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Tips on taking children of the opposite sex into restrooms, locker rooms

August 17, 2000

Tips on taking children of the opposite sex into restrooms, locker rooms

Teaching your child: By Lisa Tedrick Prejean


"Why can't I go in the men's room?" my 5-year-old son asks.

"Because Mommy can't go in there," I reply as I usher him into the ladies' room.

"But I'm a boy, Mommy."

"Yes, dear, but Daddy's not here, and you're too young to go into the men's room by yourself."

It's a typical Saturday. I'm running errands with both kids in tow while my husband's working. I see lots of moms toting their young sons and fathers with daughters facing the same questions my son poses.

He knows he's not supposed to be in the bathroom with Mommy when we're at home, so he becomes confused about appropriate behavior when we're out.

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Public rest rooms provide some privacy, especially for women. But there's the question of whether you should take your child in the stall with you. I used to, but now that my son is able to care for himself, he uses the one next to me. We keep track of each other by talking while we're in our stalls. I taught him not to look under the stalls because people need privacy.

My day-care provider, Teresa Mills, says she asks her three children to stick one foot under her stall so she can keep track of them.

Fathers may be presented with more challenges than mothers because urinals usually don't have stalls.

Shawnna Scroggs, a child-development specialist at Washington County Family Center, recommends that dads check the urinals before entering the bathroom. If someone is using them, wait a minute. Explain your behavior by saying, "As soon as you're finished, I'll bring my daughter in."

My husband, Austin, says he carries our daughter into a public rest room with her back toward the urinals, talking to her to distract her from what's going on.

Locker rooms are another story. Changing space is usually out in the open.

Recently, we arrived at my daughter's swimming lesson in time to hear a mother receive a tongue-lashing. A woman was upset that the mother brought her 4-year-old son into the locker room.

She said she didn't think it was appropriate for little boys to see women undressing.

Neither do I. But I also don't think it's safe to leave a preschooler waiting outside.

So what's a parent to do at a gym or pool?

"Safety comes first. You cannot let a 4-year-old boy or a 5-year-old boy or even a 7-, 8- or 9-year-old boy into a locker room by themselves," Scroggs says.

Adults should take responsibility for modesty by changing behind a stall, if possible, Scroggs says.

I've taken my son in the locker room and told him to face the wall while ladies change.

And remember that a child may feel uncomfortable changing in front of other people. Ask him if he would feel more comfortable behind a stall, Scroggs suggests.

When we make an effort to be open and honest about people's need for privacy, we're teaching our children how to respect other people and that, even though they're little, we respect them, too.

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