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Help a Mom: Three-year-old scared of automatic flush toilets

Posted November 15, 2011

Here's a topic that many moms out there have had to deal with. Even The New York Times took up the matter a few years ago in a story headlined "For Children, a Scary World Out There (in There, Too).".

I'm talking about kids who are scared of the automatic flush toilets that you find at stores and other public places. They flush for you ... often, at least in my experience, before you've done your business. That loud, unpredictable flushing noise can be a scary thing for little kids.

And, in the case of the mom who wrote me, her son's fear of those automatic flushes has caused him to have accidents at home.

Here's what the mom wrote to me:

I have a three-year-old son that has been potty trained for a bit over a year. I have been so proud of him! However, one day after a long day of running errands, my parents, children, and myself stopped at our local Golden Corral.

At the end of our visit, I took my one-year-old daughter and three-year-old son to the restroom. So we all go in the special needs stall because there were so many of us in a little space.

Well, my son got on the toilet and sat down, for a moment, only for the toilet to automatically flush. Low and behold, he jumped off and freaked out. Then my daughter ran over to it, and my son pushed her down and said "it's going to get you." I thought it was funny then, but that night and the next day, I noticed my son kept peeing on himself, and in bizarre places. I talked to him and all he would say is " Momma, I'm scared."

So my conclusion is the automatic toilet has caused me to have problems with my baby. I tried talking to him and explaining it to him, but it's not helping. My sister also had a similar problem.

So I am curious, how many children are thrown off by those automatic toilets. I really think something should be done.

Have you had the same problem? Can you help this mom? Please share in the comments box below. (If you don't see the comments box below, you'll need to log in or sign up for a WRAL account. You can do that by going to the top of the page and clicking on either "log in" or "register").

Help a Mom features questions from readers every Wednesday. If you have a question that you'd like to ask Go Ask Mom readers, click here to email it to me.


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  • shall6 Nov 18, 2011

    From my inbox:

    "My daughter experienced the same fear of automatic toilets when she was a toddler and at 5, she still is unsure of using public restrooms with automatic toilets (although it is much better). I think that the sudden loud "whoosh" is frightening for her because of the anticipation of the noise and at one point, she was scared that she would get "sucked in".

    I spoke to our pediatrician about this issue when she was 3 and she recommended keeping post-its in my purse to place over the sensor on the automatic flushing device before my daughter used the toilet. It was a helpful strategy in relieving the fear of being flushed and allowed my daughter to use the toilet and move out of the stall so that I could then press the flushing button on the automatic mechanism."


  • heidione40 Nov 18, 2011

    Some of these automatic toilets are too "flush sensitive". I have had them flush on me and I do not like getting sprayed by contaminated water that could cause infection. I can easily understand a young child being frightened by the noise and also fear of being sucked down with the water(children's minds understand on a diffent level than adults).

  • bhshoula Nov 16, 2011

    I keep a small plastic shopping bag in my purse. It comes in handy for covering the sensor on the auto flush toilets. It also works great for wet clothes if they do have an accident. Good luck. I'm going through the same thing with my three year old right now so I can sympathize.

  • Nicsnanni Nov 16, 2011

    oh for God's sake, I'm really shocked this is a topic that must be discussed and an article run in the NY Times. I fear for our future if children are this sensitive and parents are so lost at finding a solution that works for them. Give me a break!

  • straitlover1965 Nov 16, 2011

    I read on a Disney board to keep a pad of Post-its in your purse and cover the sensor.

  • sww Nov 16, 2011

    Carry post-it notes in your purse. Put one over the sensor when you enter the stall. Take it off when the child has left the stall and them push the flush button.

  • dllynch Nov 16, 2011

    Didn't read all the comments so forgive me if this is a repeat, but I always just covered the sensor until they were done. That way it wouldn't flush...

  • lilypony Nov 16, 2011

    With my son it's not the automatic thing that's the problem, it's the super loud flush that terrifies him. He's 2. My deal with him is that I won't flush if he'll just (pretty pretty please) go potty in a public place. The automatic flush ruins it all. I grab a handful of paper towels, toilet paper, or even my purse or anything and block the sensor so it never knows he's finished. The when he's safely out of "harms way" and waiting at the door, then I allow it to flush or do the manual flush.

    He's a quirky kid. And with time, no matter how odd, he just suddenly decides to outgrow that the particular quirk. I dont make a big deal of it, matter of factly move on with what we're doing, and know that eventually he'll realize he's being a wee bit ridiculous and get over it. Make a big deal of it, that's when the problems actually set in and become problems.

  • nyncwork1 Nov 16, 2011

    My daughter was also terrified of the automatic flush toilets for the longest time. She outgrew it but for awhile it was difficult because she would refuse to go if it was auto flush unless I actually held her above the commode and promised to pull her off as soon as she was done so it wouldn't "get" her. LoL

  • oldrebel Nov 16, 2011

    Turn it into a game. Before he pee's, have him toos a piece or two of tissue in and step away so he'll hear the sound without it being a surprise. The suddenness is probably what scare's him. Turn it into a game that he controls with his own actions and the fear should subside.