It is not uncommon for young kids to become constipated. After all, toileting is one of the three major things that kids CAN control in the lives (along with eating and sleeping). Having a child who experiences constipation can be very stressful for parents, and it is hard to know what to do. When a child is constipated, he or she will often experience stomach pain, bloating, gas, loss of appetite and irritability–similar symptoms to what we adults might experience.
I had a reader question come through my inbox and I thought I’d write a post to answer her question:
I was wondering if you have any suggestions on anything I could add to my sons diet that might help him have regular bowel movements? He is almost 6 years old and due to the fact that he doesn’t like to go at school, he hold it in and ends up very constipated. I know I have to find ways to help him get over the fear of going at school but I was thinking maybe I could add something to his food that would help to keep him more regular. He eats lots of fruits and veggies and we serve healthy meals at home, but I thought you might have other suggestions too. I have heard that there are benefits to adding things like flax or chai seeds to food but I’m not sure if those are the best options for aiding in constipation or if there’s something else. Any help you can give would be appreciated.
Good question! It is not uncommon at all for kids to “hold it in” until they are in the comfort of their own home. Many adults prefer to wait until they are at home to “go” so it makes sense that kids are the same. To be able to have a bowel movement, you need to be relaxed, so it makes perfect sense that a young boy would not be able to go at school, when other kids are coming in and out of the bathroom all of the time.
Increase fibre-rich foods (and fluids!):
It sounds like you’re doing a great job at making sure that your son has a balanced diet at home. I would continue to offer lots of fresh fruits and vegetables with skins at meals (with the exception of bananas, because they can exacerbate constipation), whole grain foods (oats, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain bread etc.) and other fibre-rich foods such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Adding a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax to oatmeal or smoothies is a great idea to boost his fibre intake a bit too.
You can try adding bran cereal (the original All Bran Cereal–the sticks, not the “buds”) to his regular cereal or to yogurt or a smoothie. Start with a tablespoon or so a day and increase to no more than 1/4 cup. You could also make some high fibre homemade banana muffins such as these. It’s very important that he’s increasing his fluid intake while increasing fibre intake.
Go easy on white, starchy foods:
Besides adding a bit more fibre , I would be careful that he’s not eating too many white starchy foods (white bread, white rice, white pasta etc.). These foods will bind the stool so that it is harder to pass and this can often create fear around going to the bathroom because of the pain when passing.
Create a morning bathroom routine:
Another important tip that I often give adults who experience constipation (and works great for kids too) is to establish a morning routine where your son has at least 10-15 minutes (he shouldn’t feel rushed) when he can sit on the toilet, relax and try to go before going to school or going out for the day. Make sure that siblings/parents aren’t coming in and out of the bathroom when it is “his time” so that he can relax, and make sure that he sticks to his morning bathroom routine consistently every morning. It may take a few days or even weeks for him to start going consistently, but once he starts going, he will be much more comfortable when at school and you won’t have to worry about it “holding it”.
Another tip that I often give parents is to go with him to school to scout out a more private bathroom. Sometimes, there are private bathrooms in elementary schools where kids don’t have to worry about other kids coming in and out. Perhaps one day when you drop him off at school, you could go 5-10 minutes early to go on a bathroom hunt (or ask his teacher if she knows of one).
Try a probiotic:
Some research shows that using a probiotic (specifically lactobacillus casei) with kids under the age of 10 can increase stool frequency and combat constipation. You can try the brand “Culturelle” which contains this probiotic and comes in a powder and chews for kids.
Consider a laxative:
If all else fails, you could definitely try some unsweetened apple, pear or prune juice (up to 1/2 cup a day with meals). These natural laxatives help to draw fluid into the bowel, making it easier for stool to pass through. If that doesn’t work, you could ask your doctor about PEG–Polyethylene Glycol (aka. “Restoralax” or “Lax-a-day”) which can help to relieve constipation in both kids and adults. Because the dosage is weight-dependant, consult with a pediatrician or family doctor prior to using it.
You may also be interested to read about what the 3 Picky Eating Strategies That WORK as well as the Top 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat Their School Lunch
I’m often posting family nutrition tips and resources on my Facebook page, so feel free to stop by!