Potty breaks while traveling solo with kids

Too old for the men's room? Then what?

Too old for the men’s room? Then what?

I travel a ton alone with my girls. And considering that they are developing female humans and I am a grown male, sometimes potty breaks while we’re out and about can be a bit, well, dicey.  Naturally, then, when a reader wrote in recently with a question about how to handle this very scenario, I figured it was time to address the point here.

The bottom line: There’s no good answer here.

At the heart of this issue is the question about the cutoff age for children of the opposite sex being in a restroom. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but generally speaking, I’d say the age is somewhere around 4 or 5.

This is the age when kids start to internalize differences in body types; the age when daughters might notice certain parts near the urinal, or when sons might feel the need to comment about sanitary napkin pails. It’s also around the age when strangers (in this case, other grown-ups) might become uncomfortable with your kids seeing them doing their business.

I know at my gym, the rule is that no opposite-sex kids over the age of 4 are allowed in locker rooms. I know other gyms and YMCAs have that same cutoff. Personally I use that as my barometer.

Of course it’s not always so easy; especially when complying with this (totally arbitrary) rule could put your child in danger. Let’s say I need to use the men’s room in a crowded airport—do I leave L standing by herself outside?

Sometimes, sort of, yes.

My first choice in this situation always is to look for family restrooms. These usually are private rooms that comprise one toilet and one sink—and have a door you can close and lock so you and the kids can do your thangs without fear of interruption. Many airports offer this amenity (one at PDX recently saved R and me during an extended flight delay), and a growing number of shopping destinations do, too.

If I can’t find one of these wonder rooms, I usually have the girls “give a pee-pee concert.” This is our code for my Backup Bathroom Plan B.

In this scenario, I go into the bathroom to do my business and have the girls stand right outside the door, belting out “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Let it Go,” or some other tune so I can hear that they’re safe. As soon as I’m finished, I race outside to meet them. Then I clean my hands with a wipe or their antibacterial gel.

I’m sure this strategy looks—and sounds—completely absurd to passersby. Still, it satisfies all objectives: I get to pee, we respect the privacy of other men, and the kids stay safe outside.

The Concert Plan certainly can backfire. My kids know that if they need me for any reason during a pee-pee concert, they are to scream a secret word (I’m not sharing it here to keep it secret). One time, one of the kids lost a hairclip and thought that constituted an emergency. I rushed out to find everything under control. My pants, however—let’s just say they didn’t fare so well.

(Obviously, there also are potentially more serious outcomes of this scenario, as well.)

Again, the rub here is that there’s no right answer. I’m sure other parents have other ways of dealing with this challenge. I suspect there also are some parents who scoff at social mores and bring along kids of the opposite sex when they must.

What’s your strategy? When do you think kids of the opposite sex are too old to accompany mom or dad into the bathroom? Please leave your thoughts in the comment field below.

Conquering fear of potties on the road

For a while, this was the only potty L would use.

For a while, this was the only potty L would use.

We certainly have had our fair share of bathroom dramas away from home. Like the time L realized she was terrified of the “magic eye” automatic toilet flushers. Or the trip that R decided hand dryers are the corporeal manifestation of Lucifer. Or, most recently, the day that L followed a prodigious session on the toilet with a, “Look at my turd!” that echoed in the bathroom for what seemed like an eternity.

The list could go on for pages. And, when you’re traveling with little ones, it usually does. So, when a friend and loyal reader texted me last week asking for advice about how to deal with her daughter’s aversion to public toilets on the road, I sympathized completely.

Sadly, I didn’t have much to offer.

I mean, sure, there are all sorts of web sites (here and here, for instance) with formal advice from doctors—people who say things like “work on decreasing fears” and “model appropriate coping.”

My friend didn’t want any of that gobbledy-gook. She just wanted practical tips. She wanted to know what she could do to get her kid to make a @#!&@ pee without (wasting 30 minutes and) enduring a total meltdown.

I started by directing her to stuff I’ve written about the subject before (here and here). Then I told her the situation sucks but it gets better over time. I held back on my third piece of advice, largely because I didn’t want to discourage her. Instead (and now that this reader is back home), I’ll share it here: Pray for an accident.

Allow me to reiterate: I think an accident is the best way for a kid to overcome fear of using toilets in public. Because suffering the consequences of refusal is a powerful tool.

This opinion was forged out of first-hand experience with L, who grappled with this mortifying lesson during our first solo trip together (to Los Angeles).

I knew she had to go from the moment we arrived at LAX, but she simply refused to go. Then, on the plane, the flight attendant sensed what was up and offered to help; my kid refused again. Finally, at about 30,000 feet, somewhere between the animal crackers and the juice box, she couldn’t hold it any longer. I discovered the accident when I spotted a tiny puddle on her seat cushion. And I sprang into action.

Because I was worried about how she’d do with the whole potty-in-public thing, I was prepared, and had stashed a change of clothes in a Ziploc in the overhead bin, ready to go. As soon as I noticed pee on the seat, I grabbed the clothes, picked up L, and whisked her into the forward lavatory.

Yes, she was upset. No, she didn’t sit on that potty without a fight. But eventually, she did it. Somehow we even managed salvage the pee-soaked skirt for a trip to the dry-cleaner at home.

The rest, as they say, is history; since that day, despite minimal hemming and hawing every now and again, L hasn’t suffered the public toilets too much. She doesn’t necessarily like public potties, but she dislikes the embarrassment (and discomfort) of a public accident more. In the name of poetry, L even has started harassing her sister—who is still in diapers—about how it’s time for *her* to get with the potty program.

The lessons: Be prepared. Be patient. And weather an accident. No, this methodology is not ideal. But from personal experience, the only way to go from that situation is up.

How have your children overcome their issues of using the potty in public when traveling?

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