As parents and carers, one of the most puzzling, and perhaps upsetting, behaviours we can encounter is smearing. While we expect toddlers and young children to struggle with toileting, and ‘accidents’ are common, especially in the early years, it feels quite different when we notice our child smearing poo (faeces) on walls, carpets, windows, or on themselves.
Smearing behaviour (called scatolia) can be incredibly difficult for parents, carers, and children themselves to understand. There are often deep-rooted feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, and even disgust associated with this type of behaviour, leaving families reluctant to seek help or advice.
So, why do children and young people engage in smearing behaviour, and what can we do to support them?
Why does smearing happen?
Smearing is a way to communicate a need, so it’s up to us to uncover the underlying reasons and use this knowledge to come up with potential solutions.
1: Physical needs
Sometimes, smearing happens in response to a physical need, such as constipation, a tummy upset, or a soiled nappy/ pullup. Some children can avoid going to the toilet because they don’t like the physical sensation it causes in their body. If a child is in discomfort, they may resort to smearing to get relief from the pain.
2: Sensory needs