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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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Claudia commented on 18-Mar-2011 11:12 AM
What a great bunch of ideas. I can't wait to try these the next time my daughter does this. Thank you!
Anonymous commented on 25-Apr-2011 08:44 PM
thank you so much. there is so many good ideas. thank you again
Mark commented on 25-Apr-2011 09:11 PM
I realized that those foam carpet upholstery cleaners were worth the price of my sanity! My saintly wife keeps her calm each time my 19 month year old little girl smears her wonderful smelly paste. She gets her fingers in between the diaper and the legs.
Supervision is the only thing that works for us. The cold water seems to work a little. The trick so far has been the calmness my wife brings to the situation. Spending more on paper towels and cleaners is really worth more than creating a negative relationship
with my baby doll!!!
Anonymous commented on 01-Jun-2011 05:49 PM
Dear Parent, Smearing feces can be quite normal to a certain extent. There can be more factors that come into play. How often is she doing it? Once a week? Daily? 2-3 time a day? The frequency of this act can mean different things. If it happens very seldomly
then it is a common act of a child that age. However if it is occurring more than once a day you child can have a sensory integration disorder. Certain textures can be very bothersome, even hurt. Feces against the body can be a pressure that is very uncomfortable.
If this is the case, you will see other concerns regarding sensory/pressure. Do they dislike certain textures? Are you seeing they are having meltowns with certain shoes? Clothes? Do they not like hugs? I have many children who receive Occupation Therapy for
this main reason....and smearing feces is common among them diagnose with sensory integration.
Anonymous commented on 09-Aug-2011 08:21 PM
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have asked many mothers if they'd had this experience and they all seem to say no or that they couldn't remember. I'm glad we're not the only family in this predicament. Thanks for the advice...we're going to jump right
in with the cold-water washings since we've tried everything else. Hope this works....pretty sure that it will.
desperate4answers commented on 25-Aug-2011 03:34 PM
We have tried all of this, onsie, tape, backwards diaper, and cold showers... NOTHING is working. And yes we are watching her, she is fast. She is not doing it before or after nap. If I have to go to the bathroom, help one of the other kids for a second,
give the dog water, anything that might take attention away from her more than a couple of minutes, she goes #2 and then smears it all over. She can do this is a matter of 5 min. I don't know what to do, I have spoke to our pedi and he says its normal and
to give it time. But I can't endure the screaming during another cold shower. It is heart breaking and she isnt learning anything from it.
Anonymous commented on 07-Jan-2012 07:24 PM
The cold bath or shower is abusive in my opinion. Stock up on art supplies and bring them out daily. Give the child crayons and paper in her high chair before and after meals. Tape paper to the shower stall and let her have bath crayons or paints. Let
her help (age appropriately) with making cookies. She or he is clearly creative. Praise her artistic efforts with acceptable media and calmly wash away her poo murals.
Anonymous commented on 23-Apr-2012 01:47 PM
This is the best advice I have heard so far...the painting in the shower thing. And let me tell you that I am so releived to hear that other kids to this. I thought my kid was the only one!! Thank you so much.

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