One of the hardest things a parent can experience is watching their child
struggle with the pains that come with conditions such as constipation.
Constipation in children is very common, and in most cases is caused by
either behavioral or dietary factors. Thankfully, constipation is usually
a temporary condition that can be easily alleviated by simple dietary
changes, such as including more fibrous fruits and vegetables in your
child’s daily diet, and getting them to drink more fluids.
What is constipation and why does it happen?
Constipation is what occurs when stool moves too slowly through the lower
intestine, and as a result, it becomes very hard and dry, making it more
painful to relieve. Many factors contribute to constipation developing
in kids, one of the most common being ignoring the urge to go and holding
it in. “The last thing on any child's mind during play is taking
time out to go to the bathroom. As a result, kids are notorious for ignoring
the signals from their body that are telling them it’s time to go
to the toilet,” suggests
Lisa Hoang, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group.
Changes in a child’s diet are also a common contributor, especially
in toddlers switching from a liquid diet to a more a solid one. “The
trick is to introduce solids slowly and ensure you include appropriate
solids that are fruits and vegetables high in fiber. You can also add
fruit juices such as diluted white grape juice, apple juice or pear juice.
Pureed prunes or prune juice are also excellent options,” suggest
Dr. Hoang. “These particular types of fruits and fruit based fluids
contain fiber and sugars which are not easily absorbed into the intestine,
and therefore pass through the intestine more quickly allowing more moisture
to remain in the stool.”
How can I stop my child from ‘holding it in’?
“It’s a good idea to establish a bowel sitting program, allocating
up to three, 10-minute slots a day where your child must sit on the toilet
and try relieve his or her bowels,” she suggests. If your child
has a time that he or she tends to go more regularly, then that should
be the time slot you allocate. “These sessions can seem tediously
boring for your child, so the trick is to ensure you give them something
engaging to do while they are sitting on the toilet,” Dr. Hoang
adds. Establishing a reward system may also do the trick. A simple star
chart on the wall where they are rewarded with a gold star for their stellar
performance each time helps motivate them to go more often.
My child doesn’t like to use public toilets. What should I do?
For some kids, withholding may not be a case of ignoring the signals, but
may be because they feel uncomfortable or embarrassed using toilets outside
of their home, and therefore refuse to use public restrooms. As a result,
they may spend most of the day holding it in, waiting until they are at
home and are more comfortable. In this instance, you’ll need to
spend some time talking to them to understand why they feel this way,
reassuring them that using public toilets is OK. “Sitting with them
in the bathroom of a place they frequently visit, such as their school,
also helps them to get more comfortable and reinforces the fact that bowel
movements are absolutely normal, and everyone does it,” she says.
What about older children?
For older children, aside from increasing the number of fruits and vegetables
they eat daily, fiber supplements and/or probiotics are also great solutions.
Although research on the effectiveness of probiotics in relieving constipation
is inconclusive, many health care providers and gastro intestinal specialists
praise its ability to help rebalance the bacterial environment in our
guts and aid the process of waste removal.
"Give your child probiotics only if they are having constipation problems.
However, if they are regularly relieving their bowels, then probiotics
are not necessary," Dr. Hoang advises.
My child is constipated right now. What should I do?
The first thing you need to do is relieve the current blockage in their
system. “Miralax is a laxative powder specially designed for kids,
and is an excellent option for immediate relief,” suggest Dr. Hoang.
“Once their system is unblocked, sit with your child and talk about
what may have caused the problem to happen. Perhaps they ate more dairy
that day than normal or have not been great at eating higher fiber diets
or drinking plenty of water- or maybe they had needed to go earlier but
didn’t want to use the toilet at school. Getting to the route of
the problem is the best way to avoid reoccurrence.”
If you are finding that even after changing your child’s diet or
working through behavioral challenges they are still having problems,
then make an appointment to see your pediatrician. They will be able to
help identify the underlying causes of the condition and develop a plan
to get your child’s bowel movements back to regular.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.