I Put Soap in the Toothpaste! – Dealing With a Child’s Bizarre Behavior

Summary: Sometimes your child’s behavior is so bizarre you simply don’t know what to do.

I’m taking care of the aquarium when my daughter comes out of the bathroom after brushing her teeth.

“I think it’s your turn to brush your teeth.”

“I will later.”

“I really think you should brush your teeth right now.”

“Oh no. What did you do?”

I walk into the bathroom and start looking around. It looks normal so I reach for the toothpaste. Just then my partner yells out from the living room.

“Don’t use the toothpaste! She put soap on it!”

“What, are you serious?”

I take off the cap and try to squeeze some toothpaste into my hand but instead a big soap-bubble starts forming. Then it pops and hand soap oozes out of the tube.

My partner brings her into the bathroom.

“Why did you do this? You must know this is wrong. Plus you ruined a perfectly good tube of toothpaste. That is so wasteful.”

“I don’t know…”

“You have no idea why you did this?”


“Ok, what did you expect to happen when daddy came in to brush his teeth?”

“I don’t know.

“You seriously don’t know?”

“I also put that stuff you use to clean the things you put in your eye in the toothpaste.”

Baffled,  I then chime in.

“Ok, you secretly put soap and contact lens cleaning solution in the toothpaste and then tell me to go brush my teeth. But then you tell mom what you did so she can stop me from using the toothpaste. It doesn’t even make sense from a joke perspective…”

“Look, don’t give her any ideas. It’s good that she always fesses up when she does something wrong.”

“Yeah, it is a rather helpful trait isn’t it?”

My partner continues.

“So I’d really like to know what’s going on with you. This whole week has been a series of bizarre behavior that I’d normally expect from a three-year old. First you destroyed the first blooms on the canna plants, then you filled you pants with all your stuffed animals after I told you not to do that because it ruins your pants. Now it’s soap in the toothpaste. You’re seven years old now and you shouldn’t still be doing these things. There needs to be some consequences. What do you think we should do?”

“Throw me in kid jail!” She says with great enthusiasm.

“There is no jail for children your age. Especially for what you did. You don’t go to jail for this type of behavior.”

“Uh…send me away to live with someone else?”

“Yeah, like who?”

“Send me to live with grandma!”

“No. That wouldn’t be fair to her. You’d drive her crazy.”

“I know. You can make me go to school everyday!”

“Ha ha, very funny. You know today was the last day of school till next year. Since you’re not taking this seriously dad and I will think of an appropriate punishment.”

So we tell her to put on her pajamas, we read a book, and then send he off to bed.

I start the conversation.

“I just don’t know what to do. What type of consequences make sense for such nonsensical behavior? She’s not even malicious about. It’s like she truly doesn’t know why she did what she did. If she was really trying to play a joke, or be hurtful, she would had let me brush with the soapy toothpaste instead of telling us she did it before hand.”

“Well at least she tells us every time she does something wrong so at least we know what’s going on.”

“I know. It’s really weird the way she does that.”

We talk for a while but can’t formulate a plan. Part of the problem is she has no real attachment to most privileges or objects. Take way her treat and she just shrugs. Restrict her activities and she just finds something else to do and never even misses it.

Over the years we’ve come to a few conclusions.

Most of her destructive or belligerent behavior is simply poor impulse control and curiosity. Mostly curiosity. She’s also not very good at predicting the outcome of her actions, so often times her relentless errant behavior will escalate into shouting or the taking away of privileges and every time she seems authentically surprised that it would lead to that. But unlike most children her age, she’s doesn’t yet have the social sophistication or the temperament to deliberately lie or hurt. When she does hurt someone – either physically or emotionally – she’s often completely unaware that the other person is actually hurt by her actions. However when children do the same thing to her, she has no problem identifying the behavior as wrong. So if it’s about you, she doesn’t get it. If it’s about her she does. She seems to be mostly blind to her effect on others. Not cruelly indifferent, just blind. Like it doesn’t exist. Fortunately, when she does something she knows is wrong, she tells us right way as if she’s proud or at the very least, keeping inventory. It’s an unusual problem.

So how do you “punish” behavior that appears to be intrinsically linked to how her brain is wired or that is developmentally dependant? Would you punish a color blind person from mixing up green and red? Is her behavior patterns something she’ll grow out of, and if not, how best can we modify them? What areas are susceptible to training and which are impervious to external forces?

That’s been our biggest struggle because if you don’t choose the right methods of behavior modification you can end up with counter-intuitive results that make matters even worse.

So what did decide upon? Nothing really. The offenses we more annoying and circumstantial that hurtful and predictive so we kind of decided to let this one slide. We simply couldn’t formulate a satisfactory response.

Daughter 1, Parents 0.

File Under: Parenting Challenges – Why Sometimes You Shouldn’t Punish Your Child – Discipline Challenges with Children

5 Responses to “I Put Soap in the Toothpaste! – Dealing With a Child’s Bizarre Behavior”

  • Andy Says:

    My brother used to do things like that. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I’m not saying that this is what’s going on with your child at all, just pointing out that there could be reasons for her behavior that just aren’t obvious to you.

    With a lot of trial and error, my mother figured out how to teach my brother to pay attention, and to realize that other people have similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences, but that they are not the same as his own.

    I’d advise any parent dealing with this kind of behavior to take a look at advice for parents of autistic and aspie children. Even if your child does *not* have these problems, you might find some things that work, or at least a fresh perspective.


  • Karen Says:

    You can try to address the bigger issue, which is her lack of self control. You can try talking to her about self control or reading some children’s books about self control. You could try to get her to see things from others’ point of view by asking her to put herself in their shoes in a variety of situations so she gets into the habit. Ask her to imagine the future for situations. Discuss various scenarios. I’m sure you already do all of this, but that’s all I can think of.


    Straight Dope Dad Reply:

    Yep we already do that. Been doing that since day one. Not to pat myself on the back too much but we are unusually proactive parents. Our daughter is very lucky to have parents that are so consistent in their parenting methods and not in denial about problems. Still, kids will sometimes do what they are going to do and there is really not much you can do but react after the fact.


    Karen Reply:

    I plan to have kids in the next couple of years and between this, the tantrums, and the not wanting to poop, you have me a little worried about it. You seem very similar to me, so it has me worried to be honest.


    Straight Dope Dad Reply:

    I have one simple philosophy that keeps me sane. Well two actually:

    1. A child can only do what they are developmentally ready to do. No more and no less. You can’t magically force their brains to make instant leaps in development.

    2. ALL children are special needs children. I have yet to meet any kid that wasn’t a part time whack job. I know plenty of kids, that on the surface, seem far more advanced than my own daughter. Their language and reading abilities are incredible, they are very well behaved, thoughtful, and considerate. And they you find out they can’t swim or ride a bike, they’re afraid of everything and have hyper picky dietary preferences. So pick your poison and rest assured that your kid is a freak just like every other kid. The “normal” kid is a myth. So don’t let that stop you unless you don’t want the hassle of raising a child at all.

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