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How to Deal with Toilet Training Challenges: Travel

Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Even when young children totally master toileting within their own homes, it can remain challenging for them to maintain their progress in different environments. Parents who expect that such accidents may occur are able to prepare for them and thus minimize their impact on family outings. Parents should consider taking wet wipes, a transportable potty chair, and children's clean clothes on every outing. Parents should also plan breaks in trips during which children can use the potty. Scheduling travel break times that closely mirror children's normal schedule and arranging them so that they take place at child-friendly toileting places will generally be easiest for everyone involved. Children's sleeping arrangements while on a trip should also be taken into consideration. Children who switched directly from diapers to cotton underwear may require disposable training pants during longer, more stressful, or less flexible outings (e.g, a family funeral). Parents may also wish to pack a waterproof sheet they can slip under their children while they sleep on stressful trips.

When out and about with a small child who is toilet training, parents need to be prepared to act quickly. When Jamie says, "Mommy, I need to go now!" Mommy needs to find the nearest bathroom as quickly as possible, as little ones can't hold urine or feces for very long. When near a public restroom, parents shouldn't hesitate to ask to cut in line in order to get their little ones to the bathroom quickly. Most people will smile and usher toilet training teams to the head of the line.

Once inside a public restroom, parents may need to work a bit to modify the environment so that it is kid-friendly. If parents find it feasible to bring a toilet insert seat along with them, this is a wonderful plus. If not, parents may need to physically help little ones stay comfortably and safely perched on the toilet seat. Parents may even need to kneel on the floor and offer their thighs to children who need traction for easier bowel movements. Parents can use disposable seat covers to protect their knees and thighs from the dirty restroom floor.

Restrooms that have automatic flushing toilets can be especially tricky. A toilet that flushes in the middle of business is unnerving even for adults, and is only more unnerving and distracting for young children whose small size makes the unexpected flushing action more likely to occur. If possible, parents can tape or drape a piece of toilet paper over the automatic sensor before putting children on the toilet to prevent random flushing.

Fathers find further hurdles when they're trying to take their little girls to the public restroom. Mothers can easily take their little girls and little boys into the women's restroom. But, the reverse is not true for fathers. It's not appropriate for men to take their little girls in the public women's restroom. It's also not appropriate for a Dad to send his little girl into the restroom with a stranger or even with a store employee. Just as parents wouldn't trust their children to a stranger to babysit, they shouldn't trust their children with a stranger for an activity that includes private, intimate body parts and processes.

When available, fathers can use family restrooms with their little girls, as these specialized bathrooms normally just have one stall inside them. If possible, locate family restrooms at the mall, restaurants, or certain highway rest stops ahead of time. Unfortunately, many public places only have men's or women's restrooms, each with multiple stalls and/or urinals. In a tight situation, some dads use the "duck and cover" method. Dad can have his daughter hide her face in his neck or under a blanket while he swoops her past other men and into one of the stalls so that she doesn't see anything she isn't supposed to see. This isn't the best method, but it works when no other better options are available. Dads and other caregivers may also need to be creative, letting little ones use their stand-alone travel potty on the side of the highway or other less convenient places.

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