Child's Fear of Toilets/Flushing

Archived Q&A and Reviews


5-year-old is terrified of auto-flush toilets

Jan 2008

This seems very silly, but my 5 y/o is TERRIFIED of the automatic toilet flush - anyone else's child feel the same??! When did they ''outgrow'' this fear? Did you teach them, and if so - how? I thought it was 'much ado about nothing' until the day we went shopping on Bay St. and it became apparent to me just how big a deal it is. I felt terrible for trying to make her use the toilet with auto-flush. In the past we've waited until she got home. We ended up averting an accident just-in-time when a kind store employee re-directed us to the bookstore, for non auto-flush toilets (her child is also fearful). My daughter has since confided that ''even when she is a grown-up, she might still be afraid of it.'' I'm having a hard time rationalizing this one ... it's not just the loud noise, she says, it's also the water splashing on her bottom. I just learned her new school and soon-to-be K class has newly installed auto-flush toilets. When I told her we were going to have to practice using them, she went white and changed her mind about Kindergarten! I'm crossing my fingers that she'll forget about it by Fall, but she's not one to easily forget. (It took 2 years to go to the dentist!) anon

My son was terrified of auto-flush toilets for many years. He did eventually outgrow it (he's 11 now), and also his fear of the dentist, but it took a while. Just be patient. EH

You are not alone! My 4-year old daughter is also very afraid of autoflush toilets (she is otherwise not at all skittish by nature). It is the first thing she asks about when we go to any public bathroom and it takes a lot of persuasion to get her to go if one is present. I'm not sure I have a solution that would work for you in your day-care situation, but my daughter's new practice (which seems to be working) is to enter the stall with her hands over her ears, keep them there while I help her with her clothes and wipe, and not let go until she leaves the stall. She's even become adept at opening stall doors using her elbows (which is not too bad from a germ perspective...) anon

My daughter used to be deathly afraid of the autoflush (or magic potty, as we call it) and is still a little wary at 4 and 1/2. For a while, the only way I could get her to sit on these toilets was if I went first, which definitely reassured her. She usually uses the magic potties on her own now, but if we're in a new store, she sometimes needs me to still go first. You'll need to address the autoflush issue before kindergarten. She won't forget about it, and she won't go potty at school. Maybe ask the school/teacher if you can bring her by to check out the potties in private with you before school begins in the fall. Have her spend some time in there. Show her that the potties are okay. This may all sound silly, but my daughter has MAJOR potty issues with strange toilets. She didn't go potty at her preschool for the first four months! I wouldn't wish that situation on anyone! Good luck!

I can relate - my son was TERRIFIED of automatic flushing toilets, and has JUST grown out of it at 61/2! It all started the first time we used an automatic flushing toilet when he was in the early stages of potty training. Every time he sat down to pee (hadn't learned to stand up and pee yet), it would set off the flush and he'd scream and then pee straight up in the air! We do a lot of traveling (it seems like every airport has automatic toilets) so to overcome his fear I always went into the cubicle with him and hold my hand over the red sensor so it won't flush until he's ready. It worked until he got over his fear. Good luck!

My child was also terrified of auto-flush, and now is less so, but it started about 2 years ago (he will also go to kindergarten in the fall). If you carry a pack of post-it notes with you you can stick those over the sensor and make it turn off. You can also cover it with your hand or a piece of toilet paper. It took a while for my son to understand that I really was not going to let the toilet flush until he was out of the stall, but once he knew this he felt a lot better. BTW, I know a teacher at a school where auto-flushers were installed. So many K students were afraid of it that the teachers put tape over the sensor so that it wouldn't go off automatically, and taught kids how to push the button to flush instead. I don't think this is an unusual fear at all. been there

teach her to drape a few sheets of TP over the sensor so it can't ''see'' her do her business. remove when done and voila! no flush while in midstream! hate them too

My 5-1/2 year old daughter has the same fear. In public toilets, I have found that if I put my hand behind her to cover the ''sensor'' it won't flush while she's on it - it won't flush until I move my hand. Not ideal but it works for us for now. another mother of a child afraid of the ''magic toilets''

My daughter went through this too. Not to bum you out, but it took her a long time to get over it. About 2 or more years. She's not even a fearful kid in other regards, but auto-flush toilets scared the crap out of her (oops, unintended pun).

Here is what I had to do: I would go in the stall with her and cover the electric eye with my hand. The problem with little kids is that their bodies aren't big enough to block the sensor on the back of the toilet, and the sensor gets confused and flushes before it should. When I covered it with my hand, I would wait until she was through, her pants were up, and she had her hand on the lock ready to go. I'd uncover it and then it would flush.

Ironically, this solution helped her get over her fear. She realized it was a mechanical thing and not just some random thing that was going to freak her out. Now that she is physically bigger, it doesn't happen to her and she uses autoflush toilets on her own.

This is not a silly question!! This is a big deal for my almost 4-year-old son too. The first thing he asks as we approach any toilet not in our home is whether or not it ''goes by itself''. I never insist that he use an auto-flush toilet, but remind him that he may go in his pants if he doesn't. Then I cover his ears while he is on the toilet (which otherwise he would do himself) and certainly if he finishes before it flushes I get him out of the stall ASAP, regardless of whether his pants are up! I feel quite sure that this fear will pass with time, as long as I don't make a big deal out of it, and as long as on occasion he has to deal with these toilets, with me there supporting him, so that he can gain a sense of mastery over them. Liz O.

My daughter also was afraid of auto-flush toilets. I tried not to make too big a deal of it and she did grow out of it. Here's how I helped her learn to use these toilets: I would straddle the toilet behind her to block the sensor so that she could finish and get up off the toilet before it began to flush. After she saw that it was just a different kind of flush, she relaxed about it and soon didn't even think about it anymore. anon

Your daughter is not alone! My now-8-year-old was the same way, and all 3 of my kids are still wary of these toilets and HATE it when they flush prematurely. Three years ago when I found out Disneyland has auto-flush toilets I feared we'd have to cancel our trip!

The trick we use is to rip off a strip of toilet paper and drape it over the back sensor so the toilet doesn't know when you're sitting or standing. You're covering up the little camera that tells it when to flush. When you're done, just pull the tissue strip off and the toilet will flush (or you can push the little button if it doesn't).

I would also talk to the teachers at her school and let them know about your daughter's fear. I bet she won't be the only one who may avoid the bathroom at school because of fear of the toilet flushing too early. If I were the teacher I'd take the kids into the bathroom the first day of school and show them the trick with the strip of TP. Best of luck! heidi

My five-year-old also has autoflushphobia, which started a year ago and continues to this day. One tip for you is to manually flush the toilet (there's usually a button somewhere) right before you sit your child on the toilet. That gives them about a 30 second headstart. But that hasn't really worked for us. I've just resigned myself to it. Now I even know every gas station with regular toilets all the way to Tahoe and back. May the flush be with you

Hi -- well, your daughter is not the only 5 year old out there with this fear of the auto flush! My daughter started at a brand spanking new kindergarten when she was 5, and yep, everything in the bathroom was automatic! They ended up changing out the potties for regular old fashioned flush ones b/c too many of the Kindergarteners were refusing to go near the potties and having accidents as a result!!I have to admit, they can be startling, especially when little bums are on there and the sensor cannot decide if it should flush or not and they get soaked from the very splashy flush ...Can you blame her for deeming it unpleasant and scary? There is nothing about it that you can anticipate. I wouldn't worry, nor would I feed into the fear much. Meanwhile, when she has to go and it is an auto flush, I would go in with her and watch that little light so that when it starts to blink, I would give her a heads up that the flush was coming so that she had some control over the situation and could at least ANTICIPATE getting soaked, or jump off if she was through! Good luck ~ sign me MRS. SOGGY BOTTOM!

My six year old also fears the auto flush. I think the unpredictability of WHEN it will flush is the biggest reason. Often, it flushes when she's on it or getting toilet paper. Right now, I accompany her to the bathroom and try to stay in the ''sight'' of the sensor (which is at the back of the toilet).If I stand there in front of her, it seems to delay the flush. This seems to help with the early flush fear. Don't dismay, I am sure they will grow out of the fear with time and repeated ''exposure.'' I am curious to see if others have advice. edie

well i don't have any advice but my 3 year old is terrified of autoflush toilets. it started when the thing just up and flushed for no reason (as they are want to do). big, startling scary noise with water sucking down and flying everywhere. what i've done when there's no other option is stand in front of the sensor, straddling the back of the toilet, then hope he doesnt' pee all over my jeans. i know, i know. but it works sometimes. anon

My 4-year old was scared of the auto-flush. So much so that she would pee on herself before using one. Here is a trick that worked for us: Tell him that you can turn it off. All you have to do is cover the sensor and the toilet won't flush until he is done. Once my daughter realized it wouldn't flush while she was on it, she was fine. Crissy

My daughter had a morbid fear of these things too. She's also five, and it's now evolved to strong distaste for the flushers. When you are with her, you can hold your hand over the little blinking light when she's on the toilet. It won't flush till you remove your hand, and your daughter will see that you are respecting her fear rather than dismissing it (frankly, I find those things unnerving too, because they ALWAYS flush at the wrong time, and the splashing water is an annoying and disgusting surprise side-effect). Also, if she hates the noise, you can tell her to cover her ears when it's time to flush. (I think kids have sensitive ears, and toilets sound like low-flying jet planes to them.) You can also travel with post-it notes, and put the post-it notes over the light till she's done. You might also try this route with the preschool, especially if she's good about flushing. She can take a sticky-note to the toilet, cover up the blinker, then uncover it and throw the sticky-note away (or leave it on the wall for the next terrified kid). If you allow her to face her fear and deal with it by not having to experience it, she'll become less terrified by it eventually. Plus you'll empower her to recognize & respect her own fears, which she needs to do. Doesn't matter if you think it's a dumb fear. The fear is real, and only by seeing that she can address it (and won't be harmed by it) will she get beyond it in a healthy way. (Guaranteed, when she's older, some despicable person will encourage her to ignore her fears against her will over some other small or more serious thing, and you will want to know that you helped her learn to respect and take care of herself and her fears--not that I'm suggesting that stopping auto-flush toilets will prevent all future problems! Just that one of my quirks is insisting that kids need to calibrate their fears in many small ways to face the world as functional grown-ups. Don't jump all over me, BPN!).

Oh no, do not tell me they're putting auto-flush toilets in elementary schools. My now 4 1/2 year old daughter will reluctantly use public toilets if I promise to keep it from flushing until she leaves the stall. For a long time she'd go 12 hours without peeing rather than use a public toilet, no matter what our cajoling. I think loud flushing of public toilets spooks her, but having happen under her bare bottom really freaked her out. One helpful suggestion I've seen is to have post-it notes to cover up the sensor until the kid's finished. I usually just cover it with my hand until she's through. Kate

I have two words for you: Sticky Notes! Buy a pack of sticky notes and carry it with you. Place a sticky over the toilet flush sensor and it will not flush until after you remove it. I have not used this method myself (I heard of it's success from a friend) so I am not sure if the toilet will flush as soon as the note is removed or a bit later or if you have to push the flush button on the toilet. In any event, this is a portable solution and your daughter can take the sticky notes to kindergarten with her if she needs too. Good luck. Jennifer

My daughter's kindergarten had auto-flush toilets and she was scared of them for most of kindergarten to the point where she preferred to hold it (and wet herself once) rather than use the toilet. After a month or so of reasoning and cajoling, we finally gave up and my husband gave her a few small Post-Its that she could put over the sensor on the toilet before she used it, then remove when she was done and was ready for the toilet to flush. She thought that was great! Apparently, she was not the only scared one either: she gave those Post-Its out to her friends on a regular basis. By the time she got to 1st grade, she was over her fear of the auto-flush. Good luck! Joan

My daughter was 2 when she started being afraid of the auto-flush toilet. It seems to be a very common fear. I don't know if this will help you, especially if they are putting them in at your daughter's school, but I will ''fix'' the flush mechanism by draping toilet paper over the sensor. Then it will not flush while she is on the toilet. If you are willing to carry them around, you can also use removable stickers to cover the sensor. This really helps my daughter not be afraid of them so much - maybe that can be a first step for you? in control of the flush

New fear of toilets in 2.9 year old

June 2006

My 2y9m old daughter has been pottytrained for probably going on 6 months now. In the last few weeks, she has developed a horrible fear of certain unfamiliar, typically public, toilets. When we're out she will tell me she has to go, but once we get in the bathroom she says the toilet is scary and that she wants to hold it, all the while holding herself and doing the ''potty dance.'' This is for both pee and poop. I'm usually only out and about with her on the weekends and our nanny says she's fine with the particular toilet they use next to the park they go to during the week. I've tried going first to show her it's not scary and various ways of holding her over the toilet, but neither has had much effect. Last weekend we were in a store and she had to go so badly but refused and I finally convinced her to let me hold her over the sink (totally gross, I know, but I was desperate and I washed it out really well w/ soap and water after). We certainly don't want to make a habit of that, especially since my husband found her sitting on the sink at home the next day. I've been able to figure out that automatic flushing, aka ''magic potties,'' as well as ones with seats that are split in the front are definite deal breakers, but sometimes ones that look just like home are no good too. I'm sure this is just a phase that will pass, but in the meantime I would love some advice from any of you who have been through this.

Do you have one of those potty-toppers? The little seats that make the hole smaller? There are folding ones that have Sesame Street characters on them. Maybe a special trip to the store (Babies R us has them and Target doesn't) and then using it on the potty at home would help. I have also heard of parents bringing post its to put over the sensor of the automatic flush toilets so they don't go off right away. anon

3-year-old afraid to use toilets not his own

June 2006

My 3.5 year old boy has been potty trained for almost 3 months now. It took a long time for him to get over being afraid of the potty chair and the potty at his pre-school, but he finally did. Unfortunately, he is afraid of any other potty, or even walking into a bathroom (restaurants, stores, relatives' homes, etc.) He becomes extremely frightened and screams when we've tried to take him into a ''foreign'' bathroom. Recently, we went on an all-day outing, and he held his pee for over 12 hours! (he was extemely miserable and uncomfortable). We even put a diaper on him towards the end of the day, and he refused to go pee in it. We've tried talking to him calmly and explaining things, etc. to no avail. We have several trips planned for this summer, and I'm getting anxious since things are not improving (I have 2 other kids, so we don't want to cancel our trip). Has anyone had problems like this with their kids? Any advice would be appreciated! tired mama

This doesn't solve the entire problem, but my nephew who has a really hard time with the noise that commercial toliets make when they flush, loves to pee standing up outside (how great to be a guy). Obviously, this is not appropriate every where...but for long road trips or any outdoor excursions it might be do- able for him; dare I say even fun? anon

Our three-year old daughter (potty trained for six months) doesn't like strange toilets either (she doesn't like using the toilet period...but that's another story). When we're out and about and I can tell she has to go, I just tell her that Mommy has to go to the potty. She watches me go, ''helps'' me by getting me some toilet paper, and then flushes the toilet for me. Then I just tell her it's her turn and help her on the potty. I try to treat it more like a game then a trip to the potty. This game didn't work the first few times I tried it (and still sometimes doesn't work), but if she says she doesn't need a turn, I just say okay and don't mention the potty again. And, yes, sometimes she will hold it for hours on end. Though I worry for her comfort, I've discovered that continuing to coax her into using the potty just doesn't work for her. She's determined to go when she wants, so I just let her be and stay as close as I can to a restroom so we don't have to run very far when she tells me she's ready. You might also try bringing along one of those little portable potty seats that fits right on top of the toilet. That was a life-saver for us on a recent road trip. We tried the seat out first at home before using it in a public restroom so it seemed to her like we were bringing her own seat with us. Good luck! loo-loo

Get a potty chair that you keep in the car. Use a plastic bag fo a liner. Soon enough he'll relax about the strange toilets Joan

I am afraid I don't have any real tips except the basics: go over what everything is, what the sounds are, offer to let him and step outside while you flush for him so the sound doesn't scare him, and such things as that. BUT I should warn you not to take him out on an ''all-day outing'' until this problem is solved. Holding himself for 12 hours is very bad for his health, mentally and physically, besides being extremely painful! This is very important Anon

Public restrooms are scary! My boy is almost 3 and short for his age so he can't reach the regular potty and wouldn't even if he could. Our solution-we let him go pee outside if we are out and about. Of course we make sure it's a hidden area. At first I had problems with this approach but then I talked with a couple friends of mine who had boys and they did the same thing. It depends on your comfort level if you want to try it and of course on his. Good luck- michelle

I think this is not uncommon, with my son, also recently potty trained (more or less), I had a potty in the car for a while and I also carried around a large purse with one of those cushy toilet seats you get for little ones in a plastic bag and whenever he needed to go voila it was like being at home (I just washed it (almost) each evening). This helped a lot and now we don't even need to take it along... also we still let him pee in the street off the side walk or against a tree he has fun seeing which direction his peepee will travel or aiming at stuff, very sweet. Best of luck I hope this will help you. If you do get one of those seats though be sure to get one with a ring all around the bottom for stability Kelly B

Maybe your child is afraid of those automatic toilets that make a very loud (and scary) sound. I am taking care of a little girl who is going through potty training. She is scared of other toilets. Her parents think that some of those newer flush models and automatic toilets scare her. Talk to your son and listen to him. Rachel

My son was afraid of the loud flush until he was 5. So, he would ask me to flush the toilet after he was done, while he waited outside the door. He has gradually overcome the fear himself, but I do remember that fear! G

My 3.5 year old is now fully potty trained, and as we will be taking a lot of road trips this summer I found for a portable toilet. I really like the On the Go Potty by Pottette. I bought mine at an out of town store, but I found a link on the web. We keep one in the car, and one in the stroller for long outings. That way, if we are not near an actual toilet or a tree, he can still keep his pants dry. He has no qualms about peeing in public, and even once sat on the toilet, to no avail. What I like about this product, is that it is very small, has absorbent liners (with the mini bjorn potty you would have to figure out where to dump the pee), and is not too expensive. If your son liked it, you could even take it into a restroom and use it there. We have only used it a couple of times, but it has been very convenient. SOmeone told me that extra liners can be made with plastic grocery bags and cheap maxi pads.
1 kid down, 1 to go

I think you should go on your vacations. Our daughter didn't use the toilet in public places. We always had to go home so she could go there. But when we went out of town recently, she obviously had no choice but to use public toilets. So she did. It might work for you, too

Fear of ''big potty''

July 2005

My daughter will be 3 years old this month. She is almost completely potty trained except for one thing: she is terrified of the adult-sized toilet. She will only go in her little potty at home. When we are out, she refuses to use public toilets. I tell her that she doesn't have to sit on the big potty if it frightens her, but she does have to put on a pull-up just in case. Then, she refuses to put on a pull-up! I either end up forcing the pullup on her (not fun), or just hoping she can hold it till we get home. This puts a strain on any kind of outing. Does anyone have any ideas on how I can ease her into using the adult-sized toilet? I should also mention that she has a 5 yr old sister who she idolizes (I have tried the ''don't you want to be big like your sister'' thing and it doesnt work) and that she is a very strong-willed child.

Have you tried the potty inserts that make the opening smaller? Your child could pick out the character she likes as an incentive to use it (Toys-r-us, Target, Wal-Mart). They also make travel ones (though not as nice). She could also pick out her step-stool to help her reach the much taller toilet at home. Maybe formally introduce her to the toilet, let her watch what happens when it is flushed, hold on to her while she flushes it, maybe let her take her ''pee'' from the little potty and dispose of it in the big potty, and also be sure to ask her why she is so afraid of it so you can address her concerns. I also had to hold on to both of my children until they got good at holding on themselves.. One thing that I didn't anticipate when my son finally sat on the big potty was that automatic public toilets can flush when the child is still on it and it scares the begeezers out of them. Be sure to cover the sensor and let her know that you are doing it so that there is no possibility it will flush while she is on it and you can flush on your/her terms...
Mom of a 3yo afraid of the auto-flush