Want To Try The Bare Bottom Potty Training Method? Here's How To Start
It can be messy, but it works.
Let me tell you about potty training my son. I thought it would be so easy. He'd basically potty trained himself to go number two, each time happily saying "no mess!" You can see why I thought he'd be on board with peeing in the potty as well. I mean, no mess, right? Not even slightly. I was kidding myself. Everyone told us just to rip off the diaper and let him get the point. We used the bare bum potty training method, and how it works is definitely messy — there's no two ways about it. (I mean, the name kind of says it all.)
What is bare bottom potty training?
Bare bottom potty training — sometimes referred to as the "diaper-free" method — is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: potty training naked. “Bare bottom training is when you start potty training and usually take the first two to three days and have the child be completely bottomless — no underwear, diaper, pants, tights, etc.” Samantha Jones, a certified potty training consultant, tells Romper. “It helps the whole family understand change is here.”
This method is all about allowing your child to go commando around the house for a few days to learn their cues and decipher how and when they need to get their tiny booties to the potty. You begin after you've assessed the readiness of your child to be potty trained and communicated with them how and where to go. You then schedule a period of days (typically three) wherein you set up a potty and allow them to go about their day without a diaper or pants. You'll continually encourage them to try to use the potty and assess their own needs. The goal is that your toddler will be able to understand their needs better via the process of having accidents and successes with the potty.
Does bare bottom potty training work?
The bare bum method might be intense (and messy), but there’s a reason lots of books and experts recommend it. “I find bare bottom training to be highly effective,” Jones says. “It helps you and your child to start speaking the same potty language — you may have noticed little things they might do, like a dance when they have to pee or leaving the room to poop, but when bottomless, they can't just sit and do what they're used to doing. You can see them starting their dance and bring them right to the potty — no worrying about unzipping or untying pants. If they go in the other room, you can follow them and remind them to head to the potty.”
The logic is that it instantly takes your little one outside of their diaper comfort zone and helps them be more in tune with the sensations in their body related to needing to use the bathroom. “It makes accidents more obvious and uncomfortable to the child,” Jones says. “If they have a diaper or even underwear or a Pull-Up on, it still stays right next to their body, which is what they're used to. If they have nothing, it's going to go everywhere and someone has to clean it up. Usually, children get used to the comfort of a diaper, and in the beginning even underwear can mimic that comfort and make accidents more prevalent than just being bottomless.”
Tips for parents
When it comes to bare bottom potty training, you need to start with open communication with your child, as this is a huge development stage for them, Jones explains. Discussing with your baby why they should want privacy to go to the bathroom, what they're feeling, and what they should do when the urge strikes are among thing you should talk about. “You're learning as much as your child is,” she says. “You might think your child loves following you into the bathroom and loves that one potty song on their favorite show, so this should be a breeze. But in reality, the child might become afraid of the loud flush of the toilet, or scared to let their poop fall into the toilet and get their bum splashed.”
“It also helps as parents when we normalize bodily functions,” Jones adds. “Calling accidents ‘mishaps,’ having them help with the cleanup, not OK’ing the accident but also not shaming, [and] simply stating, ‘Poop or pee belongs in the toilet now,’ helps to show consistency, confidence, and commitment from everyone involved.”
Tools such as songs, books, and TV shows can also help your little one understand what’s going on. Years later, I can still sing the Daniel Tiger potty song from memory. Also, I still find myself singing it to my 10-year-old when he inevitably tries to leave the bathroom without flushing the toilet or washing his hands if he's in the middle of a video game. "Flush and wash and be on your way." Does he roll his eyes at me? Probably, but not anywhere I can see him doing it. He also washes his dang hands and flushes the toilet. If only there was a "put the freaking seat down" song sung by a cuddly forest creature. I'd sing it to my husband.
When I did the bare bottom method, I took extra measures to ensure success. I'm not going to lie, I let my son eat his weight in honeydew and watermelon, kept his water cup full, and the soy milk flowing. When he inevitably had an accident, as toddlers are wont to do, I didn't make a big deal of it. I cleaned it up and moved on, just as the experts recommend all parents do. (Although I did roll up the rugs for a few days.) “It can be hard to let go and let them make mistakes and messes, but as long as we're not shaming or punishing, mistakes help teach as much as successes do,” Jones says.
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To make the process as fun as possible, I also reinforced his successes with lots of positive praise. It was basically a party every time he peed in the potty and not in the corner. Another way to bring in positive vibes is to incorporate incentives. “I do recommend rewards — I usually say like 1 to two gummy bears or M&Ms for successful pee and something bigger like ice cream or a new toy from Target for poop,” Jones says. “As you go along, you can change it to rewards if they self-initiate, or rewards if they have a completely dry week, etc.”
For the long and tricky evenings, I even started cutting off all his drinks and food after dinner. Yes, it's way harsh, but the bare bottom method aims for full control both night and day. I'd then wake him up three hours after he'd gone to sleep to go potty. I'd also put him on the potty the first thing in the morning and just before bed to start good habits. It's a short time, and the rules are fluid (pun intended), but if your child is ready, it's totally doable.
Just know that it isn’t going to work for everyone, as each child will have a unique experience. “Potty training is a huge lifestyle change for everyone involved, and it's a hard skill to master!” certified potty training consultant Anneliese Schlachter tells Romper. “I like parents to know that potty training a child in three days is far from the norm, so when that doesn't happen, they are prepared and already have patience in their mind. Patience helps to avoid unwanted pressure on the child to be trained, and forgiveness helps your child to know that they're not doing anything wrong and it's OK to make mistakes (have accidents) along the way.”
As for the parents, you should buckle down and be ready to stay in for a few days. Whether you do the strict three-day plan, or you're spacing it out a bit more, have everything you need at the house so you don't have to go out. Also, buy stock in paper towels — you're going to use a lot of them. “Be prepared for the mess, but also, be prepared for your child to wow you,” Jones says.
Samantha Jones, certified potty training consultant
Anneliese Schlachter, certified potty training consultant
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