Children are messy. That’s as much a fact as is the fact they’ll grow up someday. Yet, there’s one mess that stands out a little from the usual messes. Scatolia is a medical term that defines the act of smearing faeces, in what is often described as a “finger painting” fashion.
There’s a range of reasons as to why a child might feel inclined to do this. The behaviour has been linked to autistic children, with the smearing fulfilling a sort of “sensory reward” due to texture. As an adult, if we disregard the fact that it is faeces, we can understand that behaviour, as this sensory reward is the same reason children love play-dough.
Toddlers are at an age where they’re learning to piece cause and effect together. This behaviour could be a way of them testing what they can achieve. For example, they get to delay bedtime or get lots of attention.
It’s naturally upsetting to see your child do this, it’s not the most pleasant thing to clean up. The important thing is to stay very calm and give them as little attention as you can manage. By all means, clean the mess, and your child, but provide minimal interaction. Remember, your child could be trying to warrant attention, so you don’t want to reinforce the behaviour - even with negative attention. Positive behaviour deserves positive attention, but negative behaviour needs a neutral reaction.
It’s important to stay consistent with your reactions. A consistent reaction will lead to a change in behaviour. Inconsistency can lead to potentially worse episodes.
If the behaviour comes down to being developmental, then, as mentioned before, give them play-dough or something with a similar texture to play with. This will offer the same sensory reward as the scatolia, without (most of) the mess.
You may notice some consistencies with your child’s behaviour. Perhaps they’re smearing at certain times of the day. In that case, your strategy should be to change their routine around this time. Perhaps give them a bath just before the time they usually smear. Simple environment changes could lead to massive behavioural shifts.
Restrictive clothing is often recommended to reduce access to the faeces. Things like bodysuits are ideal, where they can restrict access to faeces without restricting the child’s movement. Bodysuits with longer legs make it difficult to access faeces while providing comfort and a warm layer. Another benefit of the bodysuit is that parents and carers will have the opportunity to react before any smearing takes place.
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