Communities that Care | Restroom safety a valuable lesson for young children

July 17, 2013 

An important summer safety rule is to drink lots of liquids, but we all know what that means — bathroom breaks. When you’re traveling and nature calls you may not have time to be choosy but there’s always time to be careful, especially when traveling with children.

The best option is to use the “family restroom.” A single stall with its own entry provides privacy and security; a stall designated for people with disabilities may fit the bill.

Stay with a child until about age 8 or 9 in a multiple toilet facility even if the child has hit the “I can do it myself” stage. As children get older, they should still be kept within range for you to see or hear them.

Things get more complicated when the child and adult are not the same gender.

Boys traveling with mothers reach an age when they hate being dragged into a ladies’ room. Too bad. Sex offenders watch for this when seeking targets. Never accept an offer from a seemingly nice guy to keep an eye on your son. If you notice a family where a man leaves his wife and takes his son to the men’s room, consider asking him to keep an eye on your son. It’s difficult to imagine someone hurting a child with his own as a witness, but use the 300-second rule. This means setting a time limit of 300 seconds for a trip to the men’s room. Both of you should start counting together, and do not hesitate to walk in if you reach 301. Always be aware of your child’s location and keep your eyes glued to the exit.

Men traveling with girls have a bigger problem because urinals are rarely in stalls. Girls old enough to be out of diapers are old enough to recognize that men are urinating. Dads can carry a little girl into a restroom, shielding her eyes, and head right to stall with a door. Because of this, girls may age out of accompanying their fathers at a younger age than boys with their mothers. When this happens, consider asking a mother heading into the ladies room with her kids to watch your daughter. And still play the counting game.

Teens need to be reminded that drug users, purse snatchers and sex offenders are among the unsavory people that can operate in a restroom. Remind teens to scope out restrooms with caution and common sense. Parents may feel more at ease if there are a dozen people lined up for the facility. Bad guys (or gals) don’t operate well with witnesses. On the other hand, if the crowd is all teens, consider finding another option for your younger child. Teen judgment is not fully developed and this can lead to the occasional cruel or stupid act.

Common sense should rule. Kids need to learn that life is not always totally safe. Discussing restroom safety is a great opportunity to teach your child to be aware and cautious.

Janet Rosenzweig is the author of “The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parent’s Guide Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family, and Talking to Kids about Sex, Abuse, and Bullying” and a 30-year veteran of child-welfare and youth-serving programs (www.SexWiseParent.com). This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

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