Good Question: How old should my kid be to use public restrooms alone?

Good Question is a Risky Kids series where readers submit their burning questions in return for feedback from myself and the Risky Kid community.  If you have any Good Questions, please share them in the comments, on our Facebook page, or email them to Angie at theriskykids at gmail dot com. I’m looking forward to lots of Good Questions and more importantly, all of your Good Answers!

I get asked this question (or some variant of “How old were your kids when you let them do ________ by themselves?”) a lot. In regards to public restrooms, we’re talking about two scenarios. One, you are out with your child of the opposite sex. They need to use the restroom and have expressed dismay at having to use the restroom that is clearly not for them. In the other scenario, your child of the same sex expresses the same dismay at having you follow them around in the bathroom when they feel quite capable of handling it themselves. I’ll give you the short answer and the long answer.

The short answer is five. That’s the age when I start letting my kids go into a public restroom without me. Does that freak you out? Probably. And so let me go into my long answer …

In any of these types of “How old should my kid be” scenarios, I have to stress that there is no magic age or right answer. There is always an age range. I like to think of it as a scale. On one end you have absolutely not ready, which fades into possibly ready, followed by go for it, with let go, already on the other end of the scale. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, including your comfort level, the surrounding situation, your child’s maturity level, your child’s desire, and age. It’s only after looking at all the factors that you can accurately determine if your child is ready for a situation.

I’ll use Eli, who is 6, and the public restroom issue as an example. Six is an acceptable age (in our family) for using a public restroom alone. As early as five, his desire to do this task on his own was there. He is a rule-follower, and it deeply pained him to use a girls’ restroom when, clearly, he was not a girl! He was also capable of completing the task on his own (shutting and locking the door, dealing with zippers and buttons, flushing, washing and drying his hands). I saw him on the go for it section of the scale.

At this younger age, as each individual restroom situation arises, I check myself against the other factors to see what we need to do. What’s my comfort level? Are we at the Target we shop at all the time, where I can sit and wait on the bench for him just outside the door? Or is it an unfamiliar, and maybe somewhat shady, restroom situation? What’s the surrounding situation? Is it a single person restroom? Is there a family restroom available? Can I see who is entering and leaving the restroom easily? I look at these factors in combination with his age, desire, and maturity level and then decide if he goes alone or if he goes with me.

At this age, it’s a toss-up whether he actually goes alone or not. Some places are ok, others he needs to stick with me. In a year or two, he’ll always go by himself, as his big sister does.

How did you decide it was time for your kids to use the public restroom by themselves? Has anyone ever give you grief for letting your kids go by themselves? Or has anyone ever raised a stink (pun totally intended) about having your child of the opposite sex in the restroom with you?

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Comments

  1. Mostly the same way… He’s only really ever gone in the men’s room with a friend (at the Children’s Museum), when I am sitting right outside, or if it a single-seater and I can watch the door – but it certainly feels like a decision that has to be made over and over.