Without fail one of the first questions parents always ask us is: At what age is my child old enough to go into a public restroom alone? It’s actually a safe question. Parents often think we will give them a concrete, blanketed answer, like a specific age. We all want to know what the concrete guidelines are that would make our children safe because, quite often, the world can be a scary place. Parents have many questions about talking to their children about their personal safety and this one, the public restroom question, may be benign, but by asking this question, other questions can be answered as well such as: At what age can my child go to play dates without me? Go to a sleepover? Go to overnight camp? Stay home alone?
But, teaching safety to your children is not black and white. We can take countless precautions to keep our children safe, by keeping the medicines out of a child’s reach, covering the electrical sockets, making sure that the camp we send our child to does background checks, etc. These are external measures. When it comes to teaching our children about their personal safety however, this is internal. So, we respond to this common question: “At what age is my child old enough to use the public restroom alone?” with another question: “What have you taught your child about his/her personal safety so that you feel confident and your child feels confident that he/she can make the safest and smartest choices when going into a public restroom? (or going on a play date without a parent, having a sleepover, going to overnight camp?)”
We see these conversations about personal safety as a natural part of our parenting – just part of the job description. We know this can be a tough discussion to engage in for some parents because you may think you don’t want to put ideas in your child’s head, take away their innocence, or scare them. Our philosophy is to teach children personal safety from a place of fun, not fear.
At this point, you have probably caught on that we are not going to give you specific age guidelines to answer these types of questions. Personal safety life skills should be used every day as a natural part of your parenting. If you can incorporate these life skills starting with children as young as four, these skills become a habit that our children can use for their entire lives. So, it is important to integrate these skills into your everyday parenting so that you can be confident that your child will make the safest and smartest choices when given new responsibilities, such as using a public restroom or what to do if a sleepover goes sour.
Sally Berenzweig, M.Ed, MA
Personal Safety Educator
Cherie Benjoseph MSW LCSW
Personal Safety Educator