How to Help a Child Who Is Constipated

By Kathryn Walsh
Constipation is common among toddlers and preschoolers.

In many cases, constipation is a minor irritant or an uncomfortable era that passes -- so to speak -- on its own. But when you're watching your child suffer, you can't sit by and wait. Signs of constipation include pain or difficulty passing stool and failure to make a bowel movement after three days, according to HealthyChildren.org, a site run by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Home remedies and professional help can help your child get back on track.

Alter Her Diet

Increasing your child's fiber and liquid intake may ease her symptoms. Serve your child juice made from high-fiber fruits. Serve her meals made with whole fruits and vegetables and foods made from whole grains. Look for ways to incorporate these foods into her usual diet. For instance, use whole-grain bread instead of white sandwich bread. Serve fruit-topped oatmeal at breakfast instead of yogurt and add bran to muffins. Limit fatty, starchy foods and remind her to drink water frequently. School-age kids need three to four glasses of water per day, according to KidsHealth.org, but your pediatrician can tell you how much liquid your child needs, based on her height and weight.

Add New Habits

Regular exercise helps stimulate your child's bowels and "speeds the passage of food through the intestines," according to AskDrSears.com, so get your child moving with a trip to the playground or an impromptu living room dance party whenever she's constipated. If your child tends to fight using the bathroom -- perhaps because she doesn't want to interrupt play time or because she's nervous about going at school -- scheduling regular bathroom time at home may also get her in the habit of making regular bowel movements. Stock the bathroom with books and games. Each day, send her to sit on the toilet for 10 minutes or so after breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Try Home Remedies

Feeling anxious about "letting go" or straining to push out hardened stool can cause your child to tense up. Simple soothing techniques may help her relax enough to get the job done. Try having your child lie on her back while you gently massage her lower abdomen. Setting up a footstool in front of the toilet allows her to bend her knees and sit in a more comfortable position. Warm water can also help her relax, advises HealthyChildren. Hold a warm, wet cotton ball or washcloth against her anus or have her use the toilet right after climbing out of a warm bath.

Seek Medical Attention

Certain over-the-counter medications such as stool softeners and laxatives may improve your child's constipation, according to MayoClinic.org, but you should always consult her pediatrician before administering these products. Constipation may also warrant a visit to the doctor. Schedule a visit if constipation or painful bowel movements are recurring issues. If your child has anal bleeding or is refusing to let go of stool, HealthyChildren recommends calling the doctor that day. And if your constipated child has experienced more than one hour of abdominal or rectal pain, has vomited repeatedly or shows other signs of illness, get medical help immediately.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.