2 year old plays with poop

Hi Dr. Laura,
My daughter is two. One half of a twin, who is a boy.

When she soils her diaper she has the need to "paint" things with it. Whether it be in her bed for nap or bedtime or if she is in the play room with her brother. We have told her it was naughty to put her poo poo on the walls or face and that she needs to tell mommy or daddy she poo pooed and we will put her on the potty. Or if she poo pooed in the diaper to tell us and we will change the diaper. She has put it on anything she can reach, bed, drapes toys etc. We can't stop it from happening. We are getting not only frustrated but tired of washing and disinfecting sometimes up to twice a day. What can we do?

I know this is incredibly frustrating and unpleasant. You'll be happy to know it's also completely normal. Two year olds don't have the disgust reaction to feces that develops later, so they don't see anything wrong with touching it. What a great consistency, perfect for smearing! And how powerful they feel, that they can make their own clay/fingerpaint!

So how do you stop it? I guarantee you that punishment will just make it worse. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she is already reacting to your having told her it's naughty. So, instead, here's your three point plan:  Prevent access, stay calm, and fill her need to mess with art. 

1. Always put the diaper on backward so she can't undo it.

2. Start always dressing her in onesies so she can't just reach into her diaper.

3. Supervise her constantly when she's awake.

4. Before you put her in bed, add pjs over the onesie -- the kind that zip up -- but put them on backward, so she cant reach them. She won't be able to get them open by herself.

5. When she does get poop on her, stay completely calm as you clean and dress her, don't act like it's a punishment, or you'll be giving her incentive to fight with you about it. Just be matter of fact that you're helping her learn not to play with her poop. Tell her "Poop goes in the potty. We don't play with poop.  We play with clay."

6. Give her lots of opportunity for messy play. On a daily basis, let her play with playdoh and clay, as well as fingerpaint.  She will probably want to smear the clay around, so give her a piece of paper on a cookie sheet with sides, and let her smear to her heart's content.  Or give her fingerpaint to play with in the bathtub.  Or let her play outside in real mud.  Give her lots of positive affirmation about how good that feels: "You love to play with clay.  Clay is fun to play with." 

This will probably break your daughter of her habit, because she is meeting the need to play this way and because she does not have access to poop as a play material. 

Please do all this immediately.  Feces-smearing has a way of undermining the parent-child relationship and can develop quickly into a habit that otherwise takes months to outgrow.

Blessings,
Dr. Laura

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