By Alix Tonsgard, MS, Early Learning Specialist, DuPage Children’s Museum
I recently encountered a grandmother on the Museum floor who was struggling to coax her granddaughter into the bathroom. We started chatting, and she shared with me that while the child has been potty training successfully for about a year, pooping in public bathrooms was something of a struggle.
Based on the little girl’s behavior, it was pretty clear that she was not comfortable. She really needed to go, but her grandmother didn’t want to end their trip to the Museum to go home to use the bathroom because they were there for a special birthday outing. I asked if there were strategies that they found helpful at home. (Consistency and routine can be comforting and help children feel in control.) So with the help of a sticker and few other “tricks” we were able to get her into the bathroom to handle business.
For young children, public bathrooms tend to be either fascinating or terrifying. We see all ends of this spectrum here at the Museum – from the children who want to peek under the dividing wall to meet their bathroom neighbors, to the children in fear of the auto flush hurricane. If your child tends to err on the side of fearful in public bathrooms, here are a few things you can try the next time you are out and about.
Be aware of the autoflush: Autoflush toilets can be very powerful, loud, and all around terrifying to young children, and as you may have experienced, they don’t always flush when you expect them to. If you have a bandaid handy you can cover the sensor to avoid unexpected flushing. Your finger will work too. Let your child know that you are covering it so it won’t flush until you are ready and give them fair warning when it’s time to let it go.
Little eyes are watching: Modeling behavior is a powerful tool when it comes to everything. In this instance, if you have a child that is fearful or anxious about using a public toilet, it may be helpful for them to see that you are not afraid and to have you talk them through it.
Side Saddle the toilet: Sometimes it’s about the size of the grownup potty and the fact that their lack of core strength makes it tricky to balance. Have your child sit sideways to help them here or consider buying a fold-up child-size seat.
The last thing to remember is that this, like all other stages, is a stage that will pass. Take deep breaths and remember that practically everyone in the bathroom at the Museum has gone through this, or is going through it too. The shared moments in the bathrooms, hallways, and stairwells at DCM, where caregivers are connecting with strangers with this shared sense of “I feel your pain,” are some of my favorite moments that remind me of the many reasons why this place is so important. DCM is so much more than a place to play and learn.
Alix Tonsgard is the Early Learning Specialist at DuPage Children’s Museum. She holds an MS in Child Development from the Erikson Institute. Acting as the Museum’s advocate for early childhood development and learning, she ensures that the latest research in Early Childhood Education is represented in all Museum exhibits, professional development initiatives, and public programs.