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Smearing Advice

When we are little, we all go through a development stage of touching, feeling, mouthing and smelling everything. We sit in our highchair at mealtimes and the beans, spaghetti hoops or whatever we have been given, ends up all over us, the floor, the walls. We learn what we like, what we don’t like and eventually we start eating the beans, spaghetti hoops or whatever it is, and the floor walls, and us are reasonably clean. Some children however with a delayed developmental, learning, sensory or behavioural need may take this ‘curiosity of feeling, mouthing and smearing a bit further.

Some children may enjoy the texture, smell and sometimes the taste of their own poo.

First of all, we need to think – What is the child getting from this behaviour? We know that every behaviour has a reason:

Is it the Texture?

Can we replace this texture with something else – Gloop? Jelly? Slime? Or Therapy Putty is a great alternative to keep hands busy and out of the smear zone!

Or try Playfoam unlike traditional dough or sticky slime and putty, it will not dry out and will only stick to itself. Hurrah! Don’t have to clean the walls with this one!!

Is it the colour that is the attraction? (We don’t know until we try!) Does the poo look like chocolate?? Could that be a reason? Quick fix there could be chocolate buttons ‘reward’ before or after doing a poo!

Is it the smell and /or the taste?

Is the child attracted to strong smells otherwise? Does the child like strong scents and perfumes? Lavender, Mint, Thyme…. Does the child prefer strong tastes such as Smelly cheese, ripe Gorgonzola, Sardines, Raw Onions, Garlic? Marmite? Maybe it’s a bit of both….

Could we find the smells another way – Aromatherapy oils for example in the bathroom/WC /Changing space and the tastes right before or straight after toileting? Lots of trial and error I know, but hopefully worth the scientific experimentation!

When we find a good alternative – we can try to keep those little hands busy with that at times of changing/toileting – and if the alternative of chocolate/marmite or coloured Therapy Putty is on the walls and floor – at least it smells better…. until we can think about the smearing some more and try to stop it altogether.

Maybe it is for none of these reasons…

Some children/young people find smearing to be a great attention getting strategy. They smear, we get upset, maybe even shout a bit – the drama, the excitement is maybe what is doing the trick! The child has got your undivided attention, (negative reinforcement) whilst you clean him/her up, wash the floor, walls, bedding, bed…..We know that another reason for behaviour can be for attention – whether its good or bad doesn’t really matter – its all attention.

Another thought…..does your child love the bath? The shower? Maybe the bath/shower is beside the Toilet. Therefore ‘I go to the toilet, I poo, I smear, I get to go in the bath…..’ That’s the logic…. clever little cherub!!


I don’t want to do this activity – its boring, taking too long, too difficult, just don’t want to do it, don’t like it, don’t want to go to that place…. Could smearing then be used as a way of escaping or avoiding whatever that thing is? ‘By the time, I’ve had a poo, smeared, witnessed the drama and excitement, had undivided attention, been cleaned up the activity is over – job done!!’

In the meantime, we can find other things to help – back fastening pyjamas/onesies can stop little hands at bedtime. For the cooler months try a zip back fleece onesie and for summer months  a short leg pyjama.

For daytime smearing try the KayCey jumpsuit for children or adults. These clothes are not guaranteed to work for all children, but many parents do find them helpful.

Aromatherapy oils in the home– can be useful to help make a calming and soothing environment and satisfy that sensory need for smell… or try a night light humidifier   

Skills Teaching is next.

So how can we teach our child that they can get what they want in another way, without the smearing? Can we help to teach use of Sign/Gestures, Symbols/photographs/Objects of reference. If they want to have a bath or shower, can they show us the towel for example….

Could we use some visuals to help with the Toileting routine – ‘first this – and then’ cards for example or a sequence of visuals such as a toileting fan may be useful.

If they don’t want to do the activity – can we teach the sign for ‘No’, have a ‘No’ symbol

Can we get some help from a Sensory Integration therapist and maybe a Speech and Language Therapist - but realistically that might take a while….what can we do until then…

So now we are on the detective trail – why is the child/young person smearing? what are they getting out of it? Our anti-smearing campaign may take time, it will take some patience, it may take some ‘out of the box’ thinking’ – but we parents are great at that!

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