Constipation is a common condition in kids and there can be many different causes – emotional as well as physical. As a parent, the problem is easy enough to spot in babies and young children, but older kids may be reluctant to admit they have constipation. Awkward and uncomfortable though it is, constipation itself is rarely a symptom of anything more serious, and with a few changes in lifestyle or diet, it’s usually easily treated.
The first thing to note is there is no such thing as a completely ‘normal’ toilet habit. Some children poo two or three times a day. For some it’s once a day, or even every other day. Constipation means they find gong to the toilet difficult or painful, and when they do go, they only manage to pass a few small, hard stools. It’s often accompanied by tummy ache, a lack of energy and being in a bad mood. In babies and young children constipation can actually appear as diarrhoea, as the bowel gets overloaded and causes kids to soil themselves.
So what causes constipation? One of the commonest reasons is a lack of fibre in the diet or being dehydrated. It can also be that, for a variety of reasons, children deliberately resist going to the toilet when they need to. If they are away from home or in an unfamiliar environment (at school for example), if they recently found going to the toilet particularly painful, or if there’s some other form of anxiety associated with defecating, kids may deliberately ‘keep it in’.
Short term or temporary constipation usually passes naturally, but the condition can be eased by making sure your child has plenty of fibre in their diet (lots of fresh fruit and veg, pasta, rice and potatoes, and a regular intake of fluid will generally keep constipation at bay.) If the condition is chronic – ie, it lasts a long time – your doctor can prescribe a course of laxatives. As parents, the key is to keep an eye on your child’s toilet habits and take note of any significant changes.
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