Spontaneous Potty Training {And How it Actually Worked}

I’ve been holding off writing about this, because I didn’t want to jinx things. But here we are— long after the days of letting her run around our house buck naked—with a potty-trained, not-quite-two-year-old little girl.

Let me back up a minute…I titled this post “spontaneous” potty training, because I really wasn’t prepared for it like most people probably are. It was a spur of the moment thing, and with the exception of reading a few blog posts here and there, I didn’t research how to potty train*. I didn’t check any books out of the library, I didn’t go on a potty-training pinning spree, I didn’t talk to any friends about it, and shoot, we didn’t even have “big girl panties” on hand. The only things we had going for us were that she was ready and the timing was right, so I jumped on the opportunity.

(*I actually skimmed blog post {this one}, pinned it, and sent the link to my husband who ended up actually reading the whole thing. Then, after reading the post, he bought the e-book that went along with it…and we read it after she went to bed on day one of potty training.)

photo credit: Saklakova // dollarphotoclub

This is the tale of how we spontaneously potty trained our (then) 20-month-old daughter:

The day before Thanksgiving was as normal as could be. My husband told me he’d be home early (around 2ish), so I was looking forward to prepping for the holiday. He came home, and soon after, Julia told us she went poo-poo (in her diaper). She’d been telling us this for awhile, which I knew was a sign that she was ready.

Actually, let me back up even further. She was ready since around 18 months, possibly a smidgen earlier. She’d tell us when she went poop, and would sometimes even tell us that she needed to go before she went. BUT (there’s always a but), even though she was ready, I wasn’t. My husband was still deployed, and had zero desire to spend days locked inside our home (hello, cabin fever), and I really didn’t want to be on my hands and knees cleaning up messes—bending was beginning to be like an Olympic sport, because of my sprouting belly. Since I wasn’t ready for the big potty training experience, I did the next best thing and bought a potty seat, so she could start practicing. She always followed me into the bathroom anyway, so I figured she could at least start learning to sit on a potty. (I later read that it’s a good idea to narrate to your child the actions you’re taking while you go to the bathroom. I never did this. The most I ever said was, “Mama’s going potty.”)

That was basically the extent to our pre-potty-training planning. Okay, now that we’re caught up, we can go back to the day before Thanksgiving. So my husband came home, she went poop, and I had the genius idea that we should keep her naked for the rest of the day/night and start potty training. Just like that! I quickly realized that we weren’t going out of the house the next day since it was Thanksgiving, and that my husband took Friday off, so we could stay at home that whole day if we needed to. He was on board (he wanted her to be potty trained before the new baby arrived just as much as I did), so we went for it.

We basically kept her bottoms off that whole first day afternoon. She had a couple of number one accidents…not that anyone could blame her! But the third time she started peeing on herself and the floor she held it and we ran to the potty where she proceeded to empty the rest of her itty bitty bladder. Success!

Apparently a lot of people suggest you offer the kid something as a “reward” for going potty. Yeah, we didn’t do that. I didn’t want to be at Target or some place like that without a sticker or a piece of candy in my pocket and then have a meltdown from my toddler because she didn’t get a reward for going to the bathroom. We did, however, make up a couple songs to sing, and we totally cheered for her—loudly—when she went. The cheering included lots of “high fives” and fist bumps.

Our Thanksgiving Day was similar to the afternoon before. As soon as we woke her up, we took her to the bathroom, where she went pee-pee on the potty right off the bat. Throughout the day she’d start to pee, catch what she was doing, hold the rest, and we’d race to the bathroom. She only had two accidents that day! We tried to keep her hydrated, and we’d ask her constantly (every 30 minutes or so) if she needed to go potty. At one point she even told me she had to go numero dos, so we went, she did her business, we all cheered, and life was grand!

photo by: danr13 // dollarphotoclub

When I say that this was a spontaneous ordeal, I mean it; I didn’t think it through, because we didn’t have any big girl panties on hand for that Friday. And do you know what the Friday after Thanksgiving is? It’s Black Friday, and this Mama wanted to shop!

That morning, we took her potty just before we planned on heading out, and then we put a pair of (thicker fleece) pants on her and headed to Target to buy some undies (and other things, of course). She didn’t have to go when we got to the store, so we thought we were safe. We had our travel potty seat with us in an extra bag, along with some extra pants, so we went about our shopping. Just as we were about to get in line, I remembered that we forgot to grab some undies (whoops!), so we went to go check them out. First, HOLY COW, they’re expensive! Second, our store was out of the characters she’d know and all they had were Frozen (she’s probably the only child in America who could care less about that movie) and superheroes. I grabbed both packs and as I put them in the cart I heard something familiar…like as though I spilled a cup of water in the cart. And that’s when I realized she was peeing! It freaked her out and stopped almost immediately, so we raced to the bathroom, where she proceeded to empty her bladder. Luckily, we had new undies on hand and some spare pants! That was our first accident out of the house. We ended up shopping for several more hours with no more accidents, but with a few more potty sessions in public toilets.

The other thing I didn’t plan for was the mini vacation we were taking the next day—whoops. She’d be sitting in the car for two hours while we traveled the back roads of Georgia (i.e. no bathrooms along the way). That Saturday, we put her in her new big girl undies and then put a diaper over the underwear just in case. It turns out that she held it all the way until we got to our destination with a restroom. Woohoo!

We made/make potty time somewhat fun by singing songs, and letting her
tell her pee-pee and poo-poo “bye-bye,” and then having her flush it
away. She’s a pretty smart cookie, too. Over the course of the next couple weeks we’d have a few pee accidents here and there, but every time she didn’t tell us (and would pee on herself or on the floor), she’d say, “uh-oh…mess?” and ask for some “paper” (towels) to clean it up. We’d usually run to the potty right after the accident (and she’d proceed to pee more), and then we’d go back and she’d help clean up her mess. I think that helped her own up to it a little more.

Seriously, if anyone told me that after a two and a half days of potty training, it’d go that well, I would’ve laughed in their face. I was so nervous about it, but she was ready and I think that made all the difference. We still put her in diapers for nap time and bedtime, and I’m not sure when that will end, but this works for us for now.

I don’t even want to say this, but it’s been almost two months since Thanksgiving and I can’t really remember the last time she had an accident. She does have a fair amount of false alarms, but that’s another blog post for another day! Seriously…stay tuned for a post titled “The Five Things Nobody Tells you about Potty Training.”

In case you’re interested, here are the potty seats we use:

  1. This was the first one I bought that she practiced on at the beginning. It sat on the floor in the bathroom and she’d sit on it whenever I went to the restroom. Now we keep it in the car for emergencies or for her to use while we’re on road trips. 
  2. We have two of these seats by Arm and Hammer. One stays in her bathroom and the other stays in her “potty bag” along with an extra diaper (just in case), a couple pairs of leggins/pants, and some wipes. 
  3. We also use this lovely cushion
    to sit on while we wait for her to do her business. It’s designed to
    help keep our knees from killing us during bath time, but it doubles as a
    butt cushion during some long potty sessions!
  4. I recently bought this travel potty seat, because I’d like to downsize the bag I’m taking everywhere, but we need to use it more—right now if she shifts while sitting on it, it almost falls in the seat. 

I’m so thankful we potty trained her when we did, and that she was ready. I’m also thankful for my husband and his patience with dealing with her and with me. I’m at the point where bending to help her get up on the toilet and bending to help pull her panties/pants up and down is an Olympic sport, so I’m extremely thankful he helps out at home and while we’re out in public places.

Did you potty train your child early? How did the experience go for you?


  1. Wow that's awesome she was ready so early! I don't think Abbie's ready so I'm not pushing it…. then again, daycare will probably end up training her for me so I'm not that worries about it! Haha.

  2. OMG, I am so jealous! Kenley has been on and off training since summer. Sometime she's totally in to it and sometimes not at all. I'm not pushing it but I wish she's just say "hey mom, let's do this." So awesome you guys get a little break from diapers! And please excuse my typos, dang phone isn't letting me click back to edit! Dumb. 🙂

  3. This is awesome Jessica! Hannah has been getting so close to potty training but she was never fully interested, even though she'd talk about it. Our potty training right now consists of just using the potty on days when she shows interest. It's not even every day, but on the days she does use her potty, she's buck naked for most of the day. She doesn't have any accidents!!!
    Okay, well, she's have one or two, but only when she's really upset about something or if she's really sleepy. It's been very spontaneous on our end. It's not every day, but maybe every other day, or a few days in a row, then a day of diaper wearing. It's whatever she wants really. But I'm happy because it seems to work for us! Whenever she asks to take her diaper off for the day, she doesn't make a single mess (usually).

  4. That's great! I have a soon to be 22 months old daughter and I keep wanting to see if she's ready but so far, other than hiding in the same spot at our house for #2, she hasn't showed any other signs. Maybe I should start with #2, and then slowly start #1? You have given me a lot to think about haha. I'm due with baby#2 in July, so I know for sure I want her potty trained before then.

  5. My son is 18 months and pees and poops on the potty with prompting. He won't tell me he needs to go (he is behind on speech), nor will he run to the potty if he needs to go. But I haven't really pushed it either. I imagine the next few months I will work with him on it and he will pick it up quickly since he already knows what is going on down there. Great story.

  6. I typed a long comment out earlier on my phone, but (OF COURSE) it didn't end up posting correctly. Here's my recreation:

    I am SO glad that you posted this – it is exactly what I needed to read right now. We haven't initiated any sort of potty training with our son (2.5 years old) other than being very open about it and talking about it. But now he's showing signs of readiness and will pee on the toilet when I put him on there. Still though, I wasn't sure that I was ready. I figured that we'd wait until my husband was home from deployment (or at least close to coming home) and until my son was caught up on speech. I just wanted to wait until potty training was super easy instead of adding another frustrating thing into our lives.

    I was hoping that our potty training experience would be like yours, but (before I read your post) it seemed too good to be true. Of course we could still have difficulties, but I think ours might end up being similar to yours. I'm actually excited now about going to get him a potty seat! SO glad you wrote this one!

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