Auto-flush Toilets Terrifying Kids Designed to keep patrons from having to touch handles in public restrooms, automatic toilets have created another problem — many young children are afraid to use them. Karen Deerwester, author of The Potty Training Answer Book, says that with a little coaxing and encouragement, most kids can tame their fears of the whooshing monsters. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Kay has invented a device that tackles the problem head on.

Auto-flush Toilets Terrifying Kids

Auto-flush Toilets Terrifying Kids

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Designed to keep patrons from having to touch handles in public restrooms, automatic toilets have created another problem — many young children are afraid to use them. Karen Deerwester, author of The Potty Training Answer Book, says that with a little coaxing and encouragement, most kids can tame their fears of the whooshing monsters. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Kay has invented a device that tackles the problem head on.


All right, so what does my deep-seated fear of germs have to do with terrorizing our editor Trish McKinney's adorable daughter? You guessed it: auto flushing toilets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: All right. You probably didn't guess it. Here's what I'm talking about, though. More and more public restroom toilets…


Luke, just wait. If you did, I'm very worried about you.

BURBANK: Yeah, right. If you did, your name is Steve Peterson.

More and more public restroom toilets have those automatic flushers on them now. And this is awesome for phobic people like me; not so awesome for little kids - a lot of whom, according to our staff and a recent New York Times piece, are scared to death of these whooshing monsters that could flush right out from under them at anytime.

Since we did get a nudge from the old gray lady on this, we're filing it under rip off from the headlines.

We have Karen Deerwester here. She's the author of "The Potty Training Answer Book" and a parent educator with Family Time Coaching and Consulting in South Florida. Hi, Karen.

Ms. KAREN DEERWESTER (Author, "The Potty Training Answer Book"; Parent Educator and CEO, Family Time, Inc.): Good morning, Luke. Good morning, Alison.

STEWART: Good morning.

BURBANK: Here's an account from a parenting Web site called the Berkeley Parents Network, quote, "one thing I didn't anticipate when my son finally sat on the big potty was that automatic public toilets can flush when the child is still on and it scares the bejeezers out of them. Be sure to cover the sensor and let her know that you're doing it so there's no possibility it will flush while she's on it. And you can flush on your/her terms." Signed, mom of a 3-year-old, afraid of the auto flush.

Is this some really big deal for people that are trying to potty train their kids?

Ms. DEERWESTER: Well, you can bet it's scary. But something has - fears are part of childhood, so fears have always - will always be a part of potty training. And before we up the ante on the auto flushers, they were afraid of big, cold toilets. They were afraid of the flush. There was - there are fears associated with it, but the automatic flusher does take some of that control away. And so parents want to be aware, prepared and have a plan to conquer the auto flusher.

BURBANK: Sounds like you're taking kind of a, you know, tough love approach here. It's not…

Ms. DEERWESTER: No. No, no.

BURBANK: It's not take little Timmy to a different bathroom. It's just like tell Timmy to get over it.

Ms. DEERWESTER: Well, but my - because you want children to know that they're capable in the face of fear. So in the answer book, what I write is do everything you can to minimize the surprise and make it part of your routine to check the stall before you go in. Then, what I write is, assume a John Wayne posture…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DEERWESTER: …and talk with that voice. Okay, we're coming in and we're not afraid of you flushers. Pretend to shine your finger on the flush-checking flashlight. I know you're there and I know you're going to flush. Keep your child engaged in the power play, then children have power to conquer it.

Now, because you want children to know there are lots of unpredictable things. You can hold their hand while they're there. I absolutely think a flush stopper is a great idea, but what I'd like you to do is after you've got the situation managed and you've got the flusher covered while your child is going to the bathroom, and upped and wiped and all that good stuff, then you want them to still watch you flush the toilet. Take the flusher - the auto flusher - the flush stopper off and let them see the flush.

BURBANK: Don't you think, though, maybe with little kids this - I mean, as much as you're trying to John Wayne them that if they are making progress in their potty training and they are so sensitive, I mean, shouldn't you just avoid these bathrooms at all cost, I mean, just for the sake of their progress?

Ms. DEERWESTER: Well, and maybe, I think, when you're initially potty training, when your child is first getting the potty skills, you're controlling the situation. With the potty chairs, they're learning those skills at home. You know, they're not - I don't - I think that you can carefully build their pottying skills prior to getting on the auto flushers. That, I mean, you can do it step-by-step.

BURBANK: Are M&M's still really the key to this whole process? Does anyone do that anymore?

Ms. DEERWESTER: In my - in the answer book, I think that potty training is a natural part of development, and the child doesn't have to do it for a reward from you. So I will…

BURBANK: What if, as the parent, I like the M&M's?

Ms. DEERWESTER: Well, if you like them, you know, you do what works and you do what makes - what helps you get through the moment and have a fun time. The most important thing is no power struggles. And so I really believe that, you know, you want potty training to be a potty partnership with mom and dad, and you want your child to feel like I can manage my body, I can manage the world.

STEWART: What do you mean power struggles?

Ms. DEERWESTER: Well, if you give them M&M's and they don't really want to potty train, and there are some readiness factors that aren't quite in place, or your child is at the oppositional stage then all of a sudden, it's, like, I want more M&M's. I don't want…


Ms. DEERWESTER: I don't want those M&M's. I want a Barbie doll.

BURBANK: Yeah. I've had a few, like, four-hour M&M feeding sessions with a kid on the toilet who's doesn't even need to have to go to the bathroom. They just like M&M's.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DEERWESTER: You know, it's - if there's frustration in a parenting situation, chances are it's a lot harder than it needs to be, and you can sidestep the problem.

BURBANK: Are there any other sort of technological advances like this that come to mind that are terrifying for kids that, you know, people our age didn't have to think about?

Ms. DEERWESTER: I can't think of anything technologically, but I know the thing that I worry about that's a real safety issue is when you're carrying those traveling potty chairs in the vans, in the SUVs, and you stop on the side of the road to potty. That seems really, really dangerous to me.

And then I'm back to the readiness factor, and I say, you know what, a child is potty trained when they can hold their pee and hold their poop until they get to the next most convenient place to go. And so don't - you don't have to go through a lot of insanity in order to be potty trained. They're all going to be potty trained eventually.

BURBANK: We're hoping. Definitely…

Ms. DEERWESTER: They are, they are. I promise.

BURBANK: …we're hoping. Okay. Well, you've written a book on this, so I'm going to trust you on this.

Karen Deerwester, author of "The Potty Training Answer Book," thank you very much for talking to us on the BPP.

Ms. DEERWESTER: My pleasure. Good luck.

STEWART: You heard Karen mentioning stopping the flush. Sometimes, necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, it was the father who did the inventing. Courtney Kay's dad decided to take the automatic flush issue head on and patented an advice to help parents and tiny tots handle the stress of psycho toilets.

Jeffrey Kay joins us now.

Okay. Jeff, what's the name of your product and how does it work?

Mr. JEFFREY KAY (Developer, Flush-Stopper): Well, it's called the Flush-Stopper. And…

STEWART: That's clear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAY: Yeah. It's pretty clear. It stops automatic flush toilets from flushing, like, if your kids are trying to go potty and learn how to go potty. So it basically adheres on to the back of the toilets where it blocks the beam because the beams are set too high for little people, and it allows them to go to the bathroom. And then once you're done, you pull it off, as Karen mentioned, and it does flush afterwards, but what it doesn't do is flush while your child is trying to kind of prop themselves up on this oversized toilet in the middle of nowhere and prevent it from flushing on them because some of those flushers are - they're very strong.

And, you know, this came as a, you know, a necessity for us because we were potty training. And my daughter was doing great until we went to the mall and then all of a sudden, she met face-to-face with one of these automatic flush stoppers, and it really scared her and it set us back months. And it's very frustrating because it's a process, and you want to keep moving forward; you don't want to move backward.

STEWART: That's one of the things that's sort of interesting about this. I guess if you don't have kids, you don't think about it. They're not big enough to be in the way of the sensor. That thing just fires off at will.

Mr. KAY: Yeah. And, you know, not just once or twice, you know, it'll keep going the whole time. And, you know - so it became a frustration. It became a point where when we're out, we're walking around really looking for bathrooms that didn't have automatic flush toilets, which was a drag. And then we also had - sometimes we would put our hand over it…


Mr. KAY: …which kind of felt gross.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAY: And, You know, there was - it was like, there's got to be a better way. There's got to be a way to control this thing. And so, you know, that's when I invented the Flush-Stopper. And actually, we used it. It became kind of a fun little gimmick that, you know, when we would go out in public, we would take it out, and, you know…

STEWART: And show people.

Mr. KAY: …my kids were part of it. And…

STEWART: Hey, Jeff.

Mr. KAY: …we would take it off at the end. And they kind of actually enjoyed it.

STEWART: Jeff, Jeff Kay.

Mr. KAY: Yeah.

STEWART: You can find his Flush-Stopper online. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Mr. KAY: Thank you.

BURBANK: This is the BPP from NPR News. Back with lots more in just a moment.

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