Is It Okay to Allow My Child to Pee in Public?

A mother helping her children to pee on a roadside, Sweden

Mikael Andersson / Nordic Photos / Getty Images

Many a potty-training parent has faced the public-pee dilemma. There are some who think it is no big deal—young kids can't control themselves, right? But other parents insist it is never okay to urinate in public. Then there is the in-between perspective: They think it's okay to urinate in a park, hidden by trees, but they draw the line at allowing a child to pee in a commercial or residential area.

Reasons to Avoid Public Peeing

There are solid reasons why you should avoid having a child urinate in an open public area. Going au naturale while camping or ducking behind the bushes at a park or along the side of the road and urinating into the dirt are special cases. For one, you can guide your child through these situations while still teaching privacy. Also, consider that the urine will be absorbed into the earth.

Contrast those incidents with situations in which a child urinates on the sidewalk and in public view. There are two main issues with peeing in that kind of public area:

  1. At a time when you are still teaching a child where and when it's okay to pee and poop, you present them with an option of going "anywhere." That can confuse and frustrate a toddler or preschooler and may lead to common potty problems such as more frequent accidents.
  2. Leaving urine or stool in a public place can create unsanitary conditions. Even if you do your best to clean the area, you're still leaving behind germs and odors. Contrary to popular belief, urine is not sterile and contains certain levels of bacteria. A small puddle of urine may seem harmless, but consider the next toddler who comes along and decides to jump into that little puddle.

The issue of letting children urinate in public places has been a point of debate for a long time. It reached a particularly heated point in 2010 after blogger K. Emily Bond posted a blog that strongly criticized parents who allowed children to urinate freely in public. She called for parents to stop treating kids like dogs, and blamed a rush to potty train children early as a major factor in what seemed to her like an increase in children urinating in public.

There was some backlash against Bond for being so judgmental of other parents. Some readers felt she took took an extreme view of the issue, with her sentiments like, "[A] good accident can go a long way in teaching proper elimination dos and don’ts and testing your child’s readiness for the responsibilities of a diaper-free lifestyle."

The assumption that you can shame a child into potty readiness is misguided.

How to Handle Emergencies

While you might agree that it's best to avoid having your child pee in public, that ideal may not help you in an emergency. There is no perfect solution when you get caught with a gotta-go toddler or young preschooler.

Knowing that you might not have access to a public toilet at some point in your child's potty-training process, the only thing you can do is prepare. How you prepare depends on your child's stage of potty training and the specific circumstances you're likely to find yourselves in. Some steps you might consider include:

  • Carrying an extra set of clothes at all times: This means not giving up on that big diaper bag just yet since you'll need to have underwear, pants, shirts, socks, and shoes on hand just in case your child can't hold it.
  • Using Pull-Ups for outings: Some parents consider disposable training pants like Pull-Ups a crutch that delays full potty training. The truth is, they can be. But they can also be appropriate for some children and certain circumstances like long car rides or city trips when public restrooms are hard to come by.
  • Investing in a portable potty: If you are out for the day with your car, a portable potty like the Safety 1st Gotta Go Now Travel Potty and Trainer may be a good option for you to take along. It is very convenient, and you can discreetly have a child use it in the car between stops around town.

A Word From Verywell

The best way to encourage toilet training is by giving your child positive reinforcement and making the process something they do NOT feel ashamed about. If there are accidents (and yes, there will be accidents), handle them with patience and reassure your child that accidents happen. Assure them that it's not a big deal and you know they will get to the point where accidents will be a thing of the past.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kimball V. The perils and pitfalls of potty training. Pediatr Ann. 2016;45(6):e199-201. doi:10.3928/00904481-20160512-01

  2. Hilt EE, McKinley K, Pearce MM, et al. Urine is Not Sterile: Use of Enhanced Urine Culture Techniques to Detect Resident Bacterial Flora in the Adult Female BladderJ Clin Microbiol. 2014;52(3):871-876.doi: 10.1128/JCM.02876-13

  3. Kiddoo DA. Toilet training children: When to start and how to train. CMAJ. 2012;184(5):511-2. doi:10.1503/cmaj.110830

By Maureen Ryan
Maureen Ryan is a freelance writer, editor, and teaching consultant specializing in health, parenting, and education.