Children and Public Toilets

public toilets door signAt the weekend we were at a children’s party and as we were leaving H and I visited the toilets as it was a bit of a drive home.  He ran ahead of me to the toilet block, but one of the other mothers turned him away from the ladies toilet, telling him that he’d got the wrong one.  I was rather surprised at this, afterall H is still only 5 (almost 6), but it got me thinking about the whole issue of which public toilets a child should use when out with a parent of the opposite gender.

At the moment I always take H into the ladies if he is out with me on my own and we need to use the public toilets.  He will usually go with his Dad into the men’s toilets if he’s out with us both.  He likes his independence and goes into the cubicle alone and locks the door.  I either wait outside or use the next cubicle myself if I need to (although I would probably go in with him if it was a busy place with lots of people like a motorway services).

Back to the day of the party: On this occasion H needed some assistance with the equipment.  The toilet paper had run out and you needed to push a button to release the new roll – H couldn’t reach even though he knew what had to be done.  If he had been in the men’s I wouldn’t have been able to help him.  Often sinks, taps and handdryers are too high for him still, so he needs help there. So apart from worrying about his physical safety in public toilets, there are also logistical problems to contend with.

Obviously at some point the logistical issues will fade away as H gets older and taller, but at what point do I make the call on the safety issue?  After all he can’t use the ladies toilets forever.  Even if you have girls, there must come a point where you have to decide to let them use a ladies public toilet alone.  What do you do with your children?  How would you deal with the issue?



  1. says

    This is a tough one- thus far with a 5yo girl and 4yo boy we try to use the disabled facilities as often as possible. OH will often take them and generally to the men’s unless that is disgusting (which it all too frequently is), in which case he goes to the ladies & ignores the glares.
    My other hang up is I rarely let them sit on the toilet seat when we are out and about.
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  2. Anne Wallwin says

    How rude was that lady!!! What was she worried about? H would have been in a cubicle so what would he be able to see?! I wouldn’t let L go to the mens on his own. They are too young at 5 and we all know there are too many weirdos out there. As for when they are old enough to go on their own i’ve no idea and it isn’t something i’m looking forward to at all. I suppose it depends on the place and the facilities available.

    • Erica Price says

      I was surprised and a bit worried he might get some sort of hang up about it, as she’d told him he was going into the wrong toilets before I could get there. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be rude, but I was shocked that she thought a 5 year old should be going into the men’s on his own.
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  3. says

    In some ways I have it easy as I have two daughters, so they always come with me anyway. However, my eldest (7) has started going to toilets by herself in restaurants etc if she needs to, although I confess I still kind of hover nervously and make sure I can at least see the entrance to them!

  4. says

    I took my boy to the ladies with me until the last 18 months approx. Which would have made him coming up 8 when I stopped, and it was his decision not mine. When he felt confident enough to go to the gents alone I let him.
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  5. says

    I don’t think there are many people who will object to a little boy going into the Ladies with his mother, certainly not a 5-year old. It’s a more difficult situation when you have a father on his own with daughters who need to ‘go’.

    I have to take issue with the suggestion of using disabled toilets. My father is disabled and I know quite a few disabled people who cannot use regular toilets and do not always have brilliant bladder/bowel control and are unable to wait while a whole family uses the disabled toilets.

  6. Lorraine/Squeaky Mom says

    Our leisure centre allows children in the opposite sex changing room with parents up to the age of 8 – more for help with clothes than anything else, I assume. That would be the outside edge of acceptable to me for public toilets.

    It’s difficult, because obviously at school they go independently, and to the relevant boys or girls toilet, but they are designed for children’s use & everything is at an appropriate height. In a traditional public toilet or a motorway services, I’d still take him in the ladies at that age.

    But just to be the other person for a minute – after a party, I’m guessing still at the party venue – so maybe a play place, a community centre or something? Less of a worry about who might be in there, or getting lost & overwhelmed. And he seemed to be on his own if he’d run off ahead. She could have been trying to save him embarrassment if she thought he’d made a genuine mistake. If he appeared to be going to the toilet alone, then it’s reasonable to assume he’d be going in the “right” one.

    (Sorry, I’ve had one of those days, I’m not trying to be argumentative, just thinking what might have been in her mind)
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    • Erica Price says

      Yes I see what you mean about the other person and I could have got that if it had been a soft play place or something. It was at a museum and the toilets weren’t part of the area where we were having the party, they were near the main enterance and could be used by anyone visiting the museum.
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  7. Notmyyearoff says

    I’m really surprised she stopped him going to the women’s loos, he’s only little and you wouldn’t be comfortable sending him on his own to other places and I think the loos are the same.

  8. says

    I know that lots of people worry about this and rightly so, especially if it is in a busy place such as a service station or somewhere. Once a child reaches 8 yrs of age, I understand that they should be going into the toilets or changing rooms suitable for their gender. I couldn’t ever imagine my children doing this at a young age, but once they reached 8, they did seem capable – you will be surprised! I agree though, 5 years old is far too young to be sending them in on their own :(

  9. charlotte says

    I think the key thing for me comes to this… “she’d told him he was going into the wrong toilets before I could get there. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be rude, but I was shocked that she thought a 5 year old should be going into the men’s on his own.”
    … you werent there yet suggesting that he was on his own and so the lady probably just thought he couldnt see the sign … and was trying to help…
    though it does amuse me how your comment there suggests that the ladies toilets is all pink and fluffy and friendly but the mens dark and dangerous…

    • Erica Price says

      You’re right of course about the men’s not necessarily being more dangerous than the ladies. I guess though I was only a few yards behind him so I wasn’t worried about him entering the ladies on his own, but if he went in the gents, it would be difficult for me to follow. I wasn’t really annoyed with her at the time (got more irritated later thinking about it), just surprised and a gut reaction that he wasn’t going in there on his own. It got me thinking though, hence the blog post.
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