Boys in the Ladies’ Room

Hello Mamas,

This has become a hot topic among my friends who have little boys and it’s especially sensitive for me because I’m a single mom with a 7 yo son and I face it all the time: at what age is it no longer appropriate to bring a boy into a public ladies’ restroom? When do other women start to get creeped out? When does he get embarrassed about being in the stall with me?

I have to say I’ve been less than comfortable about it since he was 4 or 5, and my girlfriends say he’s plenty old enough to go into the men’s room by himself, but I’m hung up on the safety issue.

First of all, letting him go in there alone seems frightening to me. How do I know if weirdos are lurking? Then there’s the question of what to do while I’m in the ladies’ room? Do I let him wait for me outside the door in a public place like the mall or a restaurant? How old really IS old enough? Is there a right answer?

This is scary stuff and I need a reality check and an expert opinion.



Hi Marie, and thanks for the great question!

This is one of those judgement calls that’s never easy.

We’ve all been there, at least those of us with sons, and there’s no developmental milestone that we’re aware of called ‘ready to go to the public restroom without adult supervision.’

One thing you need NOT be concerned about is what other people think. Most women are accustomed to little boys in the ladies’ room, and as long as your son is polite and considerate (and we know he is) they should have no problem with it. Any rude comments that come your way can be ignored. Your priority should always be your child’s safety and comfort.

There are a couple of things to consider that can help as guideposts for when the time is right. First is the maturity and feelings of your little guy. How independent is he in other situations? Has he shown you he can follow instructions responsibly? Does he have an awareness of safety issues and the skills to protect himself?  Has he asked to go to the men’s room? Does he complain when you take him into the ladies’? Chances are he’ll give you clues when he feels ready to take this step.

Next is the question of where, specifically, you are. It makes sense to start small with a place he knows and is already comfortable with, like your local library or a neighborhood restaurant. Bigger, more public places like airports and malls can come later after he’s a bit older and has established a track record and comfort level. This will make it a stepwise process and allow you both to gain confidence.

Just as important as the when is the how.

If you haven’t already, have more than one talk about stranger danger and what to do when approached by an adult. Practice with him. Let him know to always trust his gut and do the scream and run any time he feels unsafe.

Start small. The first few times you let him go it alone you may want to stand just outside the door and talk to him while he’s inside. When in doubt we’ve been known to hold the door open a crack while facing in the other direction.

When you go into the ladies’ stall he doesn’t need to go with you. Find a safe spot within view of the door and plant him there. Give clear instructions to stay put and keep in verbal contact until you get back to him.

We’ve all heard the exceedingly rare, but well-hyped horror stories about kids who were victimized when parents’ backs were turned, in restrooms, walking to school, or just playing in the back yard. These freak events get blown up by the media and start to seem like the norm, but they’re far from it. The real risk of a horrific crime is tinier than tiny.

Use sensible caution, but avoid sending your son the message that the world is a scary, dangerous place. Build his confidence and let him know he’s capable and competent.

~ The Mamas



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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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