, but in some cases, it’s a stereotype for a reason!) and kept them on a tight leash. When it was bathroom time we stopped by the largest bathroom and I sent all 7 of them into the men’s room together and sat down on a bench hoping they would take their dear sweet time in the new environment. One of the mothers came by with her group (all girls…though her son was in my group) and asked me where my kids were. I pointed to the men’s room (which had VERY QUICKLY emptied of all adult men when my marauding pack of boys arrived) and she seemed a bit shocked.

    “You sent them in there alone?”

    Hell yeah! Those kids could have taken down an elephant and a pack of hyenas if they set their minds to it.

  94. My daughter was seven years old and had been using the ladies room by herself since she was three or four. We were out Christmas shopping for mom and brother when she asked to stop in a large department store. it had been a long day and we were getting frustrated about not finding the “perfect” gifts.

    I was browsing through some items within twenty feet or so of the door of the ladies room, mostly just wasting time until she was done. When the door opened and another lady came out, I could hear my daughter and someone talking as they washed hands.

    Soon she emerged, accompanied by a lady in her early sixties, eyes ablaze and ready to protest. “Are you her father?” “Yes.” “Do you know you shouldn’t allow your young daughter to go in there alone?” I calmly asked her what she and my daughter had talked about (letting her know I had been nearby) and asked the lady if my daughter had seemed capable of taking care of herself.

    After about two minutes of protest, the lady finally looked me in the eyes and conceded! I had been there when she came out of the bathroom, my daughter knew where her Dad was, knew what to do if she became uncomfortable with someone, and had spoken politely and confidently. I could tell this women still viewed the world as a dangerous place for a seven year old girl, even a small bathroom with no other exits and a Dad nearby, but she admitted that my girl, at least, seemed up to the challenge.

    I couldn’t have been prouder of my girl.

  95. @ Marianne Pitts, I got a call from the principal once to let me know that one of mine had picked up a condom on a field trip and given it to another kid. She goes, don’t worry, they probably just thought it was a balloon.

    AAAAAAAAAAAACK! I wasn’t worried until she said THAT! I needed a professional brain scrubbing after that comment but at least I didn’t have to SEE it, you poor thing!😀

  96. I have been letting my daughter use the bathroom at church since she was 4 years. At first there was a whole bunch of well-meaning ladies that kept walking her back to me saying “I found her in the hall” or “I helped her with the bathroom”.
    In the beginning, I said a half-hearted “thanks”. After a while I began looking at them like they were from mars, smiling politely and asking, “oh, why?” to which they responded with the regular “you never know” or “I was worried”.
    I still get a few polite comments ” so-and-so was worried when s/he saw your daughter in the hall alone, however most have given up on actually trying to make me keep her teathered to my side.
    I know it is genuine concern, but did I mention the bathroom is less than 50 feet away and inside a church? LOL anyway.
    I could go on about letting DD play in the courtyard, but this is a bathroom story.
    I feel a bit sad that society is so afraid that kids are not free to roam the church anymore. I remember being a kid and having a great time with the other kids during coffee hour – isn’t that the fun of being a child?

  97. My kids have been using bathrooms in restaurants on their own since they’ve been in Montessori school. If it’s a new restaurant and/or the bathroom is on a different floor I’ll accompany them to the bathroom door. For freeway service stations we usually all go together (and I have only girls). I’m a little nervous about store restrooms, because they are usually rather isolated and remote from customers, so I usually go to the door with them, or make the older one (11) accompany the younger (6). Our big step was letting them go to the bathroom alone while at campsites: we’ll all go check it out together, make sure we know the route from our tents etc, and then they go on their own. They have to tell us when they are going, especially in the night, and in the night I’ll accompany the younger one (or send the older one with her).

    We had a hitch once when the younger one went to the bathroom at the swimming pool on a day when they were with dad – she was fine in the stall, but couldn’t reach the faucets or dryers herself. Dad was by the door, so she told him all this, and he had to go and get the older one out of the pool to come and help. The difference between public bathrooms and Montessori school is that at school everything is at kid height.

  98. I was in charge of running an event for an organization that had recently made the news because of a child abuse scandal. So, when the 3 year old daughter of my ticket taker asked me to take her into the bathroom, I freaked. However, her mom (heavily pregnant) was outside having serious Braxton-Hicks contractions (the brother was born 2 weeks later) and the poor kid had already gotten trapped once in the ladies’ room because the door was too heavy for her to open from the inside. The choice was either to help her, or let her pee on the floor! So, my heart in my mouth, I walked her in, let her into a stall, held the stall closed, and flagged down the next person coming out of another stall as backup just in case. (Fortunately, the next person turned out to be her regular babysitter!)
    All turned out ok.

  99. There are four kids in my family: girl, girl, girl, girl, boy. After all those girls, my Mom had to figure out how to negotiate the whole public restroom thing with my brother, especially since my Dad worked 2nd shift and rarely went out with us. Her solution was to take my brother into the women’s restroom with us wherever we went.

    When he was about six, we were all at a shopping mall and he started doing the Potty Dance. Mom took him by the hand and headed to the women’s restroom, but he dug in his heels. “I’m too old to go in the girls’ room,” he said. She reluctantly let him go in the men’s room by himself while the rest of us stood outside the door and waited.

    And waited. And waited. After about 10 minutes, Mom stopped a young man as he was going in. “My six-year-old son is in there. Could you check up on him for me?” The young man came out a few minutes later and assured us that, yes, my brother was still in there and seemed to be just fine. So we stood around and waited some more. My brother eventually wandered out without having to be retrieved by sales staff, which Mom was about to dispatch. When Mom asked him what he’d been doing in there, my six-year-old brother shrugged and said, “I was reading everything written on the walls. There’s some interesting stuff in there!”

    True story.

  100. My son has refused to go into the ladies’ room since he was 3 (when he said, “I’m NOT a lady!”). He’s 6, and I still get some weird looks, but I think it’s HEALTHY that he doesn’t want to go into the ladies’ room, and I am certainly not going into the men’s room. Although, another mom of boys once told me that if they don’t come back in (5 minutes, 10 minutes, whatever is reasonable), tell him you’ll come in! That usually keeps the roughhousing at bay….

  101. My 4.5-year-old has insisted on using the men’s bathroom alone for about the last year. Unfortunately, the second or third time he did it, as I was standing outside, I heard him yelling, “I need help wiping! I need help wiping!” from inside the men’s bathroom. What’s a woman to do?

    Now that he no longer needs help wiping, there has been no event, but he does like to go to the men’s room immediately whenever we happen to be in public. He likes to check out the facilities. It’s fascinating, apparently.

    It made me nervous for the first six months, not because I feared lurking perverts, but because I feared he’d make a mess – or once again start shouting that he needed help wiping. Yet so far, no problem, and no one has criticized me for allowing him to go alone.

  102. My boys have REFUSED to use the women’s each since about age 4 or 5. Really, not much of a problem.

    But, I have to admit that this choice gives me pause in the bathrooms on the Jersey Turnpike – very crowded, busy, confusing rest area, women’s lines longer than men’s and so on. I tried, at one point, to force them to use the family rest room (ewwww). Since then, reviewed the rules of conduct and hoped for the best.

    Now, the part that wigs me out is how gross the bathrooms are and I don’t know if they’ve touched anything (shudder).

  103. Just last night, I was at Walmart with my son, 5 year-old granddaughter and toddler grandson. Granddaughter needed to use the bathroom. I told son I would go in with her, but just stand by the door. Only two other people were in the room–a teenager on her cell, and an older lady. Granddaughter went right into the stall and shut the door. A minute later, the older lady left her stall next door to my granddaughter, walked right up to me and said “maybe you’d better check on her.” I smiled and said “she’s fine,” and the lady gave me the dirtiest look imaginable before going out the door! But granddaughter did her thing, washed her hands and had no problems. Next time, I’ll let her go by herself, and I hope the same lady isn’t there to get her knickers in a knot about it!

  104. I don’t think my daughter has ever wanted to go to the bathroom by herself in her life. She’s 11, almost 12, and I still tell her frequently, “If you need to go, then go! It’s right there!” The reverse is true when I have to go and she doesn’t–we were eating at a restaurant last week, and when I got up to go to the bathroom (20 feet from our table in plain sight) she said, “You’re going to leave me here?!” as if I were about to abandon her on a street corner. She’s reasonably independent at other times, so I guess it’s just something about the bathroom.

  105. My older son starting using the men’s restroom when he was about 5. My younger one started at 4 but he usually went with his brother. The trick is to get them to stay out of the bathroom at home when I’m in there!

  106. My two oldest are girls, so the question of them going to the bathroom alone never really came up, since I *always* have to go and they seem to *never* have to go🙂 I went, and if they had to go they went with me🙂

    My youngest is a boy. When he was four he and I were out together and he had to go. When we got to the bathroom, he pointed to the symbols on the doors. “Mom, that means ‘girls’ and I’m a boy. I have to go in this one.” And he did.

    He is 6 now and I still wait for him outside the bathroom door, not because I’m afraid of something happening to him but because he “forgets” to wash his hands. So he comes out and I say, “Did you wash your hands?” and he turns right around and comes back with wet cuffs🙂

  107. My girls are now 5 & 7 and have been using public restrooms on their own for a while now. My youngest is particularly small and short for her age, and occasionally she needs help reaching the sink, or soap, or paper towels. Typically her older sister or I am there to help her. Occasionally we aren’t, and she has learned to ask an adult to help her, if there’s one there.

    My oldest tends to go in and come out with at least one other lady, having struck up a conversation while washing hands. This used to worry me some, that she seemingly had no fear of “strangers” but really, we’ve never found anyone to be upset that she was in there alone, and none have done anything bad to her. Usually, it’s a grandmotherly type who thinks she’s very cute and quite talkative for her age.

    I think one of the biggest fears with letting kids use the public restroom without you is that they must leave your sight to do so. After having let my kids use the public restroom themselves quite a few times, I’m more apt to let them hold their own and go further in public places. As long as they know where to meet me, it’s ok.

  108. My story is probably a little different, and a little upsetting, then most.

    I started letting my oldest son use the restroom at 8. He is now 10 and takes his little brother, 5, with him. Usually the bathrooms are close by and I can see the comings and goings. In busy places I make him wait for me by the restroom entrances if he is out before I.

    Recently though, (this part is shocking and may disturb some) my son went into the rest room at the local swimming pool alone. In the 5-10 minutes he was in the bathroom alone he was molested by complete stranger. This was so shocking since strangers molestations are extremely rare. But you know what I have learned? If it’s going to happen it is going to happen. What saved my son from things getting worse is we taught him that it is ok to say no to adults who are making them uncomfortable. And my son did. He said no loudly making the guy run off.

    So is this a warning story to all? No. Because, while the hardest part in all this was letting my son go all over again, I did just that. Even after this has happen I let my son go to the bathroom alone again. Why? Because what happen to him was not his fault. He does not need to have his freedom taken away from him because of one messed up person. Could it happen again? Sure. I will just keep teaching him, and all my kids, it’s ok to keep themselves safe from anyone, child or adult, someone they know or someone they don’t. I have also told them that not all strangers are bad. What this guy did was just one bad guy in a lot of good people.

  109. These posts make me sad. When I was a kid (in the mid 80s) my mom always let us wander the grocery store from age 4 or so, I particularly loved to look at stationary and office supplies and even saved up allowance once to buy a label maker!

    She told us that when we wanted to find her, to walk up and down the aisles and if we really couldn’t find her, to go to the head desk and ask them to page her. I can’t even remember ever saying that I needed to go to the bathroom and having her drop everything to do it.

    She knew we were civilized, not going to break anything, and I was a very anxious kid, which maybe paradoxically helped her let go, because she knew I would never go far or do anything dangerous.

    I remember one time looking for her all over the supermarket and not finding her and getting irrationally scared even though I knew she was in there somewhere, and just as I was going to the desk to have someone help me find her, she appeared. I’m sure someone out there would be able to comment on how horrible it is to leave your kid to get scared like that, but how else was I supposed to learn to cope?

  110. i was in the public restroom at the beach, and two sisters came in — maybe 7 and 4ish? The three of us were the only ones in there. I heard the older help the younger, then send her out of the stall. Then I heard the younger one getting frustrated that she couldn’t reach the faucet or soap… she was crying to her sister about it, on the verge of tears. I came out, washed my hands, and asked if she wanted help. She said “yes, please”. So I lifted her up to reach the soap, turned on the faucet, and set her down. As I was picking up my beach bag to head out, her older sister came out of her stall and looked puzzled. The younger one explained that I had helped her… at which point the older sister gave me the nastiest look I have ever received — as if I had just molested her sister.

    I remember feeling terribly sad that this girl doesn’t know the difference between a kind stranger helping, and an evil person molesting…..

  111. Letting my child go to the public washroom by herself is a tale filled with horror!!!

    for the people who don’t wash their hands anyway. My daughter was around the age of six when she asked if she could use a restaurant bathroom by herself, I could see the washroom from where we were sitting, and told her that I’d come and help her if she needed, but she felt confident she could do it herself. So- off she went.

    Unfortunately, the woman who used the washroom at the same time as my daughter didn’t wash her hands before leaving the washroom, and being a hygiene-hound, my daughter pointed out across the restaurant, “THAT woman didn’t wash her hands after using the washroom!!! That’s GROSS!!!”

    Dangerous, not in the least- but it sure was embarrassing!!!

  112. My 8 year old son has been going to the men’s room by himself for… I dunno… since he was potty trained? He discovered the Urinals and… well… he prefers using his firehose than sitting. I used to wait outside the door for him, or his father would follow hm in, but then I realized that I was interrupting MY shopping or meal in order to helicopter. So I started small. “Mom’s going to be over here. Don’t forget to wash your hands.” “You know where the toilet is, right? Then why bug me? Be quick and come straight back.”

    There’s been a couple of times when he’s been caught by the store’s staff and held at the customer service desk and we got paged because the staff was concerned and got the “what if” lecture, to which we have responded with “I used to go by myself when I was younger than him. I trust my son to come back to me.”

    I’ve seen mothers pull their horrified 12 year old boys into the ladies’ room before. I don’t know what’s worse – the fact that the moms are paranoid that their 12 year olds can’t fend for themselves for 10 minutes, or the women who have had their privacy violated by a “too old” boy going in.

    At some places, I’ve seen signs that say children over the age of 5, 6 or 7 can not be in the other gender’s washrooms and changing rooms. 5 is a perfectly acceptable age to use the gender appropriate rooms. If you are that worried about your child, stand at the door and wait for them to come back out.

    The good thing about my children being independent in the public washrooms? I can trust them to wait for me in the children’s toy section of stores for me. They run off ahead and I make it part of the circuit. Makes the entire shopping trip easier.

  113. I might be completely naive, but are public restrooms really a common hangout for pedophiles? Do they just wait and wait for that opportunity to be able to touch a kid’s penis for 2 seconds?

  114. I grew up as a free range kiddo, but had no idea that that’s what I was until I found your website last year. I am determined to let my kids grow up free range.

    Last summer, when my daughter was 4, I started letting her really test her wings. One of her first experiences was using the restroom at McDonald’s by herself. I just pointed in the direction of the bathrooms, and told her to go in the door that has a picture of a lady in a dress. I sat at the table about 30 feet away and just waited. When she came out, she was grinning so big and was so proud of herself. She now makes it a point to go to the bathroom by herself in every restaurant we visit. Unfortunately, this occurs even when we run in for a take-out order!

  115. I was at Target with my five-year-old son Robbie and my infant son. We got lunch in the snack area and just as I had everything out and ready to eat and the baby situated, Robbie said, “I have to go!!!”

    I didn’t want to pack up the food (or leave it) and I could see the restroom doors across the way so I told Robbie to go to the ladies’ room “just to be safe”. I hadn’t yet been letting him go by himself to the men’s room in such a public place. So he went to the ladies’ room. And I waited and waited and waited for him to come out. My nerves finally overcame me and I packed up all the food and put the baby back in the cart and headed over to the restrooms.

    Just as I was about to go in, a woman came out smiling. She said, “Is that your son in there washing his hands? He just told me: My *mom* made me come in here!!!” and she imitated his eye-rolling and dying-of-embarrassment perfectly.

    I decided at that point that he was probably ready to go by himself to the men’s room. He’s been fine doing that ever since.

  116. OK, here’s my other favorite bathroom story.
    Last year at Halloween, when my son Robbie was 7, we went for the first time to a community haunted hay ride that is put on by teenage volunteers. We loaded up on the wagon and just before it was time to go, he needed to go to the bathroom. I pointed it out to him and told him to hurry back.
    He came back and climbed on the wagon but he had the strangest look on his face. I asked him if everything was OK and he said yes.
    The wagon took us into the dark and spooky woods. When the zombies started coming after us, Robbie sat straight up and said brightly, “HEY! That’s the guy who helped me turn on the water in the bathroom!”
    No wonder Robbie looked strange, I thought! A zombie had helped him wash his hands.

  117. Well, just for some more levity, yesterday my kids and I were in the art museum restroom. It isn’t one of the ones I can send my kids to alone, given its remote location and the child-unfriendly atmosphere of an art museum in the evenings. But they went into the stalls by themselves.

    My daughter is usually pretty independent and quiet, but she felt the need last night to holler “Mommy, wipe my butt!” When I reminded her that the other patrons didn’t need to hear about her private business, she said “I just wanted to hear the echo in here.”

  118. My son has been going to the bathroom 100% by himself since he was 5. When a place wasn’t insanely crazy, I let him at 4. (He’s highly distractable, so I wasn’t worried about what would happen if he tried to go by himself so much as whether or not he’d ever come OUT.) He’s 7 now, and people still act weird when I send him in by himself or when I go in alone and leave him outside. I can’t remember the number of times he’s been told, “Wow, you’re a big boy!” He’s SEVEN! He very well SHOULD be able to handle his own toileting needs by that point. Meanwhile, I have the displeasure of rubbing elbows with other mothers’ nine-year-old boys at the sink. What is WRONG with them?

  119. The funniest incident was in a Barnes and Noble, though. DS was 4. I sent him in the men’s bathroom alone and waited outside. I wasn’t there for 2 minutes when I heard the most heartbroken wail, beginning low and ending in a high, wavering dolphin pitch. A second later, by son bursts from the bathroom door with his pants around his ankles.

    The toilets had automatic flush, and he’d always been a bit afraid of the noise of public restrooms, so it had scared him horrendously. It took him a god five minutes to get calm again. I got his pants up and tried VERY hard not to laugh at his terrified, tear-streaked face! Poor baby!

  120. So today we were at the grocery store and sure enough, “Mommy, I have to go potty.” So I said, “well, go! I’ll meet up with you in a bit.” She trotted off ahead as I parked the cart and followed with my other daughter, who also went into the restroom door ahead of me. I was just in time to notice a whole group of grandmotherly types talking about my 3-year-old who had just passed between them. I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad talk, until they saw my 4-year-old too and said, “oh, look at this other cutie!” And to me: “you have the cutest darlings!” No baditude in this group of grannies. They probably remember the days when it was normal for little girls to take themselves to the toilet.

    About the automatic flush toilets. My 3-year-old is an expert. She will identify which toilets automatically flush and engineer ways to block the electric eye with toilet paper before sitting down. Automatic flushes are scary!

  121. My three small daughters, or the most part, use a plastic training potty in the car. Nothing yuckier that trying to herd three screaming girls (echo) around a men’s room stall. “No, don’t touch that!–Get up off the floor!–Hurry UP!” Fuggetaboutit!

  122. My boy will be 5 in January and for about a year now has had the option of going to the bathroom on his own. If he expresses that he needs to use the washroom he will get one of two answers from me…If we are in a familar place (Children’s Museum, Coffee Shop, Park District/Rec Center) I will simply say ‘You know where it is’ and if we are in a newer enviornment I will ask if he needs me or if he is okay on his own, about 90% of the time he will just ask me to point to where the washroom is located. In familiar places I let him take his little sister to the washroom as well (31 months old) and they both always manage to do their business, properly wash their hands and find their way back to me.

  123. Now that I think about it, the reason I didn’t let my sons use the restroom on their own sooner was because both of them had to completely take off their shoes, socks and pants every time they had to poop. Pretty gross in some bathrooms. At some point they figured out how to use things without undressing and about then is when they got to use the bathroom.

  124. I remember when was about ten and my sister was 4 or 5. We were waiting in ny Penn station and she went into the restroom alone and came out looking shocked. Turns out she went into the mens room. She was fine though. We still make fun of her for that.

  125. To the parent who questioned and disapproved of boys in the women’s bathroom (I think they were 6 and 8 or so) and assumed it was because the parent was paranoid, well, just to chime in from the other side, my son has autism and “looks” totally normal and is indeed very high functioning, but has a major issue with bathrooms in general. Getting him to use a public one is nothing short of a miracle and getting him to use it alone is impossible. He becomes hysterical at the thought and has a major phobia about the sound of toilets flushing (don’t get me started on auto flushing urinals). So he still comes in with me, at age 8. I wish there was an alternative but right now there isn’t. I try to have him go at home, but it doesn’t always happen! So unless there is a family bathroom I have to bring him in with me into the women’s or else he won’t use the bathroom. I have heard all kinds of commentary from other adults about this but it’s just one of those things that right now we’re working on but can’t quite fix. And I do have him wait outside the bathroom when I’m going if possible, but sometimes he’s afraid to wait (in an anxiety ASD way), sometimes he’s willing. But just a reminder for everyone not to assume that parents are afraid–some of our kids are just a bit different! The day my son goes into a public bathroom alone I’m going to have a major celebration! For now, well, I have to do what I have to do.

  126. I chimed in about whether or not I allow it but forgot to mention reactions as I was on my way out of the house. I was so thankful to see this post because just last week we were at the childrens museum and my older two kids (4 years 10 months, and 2 years, 7 months) went to the washroom while I stayed in the play area with my youngest (walking 10 month old, who would have had a complete meltdown had I even thought of taking her away from what she was doing). As they ran around the corner toward the bathroom a volunteer approached me and informed me that the kids were not allowed in the bathroom unsupervised and that I needed to take them. I told her thank you for your concern BUT they are both fully capable of walking to the restroom, going to the bathroom, washing their hands, and finding their way back to me. As the turned a corner so did another lovely volunteer approaching the previous volunteer saying that my kids were lost and my boy exclaimed ‘No we’re not’ and I asked if their was a problem. That was the end of it but I swear they hovered over my kids the rest of the time that we were there. Other than that no major encounters though.

  127. Well, I started sending my now seven year old daughter to the bathroom alone when she was around 4.5. If I went with her, she can take FOREVER. She sees it as an opportunity for a captive audience. She will sing, tell jokes, etc, and it seriously can take her half an hour. Very annoying when we’re in the middle of a meal. Finally out of exasperation, I told her she had to go alone at familiar places. She’s in and out of there in a reasonable amount of time with no problem. There are times I will go in with her, but in general I have her go alone.

    Kids are different though. My five year old has never been sent alone. She has an anxiety problem and has a lot of difficulty using the one at home alone. We’re working on it, but she’s not at a place where she can go alone, even if she is out with my husband.

  128. I just asked my husband…

    “When you take the girls (4 and 6) to the bathroom, do they go in with you or run to the ladies’ room?”

    “They run to the ladies’ room.”

    “Are you concerned about what might happen with them in there?”

    “Nope. I’m more concerned about what someone might think about me standing outside of the ladies’ room waiting for them.”

    Yah, he’s more worried that security will arrest him for loitering or for being in the “wrong place” than about our daughters going alone into the ladies’ room. Our son (8), however, is “easily distracted” so he likes to follow him just to make sure that he (our son) doesn’t loose track of us.

  129. With my own kids, until they were pretty old (9 and 11) I was a really paranoid parent. I’d been very close to several stranger abductions in my late teens, and it had a very dramatic effect on me. I got much more relaxed after moving to the midwest, and with my grandson I’m waaaaaay more mellow.

    So, with my own son, who thankfully didn’t like haircuts, and we don’t mind long hair on boys, he went into the women’s with me until he was about 7 or maybe even 8. The stories of abduction from the rest stop, murder in the park restroom… yeah, I got sucked into all of them. Might have been different if one of the stranger abductions hadn’t been my own 4 year old brother, but…
    Anyway, nobody ever questioned, because kid wasn’t obviously a boy until he was about 13.

    Grandson on the other hand, also long-haired, still mistaken daily for a girl even after his first haircut, (he’s gorgeous, and has golden blond curls. Now people think he’s a girl with short hair. Kid can’t win…), has been going into the men’s on his own for most of a year. Costco was the first adventure. He wanted to go, I said to stand right under the no smoking sign if he got done first. The most amazed reaction? My own when he actually followed those directions. He’s not the best listener… no problem, no concerns, nothing. Piece o’ cake.

    This week, we were in Barnes and Noble. I needed to use the restroom, he didn’t, and simply informed me that, “I’ll wait right here Gramma. I can look at this nice animal book.” And lo and behold, there he was. Nobody worried, right where I left him. Surprise surprise.

  130. My oldest just turned 7 and I still have him join me in the ladies room on many occasions- it just depends where we are, with who, etc. If we are somewhere I feel comfortable standing outside the door, I do. I think as a parent you have to go with what your gut says.

  131. My daughter starting using her own stall at maybe 3.5 y, but I think the first time she went completely on her own to a public toilet, was this summer when we went camping – she was 4y5m. The outhouse was just around the corner from our campsite, we could not see it, but it was literally steps away. She asked to go by herself and although my first instinct was to go with her, I thought for a second and realised, why not? we are in a campsite, super safe and it is an outhouse she has been several times already and it will make her feel good to advance in her independence. My husband was a bit concerned the first time, but when she came back just a couple minutes later beaming, we knew that it was a good thing. After that she still announced when she was going and off she went.

  132. went to disney world this summer for the first time with my husband and 6 yr old daughter. she insisted on going into the bathroom alone and would demand that i sit on a bench nearby but not go in with her. got alot of “bad parent” looks that vacation.

  133. Our youngest was very very smart today.

    She had to go to the potty at (supermart) today and held it till we were at the cashier’s line. She was doing the potty dance so I pointed to where the bathrooms were. She darted off and we dealt with the groceries and stuff.

    My husband began to grow concerned. I wasn’t that worried. So he went to the bathrooms and had our middle check and she came out freaked out. “(youngest) isn’t there!” Husband got even more concerned and started to search.

    She was found, standing with the cashier supervisors, happily chatting away. She had gotten turned around and couldn’t remember which way we were and instead of freaking out, went and got help from a store employee. Husband saw her, signaled the store employee and collected our littlest.

    I’m so proud of her.

  134. When my oldest son-now 25 was about 5 he didn’t want to use the ladies room with me anymore he wanted to use the men’s. We were traveling to Grandma’s and stopped in an Arby’s for lunch. We all went to the bathroom and I let him go in the men’s by himself. I used the restroom and helped my 2 year old daughter, washed our hands and came out. No son. I waited a bit, no son. I finally knocked on the door and a man poked his head out and I asked “is there a little blonde boy in there” and he replied “you mean Adam, he is just washing his hands, he couldn’t reach the soap”. My son came out and as we walked back to the table to eat lunch he greeted about half of the men in the restaurant by name.

    It was pretty funny and one of my favorite memories.

  135. my daughter is 3. about 4 months ago, one day we went to the library. our library has an entire floor for kids, with some play structure inside (we live in a very cold climate area). i was looking for a few books to check out for her. she disappeared. i was not in panic, searched the entire floor, before a librarian came to offer help. she was kind, told me not to worry, etc. anyway, she was in the bathroom. she has been there once with her dad before, so she knew where it was. when she needed to go, she couldn’t find me, so she simply went there and used the kid-size toilet. my girl.

  136. Lol..My nephew’s first experience with going by himself was when he was 4 and at our local science center. I had no problem with it and it felt like a good time to start. The problem that I saw was that he can’t reach the taps or soap to wash his hands. So often he comes out of the Mens room, then we need to go into the family room where they have a stool or in the Women’s room where I lift him up to reach.
    I’ve only had positive comments from other adults.

  137. I think I let my son start using the men’s restroom when he was old enough to realize he was in the women’s restroom. I think he was five? He’s a lingerer though: my five year old daughter and I can get all of our business done in the Ladies in less time than he does in the Mens, so I’ve learned to be patient and not worry.

  138. Unfortunately not all experiences have been humorous.

    I was three, and it turns out I wasn’t fine on my own that day (to no fault of my parents).

    Moral of the story? I don’t know, really. It’s not going to make me helicopter parent my kids, though.

  139. Empty bathrooms are obvious. If I can tell the men’s room is empty, and the hall is quiet enough that I can hear into the room, I really don’t see the issue at all. For bathrooms that have other people in it I’m a bit more choosy, though I don’t bat an eye if he runs into the bathroom at the children’s museum or church..

  140. The first time H was 4ish and he insisted on going to the mens room himself. It made me super nervous – we were traveling and it was at a convinience store. He did fine – an older gentleman came out and I asked if the little guy in there was okay – he said he was. Since then, H goes into the mens room by himself and I think he feels very proud. Still makes me nervous sometimes.

  141. I had an odd experience yesterday and wasn’t sure what to make of it. I wonder if this is more typical than I would think – maybe others have similar experiences.

    Here it is.

    I was doing some last minute holiday shopping at a suburban Target, in a safe area. I needed to use the restroom. I heard a couple of people enter while I was in my stall. When I came out of the stall and walked up to the sink, I was a little shocked, as an older boy (10-12 yrs old) was washing his hands. Um, did I accidentally use the men’s room?! Urinal check: nope, no urinals. There was an older female in the stall, which I assumed was his mother or care-taker. I felt like I was almost being rude because I was so baffled and intrigued, which made me l keep looking at him. Was something wrong with him? He seemed completely normal. I walked past a unisex/family restroom, so if he had some issues and needed extra assistance, wouldn’t that be where a mother would take an older boy to use the restroom? Then again, if he needed THAT much help, why was his mother in the stall while he was out of her sight? Maybe he stumbled into the wrong restroom. But, if that were the case, wouldn’t he flee with embarrassment when he saw me? I just thought it was weird and suspect that the boy wasn’t permitted to use the men’s room alone. I hesitate to make assumptions because I know people with autistic children. It’s not easy and sometimes impossible to know they are different just by looking at them. Perhaps the boy had some oddities and would have freaked out in a men’s room.

    Then again, parents seem to be more and more afraid (of things like creepy men molesting boys in the men’s room) so it wouldn’t shock me if it was a case of helicopter parenting. Is it me or is this more typical than one might think?

  142. You know what, My son had started to get very frustrated by me insisting on following him to the bathroom and that was making me very frustrated. So during dinner at O’Charley’s he said he needed to go to the bathroom and I asked him if he knew where it was and he said he did. I could watch him the entire way to the bathroom and back and when he did return to the table, he had a huge smile on his face and was very proud of himself. I wouldn’t trade that moment to build up his confidence in himself for anything.

  143. i went to disney world this summer for the first time with my husband and 6 yr old daughter. she insisted on going into the bathroom alone and would demand that i sit on a bench nearby but not go in with her. got alot of “bad parent” looks that vacation | ukfacts.org

  144. Unfortunately not all experiences have been humorous.

    I was three, and it turns out I wasn’t fine on my own that day (to no fault of my parents).

    Moral of the story? I don’t know, really. It’s not going to make me helicopter parent my kids, though.

  145. I am the mom to four boys and they have all been able to use the men’s public bathroom from the time they could tell that the sign on the door was different (around age 4).

    I really don’t think that the majority of places where we use public bathrooms are dangerous… library, parks, restaurants, malls, gas stations, etc. I guess I would pause if there was a huge croud where my son might be intimidated.

    Once, we were at our state fair and my sons were 4, 2, and newborn. My four year old had to go so I sent him into the mens bathroom and I had many strange looks but one grandma said “Good for you!”

    Jennifer

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