When you are saying these words, what you want most desperately is for someone, ANYONE, to help you figure out how to get your kid to stop smearing poo. Stop touching it, playing in it, smearing it, eating it, and so forth – how can I get my child to just leave it alone?!?
While I’m sure every child is unique, I’m going to share our experience of getting through this challenge shortly after my son was potty trained (around 8 years of age). Hopefully they’ll be some gems from our family’s story to help your family create a happy and CLEAN ending to your story as well!
It Happened to Us
Our son Jake, for whatever reason, decided to paint his bed, bedroom wall, and self shortly after bedtime one night. The smell beckoned to me to check on him, and upon turning the light on to the horrific sight I immediately called to my husband in a panic for help, “CLIIIIIFFFF!!!!” Luckily we had a box of latex gloves in the house, so after retrieving those we began the massive clean-up job.
We very firmly told our son that he was not allowed to touch poop, it belonged in the potty, way too yucky, etc. The reprimands and lecture continued throughout the hour-long cleaning process, in which I took the kid to the tub and my husband got the joyous task of cleaning the room.
Fast forward to tomorrow night and repeat the same scenario. And then the night after that too. And the next. And the next. This smelly, frustrating scene took place night after night despite us begging, pleading, and attempting super vigilant poo-guard watching to no avail. Our kid seemed determined to play in his poo every night at bedtime like a new disgusting ritual in which we had no choice but to join. How do you get through to a child who has extremely limited language and social awareness?
I frantically called the only people who seemed to understand the full scope of the challenges to connecting with a child on the severe end of the autism spectrum – the amazing Son-Rise® folks at the Autism Treatment Center of America. I told them about our circumstances, and they set me up for an emergency 20 minute phone consultation with one of their child facilitators. After having me describe the scene in great detail she cheerfully responded, “It sounds as though your brilliant child has found a very reliable way to light both his parents up like Christmas trees every night!”
Yes, he absolutely did, she was 100% right. Did we want him to stop? Yes! Then since we couldn’t control our child, we had to tap into what we could control – ourselves. Skeptically trusting her words of wisdom, my husband and I devised our new plan for the upcoming night and beyond. (She had assured me it may take a bit of time to work).
The Plan Involved Three Crucial Points
- Stop lighting up like a Christmas tree. Make it boring. Specifically, I was to take my child to the tub and silently and quickly clean him off with peace in my heart that this too shall pass. This is easier said than done, believe me. It was very hard not to believe in the fear that this could happen forever. I focused on my breathing while I cleaned him off. I focused on how much I loved this kid. I remembered the consultants advice of not saying a thing to him, or as little as possible, because obviously the lectures were doing no good. I was to shut the door behind me while my husband silently cleaned the room and bed area without my son seeing/hearing him.
- Visually illustrate his choice and the consequences. I made two simple books illustrated with stick figures to “show” Jake that we’d make it worth his while to cooperate. One was called “Jake Uses the Potty” and emphasized how he made the poop go into the potty, used the wipes to keep his hands clean, went to bed clean, and had a great time the next day getting his favorite cookies and going to the park. The other book was called, “Jake Makes a Poop Mess.” This one showed Jake smearing his feces on his wall and having to get washed off, and then showed him having to stay home the next day and not getting any cookies. I was going to show him BOTH these books throughout the day as many times as he’d let me.
- Satisfy his curiosity and interest in poop in a more appropriate way. I brought back out all the potty books we owned to further emphasize the appropriate habits and to hopefully help satisfy his fascination in a cleaner manner. The book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi , for example, was a definite favorite.
Sure enough, that first night we were given our opportunity to put ourselves to that “poop isn’t such a big deal” test. I knew the consultant’s advice was most definitely onto something when in our silent clean-up mode my son began yelling “CLIIIFFFFFF!” exactly in the frantic tone I would’ve normally used! It was as if he were saying, “Mom, this is what you’re supposed to say!” Two or three more quiet clean ups over the next two weeks was all it took, and our feces smearing days (knock on wood) were over for good. Years later we still, however, look at and discuss the poop books, commercial and hand-made, on occasion. Poop isn’t evil, after all, but it’s definitely better if you don’t have to touch it.