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Is it okay to allow my child to pee in public?

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Sometimes you feel like you have no choice but to let a child pee in public.

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Question: Is it okay to allow my child to pee in public?
I was out shopping on a city street with my 3-year-old, who is potty trained. He had to pee and was trying to hold it while I found a public bathroom, but just as we exited one shop, he cried that he couldn't hold it anymore. I huddled him against the shop's corner wall and helped him drop his pants to urinate. I got more than one disapproving look, which I don't care about. But, to be honest, I'm still a bit horrified that I had to do it. Is it okay for little kids to pee like that in public?
Answer: Many a potty-training mom has faced this dilemma. There are some who think it is no bid deal -- kids can't control themselves, goes their thinking. Another set of parents insist it is never okay to urinate in public. Then there is the in-between perspective -- maybe in a park, hidden by trees...but they might draw the line at what you had to do in a commercial area.

Reasons to Avoid Public Peeing

While I see the points being made on all sides of the arguement, there are solid reasons why you should avoid having a child urinate in an open public area. Going au naturale while camping or ducking behind the bushes at a park and urinating into the dirt are cases unto themselves. For one, you can guide your child through these situations while still teaching some element of privacy. In addition, standing in the bushes or dirt patches off the road allow urine to be absorbed into the earth. Contrast those incidents with situations in which a child urinates on the sidewalk and in public view. There are two main issues with peeing in that kind of public area:

  1. At a time when you are still teaching a child where and when it's okay to pee and poop, you present them with an option of going "anywhere." That can confuse and frustrate a toddler or preschooler and may lead to common potty problems such as more frequent accidents.
  2. Leaving urine or stool in a public place can create unsanitary conditions. Even if you do your best to clean the area, you're still leaving behind germs and odors. A small puddle of urine may seem harmless, but consider the next toddler who comes along and decides to jump into that little puddle.

How to Handle Emergencies

Of course, while you might see that it's best to avoid having your child pee in public, that ideal may not help you in a tough situation. The fact is, there is no perfect solution when you get caught with a gotta-go toddler or young preschooler. Knowing that you might end up in a situation where no public toilet is available, the only thing you can do is prepare. How you prepare depends on your child's stage of potty training and the specific circumstances you're likely to find yourselves in. Some steps you might consider include:

  • Carrying an extra set of clothes at all times. This means not giving up on that big mommy bag just yet since you'll need to have underwear, pants, shirts, socks, and shoes on hand just in case your child can't hold it.
  • Using Pull-Ups for outings. Some parents consider disposable training pants like Pull-Ups a crutch that delays full potty training. The truth is, they can be. They can also be appropriate for some children and certain circumstances like long car rides or city trips when public restrooms are hard to come by.
  • Investing in a portable potty. If you are out for the day with your car, a portable potty like the Safety 1st Gotta Go Now Travel Potty & Trainer may be a good option for you to take along. It is very convenient, and you can discreetly have a child use it in the car between stops around town.

The Debate on Public Peeing

The issue of letting children urinate has been a point of debate for a long time. It reached a particularly heated point in 2010 after blogger K. Emily Bond posted a piece that strongly criticized parents who allowed children to urinate freely in public. She called for parents to stop treating kids like dogs and blamed a rush to potty train children early as a major factor in what seemed to her like an increase in children urinating in public.

There was some significant backlash against Bond for being so judgmental of other parents. She also took a an extreme view of the issue, saying, "[A] good accident can go a long way in teaching proper elimination dos and don’ts and testing your child’s readiness for the responsibilities of a diaper-free lifestyle." That assumption -- that you can shame a child into potty readiness -- is totally misguided.

The best way to encourage toilet training is by giving your child positive reinforcement and making the process something she should NOT feel ashamed about. If there are accidents (and trust me, there will be accidents), you should handle them with patience and reassure your child that it happens and while it's not a big deal this time, you know she will get to the point where they won't happen anymore.

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