Constipation can be a traumatic and less than pleasant experience for the best of us, but when a child gets constipated it can completely alter their perception of a happy bathroom experience. It can also be stressful to the parent ;no one wants to see their child in pain or discomfort.
Why is my child constipated?
Constipation is a very common ailment among children and is mostly an ‘idiopathic (no-known root cause) symptom. Most of the time child constipation can be due to a poor diet,an inactive lifestyle or other underlying problems such as:
- Withholding their stool because it’s too painful or a fear of the toilet itself
- Side effects of other medications
- Ignoring/avoiding the urge to go
- Not drinking enough water (please see diagram to the right for RDA for children)
- Lactose intolerance is usually a misdiagnosed cause of constipation in children.
How to tell if my child is constipated?
- They have a bloated tummy
- They generally unwell
- Loss of appetite
- They complain of it hurting when they try to go to the toilet
- Signs of holding can be, sweating, holding their breath, crossing legs, clenching their bottom or turning red and tensing
- Mood swings
- Soiled or liquid stool in their underwear or diaper (if it looks like smeary water, it could be blockage)
How to treat my child’s constipation?
If this is a one-off situation you need to handle the situation carefully to prevent a re-occurrence. For me, I don’t like the idea of giving children laxatives as this usually feeds the problem long term by making the bowel become lazy and therefore you will have a constipation cycle on your hands (however I do understand the need for them in some cases). Simple diet and lifestyle changes such as drinking more water, eating more fiber and eating less sugar are usually quite effective, along with increasing their exercise. If after a day or two this hasn’t worked, then I suggest you consult your doctor, so they prescribe a suitable stool softener.
My child say’s it hurts to go, but they have soiling?
Faecal impaction (a stool too large to pass) is a result of constipation that hasn’t been treated and the stool has become large, dry and painful to pass. However, if the case is serious, the child may experience, what looks to be diarrhea, but in fact, softer stool seeping around passed the blockage. At this time you will need to go to the doctor in which he may prescribe a stronger laxative or administer an enema in order to the clear out of the bowel.
How to make the bathroom a happy place…again
Remember, after your child experiences an episode of constipation they will probably feel scared and uncomfortable in the bathroom. Your role as the parent is to comfort them and make them feel safe. Show them how the tummy works and how poop happens. Make the toilet a happy and relaxed experience. If they see you panicking or telling them that they are being naughty and punishing them, for not going to the toilet, this will make the situation worse and frighten them even more (trust me I’ve seen it happen). You can start by telling them stories of how everyone and everything poops, while potty training or training them to use the ‘big’ toilet. There are in fact there’re many story books with pictures to tell moral stories of toilet time (See below). Also, make it a routine that they use the toilet every morning and after every meal time and snack, this will also get their bowel into a routine.
Maintaining a healthy gut
Diet is the key to prevent constipation long term. Educating your child on the importance of fruits and vegetables is a really important part of developing their understanding and relationship with food and will set them up for later life.
You could try introducing yogurt for probiotics to help promote a healthy gut and if they’re lactose intolerant you can now buy lacto-free yogurt. Adequate exercise is also key to getting the muscles working and producing serotonin, which helps to stimulate the bowel.
Making sure you have all the elements in place will prevent your child from having to go through hard times on the potty. However, please remember that if you have serious cause for concern please seek medical advice and maybe asked to be referred to a gastroenterologist for a specialised diagnosis.
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Please remember I’m not a doctor of any kind and you must always consult a physician if you have cause for concern.