It’s a common problem, with about one in three parents saying that their child has been constipated at some point. In addition to obvious signs – painful or infrequent pooing (fewer than three times a week) – there are other symptoms and initial indications: examples include a bad temper and lethargy, stomach pain, foul-smelling wind, and dry or hard stools. Diarrhoea can also be a sign of constipation: the hardened stool blocks the child’s bowels, so only watery poo can pass.
To maintain healthy digestion, children need a high-fibre diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholemeal products and pulses. Fortunately there are ways you can encourage your children into eating healthy food: Sources of fibre that kids tend to enjoy include (lowsugar) popcorn. Yogurt also provides long-lasting support to the digestive system.
It’s a good idea to encourage your child to use the toilet first thing in the morning and after every meal or snack. Particularly for a younger child, you may get better results by telling, not asking. Instead of suggesting, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” you could simply say, “Time to go to the bathroom now.”
As with you as an adult, there can be many causes of constipation in children: its not uncommon for children to simply hold the poo back – for example because they don’t like using the toilet in certain places, they are anxious because of potty training at home or they have had constipation before and remember the pain. Other possible causes could be a lack of fibre in their diet, not drinking enough water, or the side effects of medication.
Drinking enough is also important – so long as it’s primarily water, teas and fruit juices with fizzy water. Don’t outspend yourself trying to keep your child away from sugary drinks, soft drinks and milkshakes completely. The best you can do is making tasty, healthy alternatives available.