Dr. Deb addresses an ‘icky situation’ – Pooping on the Floor!

Dear Dr. Deb,

What do you do when your 4-year-old tries to exert control over you?  Today while taking a bath my 4-year-old daughter decided she wanted to poop and pee on the floor of the bathroom.  She began a yelling screaming fit when I told her she couldn’t do that!  I lifted her out of the bathtub and put her on the toilet, and told her that she already knows where to go (my daughter is fully toilet trained).  But she fought me.  She insisted on pooping on a towel on the floor. The tantrum was AWFUL.  All I could think to do was throw away her after-dinner treats. She was in such a RAGE.  Throwing things, and angry angry ANGRY.  Maybe she is short on sleep?? But my child has been fully toilet trained for months!! What is going on??



Dear E.S.

Holy crap! Literally and figuratively! That does sound like an icky situation!! Isn’t parenting fun?

To reassure you, I think the toughest thing in the world for parents to deal with is pooping and peeing, because truly that is the one thing that children can control 100 percent. We simply cannot force them when, where, or how to do it. So in these cases, I think it is best to view it as your daughter’s way of testing your limits, testing her own power (can I make Mommy lose it?) and seeing how much attention she can get from you if she just push push pushes…!!!

Right off hand I’d say you’ve handled it pretty well! Remember your child is engaging in this behavior to meet a need, usually to see if she can direct Mommy’s attention to her, or elicit a reaction from you. What you need to communicate is that 1) Her behavior doesn’t work – There’s going to be little or no reaction on your end,  and 2) There are better more positive ways to get Mommy’s attention!

Here are some strategies to help you do that!

  • Certainly, telling her firmly, and in a matter-of-fact tone “no pooping on the floor”, and giving her swift, logical consequences (not emotional reactions!) are good ways to get your message across. For example, a quick removal to time-out, followed by logical consequences, like helping to clean up, or putting the towels in the washing machine is reasonable. As always, be careful to do all this in a ‘matter of fact’ way with very little eye contact, and very little conversation. The last thing you would want is for the act of cleaning up with Mommy to provide her with the extra one-on-one attention that she wanted in the first place!!
  • Also, when she threatens you, try to ignore her as best you can without engaging in a shouting match of ‘no you cannot’ … ‘yes i can’!. If she sees her threats don’t get an emotional reaction from you, she will be less likely to engage in this behavior the next time.
  • Remember, whenever we take a behavior AWAY from a child (in this case, poop on the floor) I think it’s wise to give them some alternate choices of different and better ways to meet their needs! For example, if she states she will poop on the floor, ignore her comment, and try to redirect her focus and attention to something more exciting and engaging that she can do with you!! For example, “ Hey I have an idea – we have bubble bath- should I bring bubble bath out?’… or even “Let’s see how big we can make these tower of cups together – I bet you can’t stack more than three!’ These novel ideas could get her off track enough to stop threatening and shift gears, while still meeting her needs of doing something fun and engaging with you.
  • If she persists, however, and all your attempts to redirect her don’t seem to work at all, simply act unfazed, and say ‘Mommy can’t hear you right now… when you’re ready to talk nicely I have a fun new bath game to show you…!) Then again attempt your redirection! Ultimately, if you can get her off track, then later you can gently remind her that when she’s ready to poop, you’ll take her to the toilet.

Now you bring up a good point about her being tired – preventing a tantrum is usually 90% of the trick. Keeping her well fed and not too tired is great, but is not always possible in real life! Some kids get easily overstimulated when they are tired, and when this happens they don’t listen to reason to well, and can be really hard to ‘talk out of things’. They get super rigid and have trouble shifting gears. If this is happening with your daughter, try to figure out how to pick up on her tired cues, and make sure she has a chance to rest or do something that involves minimal stimulation (like reading a book together, or having her watch her favorite video) until she can recharge.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know how it goes!

Dr. Deb