It’s time for another Ask Dr. Leman: “When is my son old enough to use the bathroom by himself?” Dr. Leman discusses the question on today’s episode. Learn more about Dr. Leman at BirthOrderGuy.com.
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Doug: Well, Dr. Leman, it is really fun to be with you again today. I forgot who I am. I’m Doug Terpening.
Andrea: And I’m Andrea.
Doug: And we are so glad that you are here. If this is your first time with us, we are so glad that you’re with us. Just to remind you, this is for your entertainment and educational purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. Wow, Dr. Leman, I was so enjoying our conversation before I hit record that I just was totally lost there. Sorry about that. But we are glad you’re with us.
Dr. Leman: Hey, thanks. We get a lot of feedback on this. We just ask you guys that love it just to hey, pass it along to your buddies. Put it on Facebook. Women are talkers. They’re our best conduits for getting information out. We get a lot of good feedback, but we want to make sure that our numbers continue to grow as they’re doing. They grow because people like you pass along to your friends. So, please do that for us. Thanks.
Doug: I was talking to a buddy of mine, and he was having some parenting issues. I said, “Hey, you should check out this podcast.” He started at number 238 and he said he’s already down to 100. He said, “It’s totally changed the way I’m doing parenting.” If you pass it onto people, it’s amazing how much it helps them. Well, let’s get into today’s question.
Becky: Hi, this is Becky from Maine. I have a question about my oldest son. He’s eight. I’m wondering if he’s old enough to use the men’s room by himself. I like to take one child with me when I go grocery shopping and there is no gender neutral bathrooms or family bathrooms there. I’m wondering how do I handle knowing when they’re old enough to use the men’s room by themself and how to have a conversation with them about can that person, sexual predators that won’t make them paranoid about everybody. I’ve talked to them a little bit about that, but not in any great detail. I also have a little girl. So, I’d like to know how to handle that with boys and girls. I appreciate your help. Thank you. Bye.
Dr. Leman: Well, thanks for the question. Parents today probably worry a little too much. Of course, you read the newspapers or, who reads newspapers? Old people read newspapers. People your age don’t read newspapers. They get their news on their tablet or their device. We see the headlines. Keep in mind that the perverts of this world, for the most part, are in our own families. When kids get molested, it’s usually by a family member, not from some stranger, and certainly not from someone in a public restroom in a restaurant. So, you have to dial it back a little bit. The fact that you’re concerned, that you’ve even asked the question with an eight year old gives me a clue that you’re probably overdoing it a little too much.
You asked in essence what age would you let a kid go to the potty by themselves. Early as they could. Would I walk a five year old son to the men’s room door and let the five year old go in and go piddle, sure. I don’t have a problem with that at all. A five year old. Now you’re asking about your eight year old. Your eight year old is very capable of getting up, going to the john, and coming back. When you talk to a kid about stranger danger, you have to do that very gently. I hear that in your question, and I know you’re sensitive to that. You can create a problem in the area of eating, sleeping or going potty. Those are three basic areas where parents, if they get too far involved in it, creates massive problems for a kid.
So, you have to tenderly approach that in general terms, that everybody in this life is not like mom and dad or uncle or aunt or grandma. There are people in life who will hurt you. I think that little uh oh that goes off inside of a kid or an adult in a situation. All of a sudden you’re in a situation, it doesn’t feel right. You get out of that situation. If you have to scream or yell, do so, but that’s how I would approach it. I would approach it from that little uh oh inside the kid because he’s gonna feel that situation. If something doesn’t feel right to a kid, he’s gonna feel it at age eight. What do you do? You run out. To use your example, run out of the bathroom and scream. What do you scream? Help, and people will come to your aid.
I would be careful about that. I just wrote recently an op ed for Fox News in New York. I see right now with the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings soon to happen down the road and all the allegations that are going on, Kavanaugh gets number one slot on Fox News opinion. Being a lawn mower parent, as they call it, sort of like a helicopter parent, was number two when I wrote that. It’s gotten an awful lot of attention. Now for those of you who listen to these podcasts for a long time, you know I’ve talked about snow plowing the roads of life for children, how dangerous that can be. You can check that out if you just go to Fox News Opinion. It still might be up there. If not, you can backtrack on my Facebook, Dr. Kevin Leman, and you can find it there and read it for yourself.
The whole idea of doing too much for a kid weakens a child’s spirit. It chips away at their self-esteem. It essentially teaches them that they’re not a winner, that they’re a loser and they’re dependent upon other people too much. So, you’ve got to watch this. I’ve often said that parenthood is an art form and this is part of it. You let your eight year old go potty by themselves, no problem. No problem for me. Big problem for you because you’re gonna sit there and worry about it. I’m just telling you, practice makes perfect and you go ahead and practice letting your kid go pee pee or poo poo by himself.
Andrea: Can I go back and ask a question?
Dr. Leman: You are the smartest one of the three of us, so we grant you permission to ask.
Andrea: Why, thank you. You mentioned talking about stranger danger can create a problem in these three areas that you always tell us that kids are gonna figure out, sleeping, eating, and going potty. Can you expound on that a little bit? How is me talking about it with my kids gonna create more of a problem, a stranger danger?
Dr. Leman: Well, you’ve got to remember that the stranger danger comes up because the kid has seen something. He’s seen something on TV where two little girls were strangled. They found their bodies on the side of the roads in the woods. You have to … I call it reframing your child’s state of the union address, or something like that. I don’t know where I got that thought from, but I did. It sounds a little awkward, but the idea is you have to be able to tell the child, “Yes, a terrible thing happened, and that happened 2500 miles away or 600 miles away from where we live.” You have to explain to a child, depending upon his age, how far away that is, and you have to do it in practical terms. “Honey, we’d have to get in the car. We’d have to drive two days all day long, spend the night in a hotel, drive another day, spend a night in a hotel. Then we’d be to that place where that happened. That happened a long way away from where we are.”
As you’ve heard me say, we would insulate that child, so to speak, by just saying, “Hey listen, you’re here. Your pet’s here. Your grandmother’s down the street. Aunt and uncle are just two miles away. Everything’s okay.” Again, you become a psychological blanket to your kid. You give comfort to your child. If you dwell on it and go back and revisit it a second or a third time and say, “Honey, I just want to make sure you’re okay. I want to make sure you’re okay.” By the second I’m sure you’re okay, the kid’s thinking, maybe I’m not okay. Maybe I should worry more about this. Maybe this is bigger than I gave it credit for. So, you’ve got to be careful how you do that. Very gently.
Doug: Are you saying that if I talk to my kids about stranger danger, it’s one time and it’s not every time he goes in the bathroom I tell him, “Now remember, if there’s a stranger in there, run out.” You’re telling us, that’s what will mess him up.
Andrea: Just mention it once and move on.
Dr. Leman: I was getting out of my car and there was a young mom with her little four year old son. We got out of the car together. We were parked next to each other. I said, “Good morning. How are you?” The little boy said, “Fine.” The mother comes around the car, grabs the kid, yanks him and says, “I told you never talk to a stranger.” Everything within me, I mean I wanted to just tap her on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me. I’d like to introduce myself to you.” But I didn’t. I just thought, what a stupid mother. That is a stupid mother that would do something-
Andrea: How’s that gonna play out in that little guy’s life?
Dr. Leman: He’s afraid of people. He’s dependent upon his mommy for everything. Just what we need, another mommy’s boy. We’ve got enough of those in this world. I don’t care if you are 14, I’m gonna tie your shoes. Stand still.
Doug: So Mrs. Terpening, the smartest one of the group, now you back off your kid-
Dr. Leman: Don’t overplay that Doug, please.
Andrea: I might start taking it seriously.
Doug: So, you are the guilt gatherer of the three of us.
Doug: Now you have to convince yourself, I have my five year old boy and I’m not gonna worry. I’m just gonna let him go in there. I’m not gonna follow this. Can you do it?
Dr. Leman: Please say yes.
Andrea: This is what I’m being, honestly thinking. I would probably evaluate where I’m at and think, okay am I in a mall or am I at my normal grocery store or am I in a movie theater. I’d probably still have to evaluate how big is the bathroom. What kind of people potentially-
Dr. Leman: By the time you evaluate, the kid’s gonna pee his pants.
Andrea: Well, yeah. I’m just being honest. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be?
Doug: You’re supposed to be honest. Thank you, sweetie.
Andrea: Thank you very much.
Doug: Thank you. Thank you.
Dr. Leman: We give you the liberty to be honest.
Doug: How do you help moms like Andrea who are, if it feels safe to me, then I can do it? How do you deal with that?
Dr. Leman: Doug, I don’t deal with that very well. I’m tempted to say, “Andrea, deal with it.”
Andrea: Just get over it. Well, the other thing that, as I think about honestly, is if I’m probably in … If I’m in the mall or in some of those places that I’m less comfortable in, there probably is a bathroom I can go with him, like a family bathroom. So, I can work it out.
Doug: Look how funny though, the loophole, Dr. Leman. Isn’t that horrible? She’s just …
Andrea: I’m not helping our listeners, am I?
Dr. Leman: I’ll tell you a little secret into Kevin Leman’s life. I travel through Chicago a lot. If there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s going potty by myself. I love those little handicapped, they’ll say handicapped on them sometimes or they’ll say family, have the little sign out there, the cute little mom and dad and a baby. That’s where I choose to go potty. My embarrassment is when I come out of the potty and there’s a family waiting to use it. I like to bolt the door in four places and enjoy the ambiance of the restroom by myself. So, it begs the question, how comfortable is a little boy at age eight with mommy there?
Andrea: Yep. That’s right.
Dr. Leman: As he’s wiping his doo doo. Again, I think you’ve got to … Hey parents, you can’t control everything.
Andrea: I do like your suggestion to this mother, is just go to the door, stand outside the door, and he knows you’re there. If there’s … Actually it’s more for me than him, right. I’m outside the door. I can be comforted that nobody can come out of there without me knowing.
Dr. Leman: I’ll give you the get to the door, but the men that walk in there using it, they’re looking at you saying, “What’s she standing outside the door for?” It’s just a thought. Kind of a half born thought, but a thought.
Doug: One last question, how do you teach your kids to do the uh oh part? How do you, without freaking them out? How do you teach them to listen to that?
Dr. Leman: By the time you bring up this conversation, they’ve had that uh oh in their life. They know what you’re talking about. You’re in a situation in school where three kids are about to gang up on you or whatever, that little uh oh, that little scared thing goes off inside of you. Every kid’s had that. That’s part of growing up.
Doug: So that’s where you just go back to that and say, “If you hear that, run out screaming to us, and I’ll be right outside the door.” That’s really good.
Dr. Leman: With a teenager who has a cell phone, “Honey, if you get that, call me. No questions asked. I’ll be there in a second.”
Andrea: I have a little story. I have a 19 year old son. This has been a while since he was eight and I was worrying about sending him in potties. I just sent him to Mexico City for three days, and he couldn’t scream for help so that I could hear. I didn’t even know if he had cell service or wifi. We have to start somewhere letting our kids go. It was a victory for me to get him through Mexico City from here. He had a great time.
Dr. Leman: A lot of guns in Mexico City.
Doug: Mrs. Terpening didn’t sleep the first night. Every hour, she was checking her phone to see a text from her 19 year old.
Dr. Leman: I spoke there at YPO, Young President’s Organization, have what they call a university there, and I spoke at that university. I never saw so many guns in my life in a city as I did in Mexico City.
Andrea: I’m glad we just had this conversation after he left Mexico City and not before he went. Thank you, Dr. Leman.
Dr. Leman: Yep. You’re welcome.
Andrea: Was that supposed to be comforting?
Dr. Leman: We better wrap this.
Doug: Yes, all righty. Well Becky, we hope that helps you with your eight year old, and for everybody else that’s out there and worried about your kids. We love doing this. As always, I want to give a huge thanks to Revel Books, a division of Baker publishing. They’re making these podcasts possible for you, and truly we wouldn’t be doing it without them. They’re just great people. They really are just fabulous people. And we want to keep adding to your parenting toolbox, keep passing the word on, and keep loving those kids.
Andrea: Have a great day.
Doug: Take care. Bye bye.