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When Can a Kid Go To the Bathroom Alone?

mensroomPeople go on about the hassle of diapers, but it turns out that those early years are just the first step in a long intimate relationship with your child’s excretory habits.  Service wiping goes on for far longer than one might expect—or, generally, hope. Even when they are fully capable of handling their own bodily functions (which is arguably at an earlier point than they are actually asked to handle them) children are often accompanied to the bathroom by their parents.  Is this a function of habit? A need to observe the goings-on and prevent messy inconveniences later? A desire to provide moral support? A symptom of our general lack of inclination to let kids try and fail alone?

When the bathroom is in a public place, this general tendency is overlaid with a thick layer of fear. We are not used to sending our kids off into the world unaccompanied. And the public men’s room, behind closed doors…where bad, yucky things have been known to happen… Given the choice between sending a boy into the men’s room alone and dragging him into the Ladies’, many mothers choose the latter.

But up to what age is this appropriate?

Free Range Parenting guru Lenore Skenazy, ever the advocate for kids doing things on their own, posted a letter from a reader about a situation she felt crossed the line. The scene was a rest room in the shopping mall under Rockefeller Center in NYC.  The reader, who wasn’t local, was shocked at what she saw. Apparently, so was the security guard.

“as we waited in line a woman had her JUNIOR HIGH age son in line for the Women’s with her. He had pulled his coat up over his head (no hood so it was obvious he was hiding — either hiding the fact that he wasn’t a girl or hiding from embarrassment of his MOMMY making him use the Women’s I have no idea).

A female security guard approached them and the mother just lit into her about how she was doing this and how “these are the times in which we live.” At this point even my 4-year-old was blown away by seeing a boy that old in the women’s bathroom — she sees little ones all the time, obviously.

As the mother was yelling at the security guard another mother with a junior high aged son came out of the bathroom basically in agreement and full of support for the first mother. The security guard rolls her eyes and walks away.”

I’ve been letting my kids go to the bathroom alone in restaurants since they were very little, but have always been a bit less comfortable with a fully public restroom situation like the one in the story.  It depends on the environment,  my anxiety level, and how aggressively he bolts for the doorway with the pants on it. I would like to think that in a few years, when my son is junior high age, I’d be confident enough to allow him to fend for himself in any reasonable situation.

When do you think it’s time?

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

 

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