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Potty Training: Fear of the Auto-Flush Toilet

Potty Training: Fear of the Auto-Flush Toilet

By Amalah

A different twist on potty training troubles confronts us, and I thought of you as maybe you have dealt with our situation:

Our 3 year old daughter was doing very well with potty training, initiating it on her own a month before her third birthday, and usually only day accidents when we weren’t encouraging her enough to stop playing and visit the potty.  Still a diaper at night, but the hint of going back to a “cloth diaper” was enough to motivate her during the day.

So 2 weeks ago we took a little family vacation, renting a condo on the beach in NC.  We put a diaper on her for the plane flight just ’cause, which she kept dry and was very proud to use the airport potties.  We did acceptably well at varied restaurants and stores until we did a ferry ride (she wanted to ride a boat and this was $1/adult/trip, so 4 bucks to ride a boat for an hour. . . equals win!) and the bathroom on the other end of the ride had auto flushing toilets.  Very sensitive auto flushing toilets, as they flushed on me 3 times mid stream, when I was demonstrating how these were “nice potties”  So now my daughter is scared of industrial toilets.   She’s cool with our home toilet, the one at day care, and the one in the child care center at my gym, but otherwise it’s a no go.

How do we get past the fear of the auto flusher?  She can’t really tell that it is an auto flusher (I’ve tried on many potties, only to get a clingy kid saying “I;m scared”  She was doing SOOO well prior, so any hints on moving past this hurdle, or do we just have to wait it out?

Fear of the auto flush

Yep! Yep yep yep. I have indeed been there, flushed that. None of my children were ever exactly fans of the auto-flushing toilets (it’s startling and SO LOUD, and the sensors have issues detecting their small bodies and movements). But one in particular was JUST like your daughter — he so traumatized by his first encounter with one that it did temporarily derail our ability to take potty training “on the road,” so to speak, since he adamantly refused to go into a public restroom after that.

And Imma have to credit a blog commenter with our eventual solution: Always enter a public restroom with something to cover a toilet’s sensor with. For sensors attached to the toilet’s plumbing, drape a heavy burp rag, prefold cloth diaper, t-shirt or something similar over it. For sensors on the wall, keep a pad of dark-colored Post-Its in your bag and cover it up with one.

I carried both options around for at least a few months — eventually the fear subsided. (Or maybe he just got big enough for the sensor to really register his presence and it stopped flushing repeatedly mid-pee out of confusion.)

The next time you need to take her to a public restroom, tell her you’ve solved the flushing problem or have a special magic trick to show her. Show her what you’re doing and tell her that the toilet WILL NOT FLUSH until she’s ready. At first you might want to wait to let the toilet flush until she’s fully dressed and outside the stall. Give her a heads up if she wants to cover her ears, and then remove your cloth or Post-It. After a few encounters, let her do the covering/uncovering, but DON’T FORCE HER. Just focus on keeping it all as easy and stress-free as possible for her.

I think I used the cloth diaper over the toilet handle on ALL public toilets for awhile, since my little guy was scared of ALL of them and like your daughter, couldn’t really tell the difference between auto-flush and manual. (I think the volume/echo were also problems, so even the ones he could flush himself were unnerving.) Eventually he learned to ask me which kind of toilet it was — the scary kind or the okay kind — and at some point the whole fear/issue kinda faded away with time and public restrooms were no longer any big thing.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Liz

    October 1, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I second keeping the pack of mini Post-its in your bag!  My three year old daughter asks EVERY TIME we’re at a public restroom if the toilet will flush itself. And every time I tell her, “the toilet won’t flush until we tell it to.” It will probably take a few times to extinguish that fear, but Isabel’s advice is awesome, and I hope you guys are over this hump fast!

    • Liz

      October 1, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Oops, sorry Amy!  I must have read this just as it was going up, and it said Isabel was the author for a minute. I remember thinking it sounded a lot like your writing….

  • Rachel

    October 1, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    My daughter called non-automatic toilets “polite potties,” because they waited their turn.

    • Kate

      October 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      That is awesome!

  • Margaret

    October 1, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Great idea! I never thought of it, but a pad of post-its is easy and hygienic!

  • Amelia

    October 1, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    I like Amalah’s solution, but sometimes the sound from nearby stalls can be scary too, because it’s unexpected. Here’s our story:

    We’ve just come through a similar phase. My 2.5 yr old was fully potty trained but was wary about public toilets because of the loud noises. A few times, he was so startled by a sudden flush (an automatic toilet or a nearby stall) that he actually just fell to the floor like one of those fainting goats.

    These scary experiences plus the novelty of starting in a new daycare triggered a major regression. He simply refused to pee, all day. He managed this for up to 6 hours at a time. After a few days, he swung in the opposite direction, and just peed all the time. It took a few weeks for things to get back on track, both at home and at school.

    The teachers encouraged him to flush frequently to help him desensitize, and it actually worked. Now they have to chase him out of the stall because he *won’t stop* flushing.

    We tried just about everything to help him relax in those stalls, including a specially adapted version of Old MacDonald. I think repeated exposure and distraction will eventually help your child overcome her fear. Good luck!

  • Lauren

    October 1, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Even just a length of toilet paper works on the freestanding sensors– not the ones on the wall though.

  • Katie

    October 2, 2014 at 1:34 am

    I find it easy enough to just hold my hand over the sensor…it’s a small space anyway (ie the sensor is super close) and my girl is old enough to get situated herself. She asks me to hold the sensor each time and it has made a big difference in auto-flush situations. She gives me the ok to flush after she’s completely out of the stall!

    • Hillary

      October 3, 2014 at 11:01 am

      Yup, I also just stand between the wall and the potty so I can help my kid get on/get TP and I can keep my other hand over the sensor. It works!


    October 2, 2014 at 9:10 am

    My son hated the loudness in public toilets. Earmuffs before he went in made a huge difference.

  • C

    October 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    My littles called these “magic toilets”, and refused to use anything but non-automatic flushing toilets greatly limiting the bathroom options while on errands.  Eventually I convinced them that I could cover the sensor (“magic covers”) and it was fine, but now I feel like an idiot for not thinking about using post its.  I just used my hand, which is awkward and leads to toilet stall gymnastics when helping with bum wipes.  

  • Sam

    October 2, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Great idea! Even my potty trained preschooler has a problem with those toilets.

  • slydegirll

    October 3, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    This. Is a GENIUS idea. I have dealt with the panic attacked three-year-old in just about every public restroom we’ve been in. I never thought of covering the censor. As we road trip to see family about once every eight weeks, its a pain and a half. 

  • Stephanie

    October 3, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Storing the post-it idea for later (for now, I just want my 2 1/2 year old to go in the potty period).

  • OP

    October 4, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    Thanks Amalah and Commentors!  I’m going to add some post its to the purse, and try the TP over the sensor trick.  Test run will be Tuesday an the L is for Laxative Library, cause unrelated problem, my daughter always poops at the library.  

  • Amanda

    October 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    My children both suffer from fear of the auto flush. I carry a small roll of washi tape in my purse. The roll is so small it doesn’t take up much room in your purse and a small square of it is perfect to cover the little red sensor!