Poop might not be a topic for the dinner table, but it is an important part of your child’s health. Every day, more than 50,000 kids struggle with constipation, sometimes resulting in tears, pain, and fear. “Constipation is incredibly common among kids, particularly during potty-training years, but it can continue right up until they are teens,” says Steven Hirsch, M.D., founder of Hirsch Pediatrics in Rockville, MD. If not treated promptly, constipation issues can linger, both physically and psychologically. But with a little insight and a few simple strategies, you can get your child back on a healthy track.
What Causes Constipation?
Poop problems can be caused by dehydration or diet, but the truth is, some kids are simply more prone than others, says Dr. Hirsch. Make sure your child drinks at least five to eight glasses of water a day and include at least one serving of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables at every meal. Also, limit fatty foods such as whole milk and cheese, which can contribute to constipation.
Other triggers include illness (constipation can be a side effect of some medications) and simply “holding it in,” which potty-training kids are susceptible to as they figure out how to control their bodily functions. Older kids may refuse to have bowel movements at school out of embarrassment, and that can lead to problems, too. Bottom line: “The longer a child forcibly tries not to poop, the harder pooping becomes,” says Dr. Hirsch.
Spotting a Problem
Identifying constipation isn’t as simple as counting the number of times a day or week your child poops. The appearance of the stool itself matters, too: “If it’s hard, excessively large, or comes out in small pellets, it’s a sign of constipation, even if your child is going once a day,” says Dr. Hirsch. Gassiness, stomachaches, nausea and pain while pushing are also indicators. So is bedwetting: “A back-up of stool in the colon can put pressure on the bladder, leading to accidents,” says Dr. Hirsch. Once kids are older, you won’t necessarily see the evidence, so if you suspect your child is constipated, ask to take a peek before he flushes.
Easing Potty Pain
If your child is constipated, a pediatric laxative, such as Pedia-Lax, can provide relief. Waiting it out or trying to solve the issue by changing her diet rarely works at this stage, says Dr. Hirsch. Laxatives come in different forms—chewable tablets, liquids, suppositories, and enemas—and which one you choose depends on your child’s age and what’s easiest for her to take. Your doctor can help you find the right product and advise on the best length of treatment.
Conquering Poop Phobia
Once a child experiences discomfort attempting to go #2, she may be more hesitant the next time around, leading to increased constipation. A few things you can try to break the cycle of fear:
Praise, praise, and praise some more. Just as you do during potty training, heap praise and congratulations on a child who successfully poops, despite her apprehension. The more pain-free reps you can stack up, the less the fear.
Offer prizes. A little extra reward can go a long way. A new book, sparkly stickers, or an extra half-hour of tablet time are all good options.
Keep your smile and a sense of humor. Poop problems can be embarrassing, especially for school-age kids. Sympathize, but don’t dwell on it. Let her know it’s something a lot of kids go through—no big deal!