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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 [email protected].

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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