A temporary fear of the toilet is common among young children because their only experience up until potty-training is a cushy diaper. That explains some of the aversion many (kinda gross) children have to the throne. But so does flushing. Fear of flushing is quite common among young children. Why? On top of the loud noise, young children often fear they’re flushing a part of themselves down the toilet — that they’re losing something important forever.
“Little kids aren’t quite clear on the concept that certain parts of our bodies, like our hair, fingernails, and even poop, don’t hurt when we get rid of them,” child psychologist and author Dr. Heather Wittenberg explains. “As odd as it seems, it’s a long learning process for children to understand that flushing doesn’t hurt them.”
Although most parents begin potty-training when their kids are between the ages of two and three years old, kids only develop the ability to separate fantasy from reality by age three and it doesn’t happen overnight. As a result, there’s a weird overlap between when children might be able to understand that they have to go number one or number two, but they don’t totally compute that a potty monster won’t eat them. That’s not a reason to delay potty-training in itself, but something to be aware of and patient about.
At home, parents have some control the environment and toddler toilets that don’t flush can help kids work their way up to a regular one. But unless potty-training parents plan on never leaving the house, public bathrooms feature by far the most frightening toilets of all — ones that automatically flush. While regular flushing toilets are loud, large, and mysterious to toddlers, automatic toilets are unpredictable on top of that. As if there were not enough reasons to cry about public restrooms as an adult, this can be overwhelming for kids, who are more prone to setting flushers off frequently because they move around so much. But with the help of their parents and caretakers, they’ll eventually acclimate as much as anyone can to bathroom automation.
“Reassure them that you won’t let anything hurt them. If your child is afraid of the loud, annoying flushers that you’d typically find in a public bathroom, help them cover their ears.”
It’s important to note that many young children are sensitive to loud noises but become more tolerant as them as they get older, but if parents are concerned it’s always best to check their child’s pediatrician. Hypersensitivity to sound is more common than many parents realize, but because it can be an early sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder, studies show. Regardless, many kids will not be comfortable with flushing the toilet the first few times, and that’s totally OK. They’ll get there.
“Until then, you can ask them if they’d like you to flush the potty later, when they’re not there,” Wittenberg says. Ultimately, what’s another floater among family? “Hang in there,” Wittenberg laughs. “This may take some time.”