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Public Bathrooms and Children

One of the subjects that is coming up more and more is that of accompanying children in public bathrooms. When a mother accompanies her daughter, or when a father accompanies his son it’s pretty straightforward, but when it’s mother/son or father/daughter things becomes a little more complicated. The main rule when taking your opposite-gendered child to the bathroom is this:

You go to your bathroom, no theirs. Fathers take daughters to the men’s bathroom, mother’s take sons to the women’s bathroom.

The tricky question is how old does a child need to be for this practice to become inappropriate? Though honestly that’s not the real question, the real question is how old does a child need to be before they can safely be allowed to go to a public bathroom alone? Because as a parent myself I can assure you that safety will win out over impropriety every time.

That’s a question that I don’t intend to answer right now, and is going to vary from child to child, parent to parent and situation to situation (not all public bathrooms are created equally). What I will say is that I’m a big fan of family bathrooms and one person bathrooms which eliminate these problems and concerns.

Now alert reader Roger recently asked a related and very important question:

What is the proper thing to do when you enter a public restroom, a man is at the wash basins with a young daughter, and the urinals are close by. Do you step up to the urinal or wait until they leave? This has happened to me several times.

That’s a tricky one. When the man and his daughter entered the bathroom, there could have been men at the urinal. When they exited the stall (presumably the father and/or daughter went pee in a stall in this case) there could have been men at the urinal. So while possibly a little uncomfortable, there is certainly precedence for men to use the urinals while the daughter is present. But should you start to use the urinals while the daughter is at the sink, especially if the sink is close by?

In general the answer is no. There are obvious exceptions, like the urinals and sinks being in virtually separate rooms, but as a general rule if there is a female child using the sinks in the men’s room, and the urinals are close by, you should wait. The time spent at the sinks is almost always very short, so in this case it’s best just to play it safe and bide your time until the father and daughter have finished up and left.


1 James { 07.12.13 at 5:57 pm }

Don;t make a big thing about it. Go about your business like nobody is there. It works.

2 Grandma { 07.28.13 at 5:34 pm }

My twin (boy/girl) just turned 5 in June, are now allowed to use a public bathroom by themselves while in a restaurant. I’m upset over this and has discussed it with my son and his wife. But, I lost out. They think ediquette rules that their children can use a public bathroom by themselves. Not just the type with only one toilet, but the type that has a few stalls or urinals in the wall. What is considered the best way to handle this? Am I too old fashion?

3 msykes { 08.01.13 at 8:28 am }

This is not an etiquette issue, this is a safety issue. If the parents don’t feel it is safe for the kids to go to the bathroom alone, then the kids should not go to the bathroom alone.

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