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Potty Training Tips: MORE on Poop-Smearing: A Complicated Case

"What," you may ask, "is the most popular 'lurkers' topic at BabyShrink?" Is there a common theme that brings the most readers to this site? Yes, there is.

Every day, I check my Analytics to see what parents have been reading on BabyShrink. I think it's remarkable that each and every day I get tons of Google hits from people entering in phrases like this in the search box:

My toddler smears poop everywhere, what do I do?

So yes, dear readers, it's time for yet another poop-smearing post:

Dear Dr. Heather,

My three-year-old daughter has been smearing poop, and it has increased in frequency. Not only does she smear her poop everywhere, but she also has a corner in my living room where she, for the lack of a better term, "marks her territory." She knows when to pee on the potty and does it fine. But more lately, she will strip off her pull-up and go to that corner to either pee or smear her poop. I don't know what to do since EVERYTHING I have tried seems not to work. I have had extreme difficulty with her potty training, which her doctor said is normal due to the fact that she is extremely hyperactive and just doesn't want to stop. He says she is afraid to miss something. I realized that almost a year ago her father stopped coming around, and it has been almost a year since she began this frustrating habit. But it's gotten worse lately and I don't know if it's an outcry towards me because she is possibly mad at me for her father not being around?? Also I am a single mother and although I was able to quit my job and be with her recently i am still not able to give her my 110% attention all the time. I don't know...all I know is I need help. I can't handle this...nor can I STOMACH this anymore!! Thank you for your time.

"Tired of Cleaning Up After the Little Stinker"


Dear Tired,

Sounds like you have a complex problem here. Start with her pediatrician. See if she needs a poop clear-out, via MiraLax or something similar, because constipation can sometimes cause behavior like this. If her pediatrician says there is nothing medically or developmentally wrong, you can try using some of these techniques:

First, try some concrete behavioral strategies. Does she have a usual time of day when she poops? Most toddlers do it about the same time each day, and only do it once. If she does, watch her closely and direct her to the potty until she's made her poop. Don't let her wander away from you unobserved until she has pooped. Then you can give her a little more free-reign after you know she's done for the day.

Also, you can dress her in a more restrictive way until she has done her poop. Get a larger size onesie, over a pull-up, with perhaps some leggings over it, to put her in until she's pooped. If she lets you know in advance that she needs to go, fine. You can help her get undressed and to the toilet. If not, it's OK for now if she goes in her pull-up. Clean her up afterward and don’t shame her about it. But she if she’ll discuss using the potty next time.

You might also move around things in "her corner", making it a difficult or unappealing place to spend her time. Experiment with furniture in the room to see if you can re-configure it to "eliminate" that place where she usually goes. Change around the whole room so her association to it is also changed. Make "her corner" a more focal place of the room, so that it's not a hideaway, and she can't have any privacy there. Remind her she always can have a good safe place to poop in the bathroom.

Don't make a big deal about using the potty right now. She's giving you mixed messages about being ready, and in that case, the advice is usually to back off from potty training. Let her be in charge of when she uses the potty. But do be clear with her that smearing poop or going on the floor is NOT an option. It's yucky. Mommy does not like to clean that up. But when she DOES successfully use the potty, notice her in a positive way. Hurray! What a big girl! It's so nice and clean when you go in the potty. Consider giving her a small treat (one jelly bean, for example) every time she does go to the potty, even if it's just to pee. And try not to be scolding if she goes in her pull-up. Just be matter-of-fact about it, and clean it up.

I also would not use punishment if she smears poop again. You might remove her from the "scene of the crime", since you have to sanitize it. Be serious, but neutral. Remind her where she should go, and that poop does not belong on the walls or the floor.

Also, it's important to give her plenty of opportunity to play with acceptable, squishy, messy things like finger paints, play-doh, even mud pies. She clearly likes the feeling of it; give her ample opportunity to make a mess in an acceptable way. Tell her when you're playing with messy things, "This is fun to be messy. We can be messy with paints!"

You ask about the impact of her Daddy leaving, and whether that is related. I can't judge that from here. But you can ask yourself about the impact it has had on YOU. If you have been upset, if things have been very different around the house, you can bet your daughter has picked up on that. But is it related to the poop-smearing? Difficult to say. If you need more input about that, I would suggest talking with a licensed therapist who has a specialty in working with young children. And if you're having trouble coping, please seek out some help. A little bit of good therapy can go a long way -- and help you to trouble-shoot when difficult times arise!


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