Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

The Princess Bride and Fear of Public Restrooms

You just spent the last several weeks inside the house (hopefully during winter) watching “The Princess Bride” over and over while potty training your toddler. It wasn’t exactly like climbing the cliffs of insanity, but close.

Now that it’s Spring you want to get out of the house and go on an outing, but there’s one problem: What do you do if she’s gotta “go” while you’re out? Inconceivable! Public bathrooms are scary, loud, and often less than sterile.

For a toddler, being asked to use a public restroom is much more like being asked to take a stroll through the fire swamp inhabited by rodents of unusual size. Many of their reactions range from mild whimpering to full-on, pit-of-despair-level screaming. Your child’s fears may seem dramatic or unrealistic to you as a parent (mostly because you don’t remember how scary things were when you were only 3 feet high), but children can feel intense feelings that are very real to them. Nervous systems are designed to detect danger and threats in the environment. Children’s bodies can sometimes take over suddenly causing them to shake, cry or even scream! Adults do it too. If you don’t believe me just go to a haunted house at Halloween or a scary movie and observe all the adults flipping out over nonexistent threats.

For the purposes of this blog post, I will not go in-depth on fear and anxiety in children. Here’s a link you can read on what kids worry about and fear at different ages. Rather, ​I would like to focus on how to make it through the fire swamp with your frightened toddler. While I’m no Miracle Max, I do have a few tips I can share:

1. Stay calm, yourself. Children often take their cues from their parents. If you remain calm and speak softly, reassuring your child, that may be enough to get them through it. If a child is having a strong reaction, don’t try to bribe, bargain or explain, because their little nervous systems have taken over and they can’t really comprehend what you’re saying.

2. Spend a little time showing them how everything in the restroom works at a time when they do not have to use it. Hold them up to the dryer and let them push the button. Let them play with the soap a bit. Let them (with your help) flush a toilet. Put a little piece of toilet paper in there and let them see it go down. Wave “Bye-Bye”. Explain that only their poop and pee will go down the toilet and they will not. Take note if any specific part of the bathroom scares them the most–Air dryers are notorious for scaring children who are sensitive to sound.

3.  Put a little post-it note on the automatic flushing sensor so it will not go off while your child is on the toilet.

4. Make up a pretend scenario before entering. “You be the pirate and I’ll be the giant, and we will go into the castle to rescue the princess.” Your extensive, repeated viewings of The Princess Bride will help with this.

It might take a few tries, but your child should get used to public restrooms and your outings will turn into fun adventures. Eventually, you will say, “Let’s go potty,” and your child will answer, “As you wish.”

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