Joshua's Birthday Interview

Moms of boys: The public restroom dilemma

restroom-signs-unisex-handicapSince having a son, I’ve had quite a few challenges to overcome, starting with changing his diaper while avoiding getting wee’d on!

However, my biggest challenge to date is still on-going – what do I do when we’re in public and my son needs to use the public restroom?

I lacked the mental preparation the first time my son refused to go into the women’s restroom with me.  I’ve had some time to come up with a few solutions since then.

When is it OK for my son to go into a public restroom by himself?

Since becoming a parent, everyday is a struggle not to be ruled by fear. I pray for my children’s safety and I know that I have to trust God to watch over them. Anxiety over your child’s safety is something every parent goes through.

Moms are often out in public with their children doing shopping, etc. No matter how much you let them go to the loo beforehand, sometimes one of them will need to use the restroom while you’re alone with them in public. Usually it’s fine to take them to the ladies bathroom but what if they feel too old to use the women’s bathroom?

Sending a boy into a men’s public restroom by himself is the stuff that nightmares are made of! I imagine all sorts of perverts and potential kidnappers lurking inside! With everything you hear on the news, it’s no wonder we are afraid to send our children alone into public restrooms!

Dad’s also struggle with this

This problem is not unique to mothers with sons either, I’ve often seen dads with their little girls standing awkwardly outside a public restroom before succumbing to take them inside the men’s bathroom themselves. Or frantically shouting into the door of the women’s restroom every few seconds to check that everything is OK with their daughters.

I always offer assistance to check up on the child because I know what it feels like.

I always explain to both my kids that my main job as their mom is to keep them safe and healthy as much as it is in my power to do so. However, I do understand my son is growing up and as a tween he wants me to give him a bit of independence and thinks it is embarrassing to have to use the women’s restroom.

I never want to embarrass my son so I have a few ideas on how to manage this dilemma.

How to safely allow your child to use a public restroom

The BOYS ONLY cubicle

One time I was at the mall alone with the children and my son needed to use the restroom. There were a few women in the women’s restroom so Joshua was too shy to go inside.

After arguing about it for a while, and older woman walked up to us and asked Joshua if he would feel more comfortable to use the “Boys only” cubicle which is inside the women’s restroom?

She took him by the hand and led him (without protest!) into the ladies restroom and pointed to the very first cubicle (which happened to be empty). She said that it’s solely for the use of boys who are not men yet and that the ladies were not permitted to use it so it’s kept open at all time just for boys with their moms.

Joshua was completely satisfied and very relieved to use the “boys only” cubicle! While he was inside she told me that she raised two sons and looked after five grandsons herself so she knows!

Now when we go to the mall, he asks me if they have women’s restrooms with boys only cubicles!

Family restrooms

What we need is more places that offer family restrooms! If there is no family restroom available the second option is to use a handicapped restroom. This is often an individual bathroom big enough to accommodate mom and kids. Alternatively, you can let the kids use the handicapped restroom one at a time while you stand guard outside the door like a club bouncer.


Another solution is to stand at the door and have your child sing a song while he is using the toilet. Hearing him sing will go a long way to comfort your nerves while you are waiting outside.


One mom’s solution to the restroom dilemma is to buy a packet of cheap whistles to keep in her bag. Every time her son needs to use a public restroom she places one around his neck and tell him to blow away if anyone messes with him or he is scared.

The last two solutions will give your child a bit of independence while assuaging your anxiety somewhat but I am not ready for those options yet!

Of course, I might just be paranoid. Most places are safe enough but when it comes to your children’s safety, isn’t it better to err on the side of caution?

How do you feel about this? At what age do you think it’s OK for your child to use a public restroom by themselves? Please leave a comment below.


Anthea O'Neill is a wife and proud mom of three. She is front-end web developer, blogger and a self-proclaimed glitter & yarn addict. Anthea's Project Life is a blog for the modern mom.

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  1. Having raised a son, I’ve been there. My son not only potty trained early, but he was at the 100th percentile for height and weight so he has always looked older than he is. I didn’t necessarily pick an age. I went by what my son felt comfortable doing. However, with that said, if he chose to go into the men’s restroom, I positioned myself at the door. If the door was closed, I opened it so I could hear my son. I really didn’t care what other men might think. No one ever said anything to me. I must have looked mean (LOL). I think it’s important that moms and dads do what they feel is right and what they comfortable with. What your child wants isn’t always what they can get…as we all know.

  2. My daughter is not yet old enough for me to worry about, but when I have been out with both my daughter and son, I prefer the handicapped or family restroom because I can keep them with me in one room. In the public restrooms my biggest fear, so far, is that one of them will run out of the room while I am otherwise occupied and I will lose them.
    Now that my daughter is getting older and using the bathroom herself, I am more inclined to let her go in a restroom alone, but I have no problem calling out and then checking/clearing a women’s public bathroom before I send my daughter in. Same thing if I was sending my son into a men’s bathroom and for some reason needed to stand outside the restroom (like my daughter was in the other room).

  3. I always head for the toilet for the disabled when there is no family room. And then I always send my two boys together and then stand at that entrance and wait for them – safety in numbers. What I find even scarier is the thought to send them to the gym locker rooms on their own – luckily our gym has a family dressing/disabled one we use

    1. I think we will always get lucky with finding at least a disabled restroom. Thankfully!

  4. pamela says:

    That is such a brilliant idea although Terri-Leigh would refused to use a public toilet for the entire day on an outing. I always panicked that she would suffer one day but 22 years later and she seems to be fine.

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