Constipation in preschoolers is often caused by withholding bowel movements. Perhaps they don’t like “performing” in a public washroom or they don’t want to interrupt playtime with something as pedestrian as going to the toilet. The rationale of a 5-year-old is often flawed, and hanging on to their poop is an excellent example of that. In any case, the cramps and discomfort that go along with constipation can be a pain in the butt, and the solution is often simple.
Increase the fiber in your child’s diet slowly – adding too much at once can cause gas and discomfort. Fruit and veggies are excellent sources of fiber, as are whole grains and seeds. Leave the skin on the fruits when possible – that’s where the bulk of the fiber resides. Some of the best foods for relieving constipation are beans, bran, pears and prunes. Happily, popcorn is also a good source of fiber, and one which your 5-year-old will likely welcome.
Increase fluid intake, which will help keep the stools soft and easy to pass. Water is the best choice, but drinking fruit and vegetable juices or clear soups will help, too. Don’t wait until your child is thirsty to offer water. When we're thirsty, we’re already dehydrated. Give your little poop-filled trooper a water bottle to carry around. A good rule of thumb is three to four 8-oz. glasses of water a day. One way to ensure adequate fluid intake is by examining the color of the urine (isn’t parenting fun?): light yellow, good, dark yellow, drink more water. Give your child milk, but not too much, as dairy can be constipating. The USDA recommends that a 5-year-old consume 2.5 cups of dairy per day.
Help your child relax. Being uptight can cause one of two possible outcomes for your bowels: diarrhea or constipation. Because yoga and meditation aren’t likely viable alternatives for a 5-year-old, help your child chill by just hanging out and talking. Tell your child not to worry, the poop will come. Stress that they don't need to rush on the toilet, and encourage the use of reading materials, a habit to carry them through life.
Items you will need
- High-fiber foods
- Water and other liquids
- If your child’s constipation is still a problem after two weeks, a visit to your doctor is in order. With medical approval, laxatives can be an effective last resort.
- Be a positive example: if your child sees you repulsed by the thought of public washrooms, you could be setting up the groundwork for a phobia. Instead, smile, grit your teeth and bear it.
- Avoid foods that will exacerbate constipation, such as bananas, fried foods and cheese.
- Mayo Clinic: Constipation in Children
- US Department of Health and Human Services; National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse; Constipation in Children
- The UVA’s Children’s Hospital; Pediatric Urology; Caring For Your Child’s Health: Dietary Help for Constipation
- USDA; Choose My Plate; How Much Food from the Dairy Group Is Needed Daily?
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images