There are few things that stop a parent in their tracks than walking in on their toddler holding a handful of their own poop. While the initial reaction (other than being grossed out) might be “What is wrong with this kid?” rest assured that it’s perfectly normal, says Dr. Heather Wittenberg, author of Let’s Get this Potty Started!
“A two-year-old is struggling with attempting to master his own body, to control its functions, and is quite curious about his productions,” according to Dr. Wittenberg. Children learn by exploring and playing in different ways, and may switch between playing messy and playing clean-up.
In fact, parents can take this new phase of exploration as a sign that their toddler is interested in potty training. Your child might be taking their poop out of the diaper because he or she doesn’t like the feeling of being dirty, or because your child is simply curious. Use this as a teaching moment and try to calmly say, “No playing with poop. Poop stays in the diaper or in the potty. We play with toys.”
The most important thing is to not overreact or lose your temper. If your child knows Mom will freak out every time this happens, it may become a way to get a lot of attention, according to Dr. Wittenberg.
During this short-term phase, parents should temporarily limit the child’s diaper access by dressing the child in onesies, zip-up pajamas, and overalls. In addition, closely monitor your child’s bathroom routine, changing him or her soon after pooping or peeing. Be sure to praise your toddler when he or she successfully uses the potty.
Toddlers may also benefit from appropriate messy play with Play-doh, clay, and finger paints. Your child will enjoy your attention when they are playing with these messy toys. Praise your child for play with toys, and not with poop.
“Poop-smearing past the age of 3.5 or 4 would concern me,” says Dr. Wittenberg. “An evaluation, starting with your pediatrician, should occur in that case.”
Reviewed by Dr. Eva Benmeleh, September 2020
- A toddler playing with his or her own poop—while gross—is perfectly normal.
- Parents can take this short-term phase as a sign that their toddler is interested in potty training.
- The most important thing is to not overreact or lose your temper, as that increases the risk of the behavior.
- Children playing with their poop past the age of 3.5-4 are recommended for further evaluation from their pediatrician.