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Smearing Feces

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Children sometimes smear their own feces.  Among very young children who are not yet toilet-trained, this behavior is more common than you would think.  It is particularly important to eliminate this behavior as soon as possible for the obvious threats that it poses to your child’s health and safety (e.g., some children may ingest their own feces).  A child may smear bowel movements if he has skin discomfort (e.g., contact dermatitis), sensory issues, or simply a natural curiosity.  A.T.I.P. offers some reasonable management options for this very challenging behavior:

Avoid:

When a child has a history of smearing feces, the problem may be avoided in the future by addressing any medical issue or physical discomfort that may exist.  Also, the problem may be avoided by physically preventing the child from accessing his soiled diaper (e.g., with creative modification/use of clothing, Velcro, etc.).

Teach:

Depending on the child’s age and developmental level, offering verbal explanations about health, safety, and cleanliness may be effective.  Also, rewarding periods when there is no feces-smearing may be a way of helping your child build appropriate behavior while eliminating inappropriate behavior (this technique is known as a “Differential Reinforcement of Other” or “DRO” schedule). 

Ignore:

Ignoring the behavior of feces-smearing is not a viable option for obvious reasons.

Punish:

It is important to remember the definition of “punishment” simply refers to decreasing a negative behavior, and that effective punishment is delivered in an immediate, consistent, powerful, and humane manner.  Use of “time-out” or the brief containment of the child’s hands may be utilized as a consequence when feces-smearing becomes a threat to the child’s health/safety.  Also, an option known as “over-correction” may be utilized, whereby the child is physically prompted/guided (in a non-harsh, matter-of-fact manner) to participate in the clean-up process (in a developmentally appropriate, safe way). 

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