Child psychologist and parenting coach Dr Maryhan Baker is on hand to answer your reader questions in our new weekly feature. If you have a question you’d like answered, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My two-year-old daughter stripped off in her cot during nap time at the childminder’s, pulled off a poo-filled nappy and smeared its contents all over the cot and the walls. This is so out of character for her and quite alarming behaviour, what IS going on?!
Dr Maryhan says…
First of all it’s important to note that children smearing poo is quite a common behaviour; so you are most definitely not alone in your daughter doing this.
The most common reasons can be sensory stimulation, medical issues, or behavioural patterns. Whilst my area of expertise is behavioural, I will touch on the other two reasons briefly.
Some children’s actions are heavily influenced by their sensory input; these children often respond markedly to labels within clothing, the tightness or looseness of clothing, and can be hyper sensitive to noise. Some children when they feel under-stimulated, actively seek out ways to engage with their environment. Smearing poo might therefore be the result of pull-ups, nappies, or pants which feel uncomfortable against their skin, or a need for stimulating engagement with their environment.
Alternatively, a medical condition could be the cause. Your child may feel unwell and simply wants to get rid of their poo as quickly as they can and this can only be determined by taking your child to the doctor. The final, and most common reason, is behavioural and how you react to it will be critical, if you want to avoid it becoming a pattern.
Children don’t choose their actions in isolation; they are often in direct response to something which has happened to them earlier. So it’s important to think through what happened immediately before your child smeared the poo. Did you say ’no’ to something, had you been busy with something immediately before and your child was seeking attention? Your response to their actions becomes important if you then want to avoid it happening again, and needs to be appropriate to the reason why it happened in the first place. If it’s attention, then don’t give it by getting angry, instead use as few words as possible to express this isn’t the way to behave, clean things up quickly and quietly and move onto another activity. It’s important you don’t reinforce the pattern of behaviour by giving any attention’ as far as your child is concerned, bad attention is better than no attention.
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