So I’m writing about poo pants. Nice. But actually, in battling this problem for the two years since our daughter came to live with us (she’s 6 now), it reflects some bigger lessons I’ve learnt about adoptive parenting – how our attitude to our children is so influential, the value of fun (yes even with poo!), and needing to see the bigger picture.
Here’s my ten point plan to putting poo in its place;
- Invest in a good pair of rubber gloves. We also have a bucket stationed by the toilet. Dirty pants get a basic clean under the tap then go in the bucket ready for decanting into the washing machine. Sounds daft but having the right equipment and a system meant I felt ready and just a little bit in control.
- Lower your expectations. In the early days I think much of my stress upon finding the fourth pile of stinking poo in my daughter’s pants that day was due to the confusion that we had been led to believe that she was toilet trained when she came to live with us. In hindsight that had only happened mere months previously and the shock of the move probably took the poor thing right back. So we had to constantly remind ourselves to expect much much less from her. In toilet training terms she was two to three years delayed.
- Choose your cleaning battles wisely. Your goal is to maintain an air of slightly ruffled nonchalence upon being greeted with those packages of poop and that’s hard to achieve if you are struggling to wipe great dollops of sludgy poo off pants while simultaneously backing away and not breathe. Double bag and chuck the worst culprits. Asda is the place for cheapie replacements. Don’t get lovely ones, it’s just more disappoining for you and your child when the Disney Princess ends up covered in a massive brown stain.
- Recognise that it is very unlikely to be conscious. We struggled with this because there were times when it seemed intentional, particularly if she could tell it wound us up. But with the benefit of hindsight it is much more likely to be down to a combination of not yet learning to control her bowels coupled with the effect of fear. But it’s an important one for parents, because if you recognise that they aren’t doing it on purpose it becomes easier not to get angry.
- Understand your child’s particular barriers to successful toilet use. Our daughter associated going to the toilet (particularly on her own) with exclusion, loneliness and missing out on fun. She also wasn’t particularly bothered by the feeling of the poo in her pants (probably the legacy of being left in dirty nappies for ages). The key to change for us all was when we accepted that we needed to accompany her to the toilet, and remind her that her toys would stay exactly where she’d left them. We also realised that she was most likely to poo her pants when she felt lonely, scared or rejected – times when she lost the ability to stay aware of her body signals. But working this all out took quite a while, not helped by our girl’s speech delay.
- Introduce a sitting on the toilet habit. This was probably the single most effective thing for us. We started getting our daughter to sit on the toilet to do a poo after her bath each night. At the start she wouldn’t stay for long, but after a while she started doing a poo (an event that prompted vast amounts of relieved celebrations!!). We also bought a special child’s seat to go over the toilet to make it more comfortable.
- Make the process fun and collaborative. I made up a story about Pedro PooPoo who liked to play with his friends in the toilet but had to be set free of a bum first. She really related to his desire to play with his friends! We also played her the Poo Goes to Pooland app. Sometimes we read her a story while she sat on the loo. All this helped our relationship too, as she started to understand that we wanted to help her, rather than just get annoyed with her.
- Praise, praise, praise be! It definitely encouraged our daughter to hear us praising her when she’d done a massive poo in the loo. We would even call the other parent from the other end of the house to see the poo and applaud! It also helps build some fun to counter the frustration.
- Recognise that regression will happen. Sometimes the poo pants returns. It popped back just last week when I was thinking about writing this blog and I had a moment of horror. But it’s important to keep the faith that one slip up doesn’t mean you’ve fallen back down the ladder. I think she had a bit of a tummy bug.
- Don’t worry about the teachers. At the height of the Poo Pants Era, during our daughter’s Reception Year, one TA was changing her about 2-3 times a day (and then I was changing her another 3 times after school). I felt so bad for her but she was lovely about it. They’re used to it. But do replenish their spare pants and wipes supplies and get the teachers a nice present at the end of the year.
These days the vast majority of poo ends up in the toilet, which makes me so relieved. I look back on the worst of the Poo Pants days and wish I’d known that with time, empathy and humour, it wouldn’t always be that way.