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3 Steps to Treat Constipation in Children

Most kids will experience constipation at one point or another, but occasionally. it can become a chronic--and very frustrating--medical issue for parents to deal with. Here are 3 steps to help your child overcome constipation.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
Episode #164
potty training

Step 2: Maintenance Dietary Changes

Now, you got junior to poop--now what? If he returns to his previous habits (nutritional and/or withholding behaviors,) the same issue will recur, and before you know it, you’ll simply feel too pooped out to deal with it once again (no pun intended!) So here are some dietary do’s and don’ts that doctors often recommend instilling in your child’s daily routine:

Do’s: 

  • Dietary fiber: have 5 servings of fruits and/or veggies a day; kids may also need supplemental OTC fiber (like Metamucil or Benefiber)
  • Fruits/Veggies with higher sources of fiber: pick apricots, prunes, plums, raisins, peas, beans, broccoli
  • Avoid bananas: they can be more constipating for some
  • 100% whole wheat products (bread, pastas, tortillas, etc.)
  • Fiber-fortified cereal
  • Use brown rice instead of white rice
  • Non-absorbable carbohydrates (meaning, they stay in the gastrointestinal tract and take water along with it to keep the poop softer): prunes, pears, apple juice
  • Drink more water
  • Increase physical activity: this helps get the colon moving, too.

Don’ts: 

  • White carbohydrates and simple sugars (sweets, white bread, sodas, etc)
  • Fast food: limit to no more than once a week

Step 3: Behavioral Modification

So now that your child emptied out the rectum, and you’ve re-vamped his diet completely, and may be continuing the Miralax for the time being, there’s still one more vital step: you’ve got to get him to change some of the poop-holding behavior. This may be the most challenging step, but here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Create a big chart and hang it up somewhere visible to your child (and not all your house guests!)
  • Find a reward system: for every poop, he gets a star on the chart. And if he gets x number of many stars, he gets to pick out a new toy at the store. Or something similar--you get the idea
  • Then have him sit on the toilet for 10 minutes after every meal and after bath time. If he poops, reward him with a star. If he doesn’t, pat him on the back or give him a high-five for giving it a try (whatever you do, don’t punish.)

Results will be gradual, so please don’t expect an overnight success story. Avoid any negativity, and stay positive throughout the process. There may be relapses along the way, so please don’t get discouraged--and don’t discourage your child.

Once you’ve reached success, and your child is having normal, soft stools daily, then we typically recommend weaning off of the Miralax rather than abruptly halting its use. Talk to your doctor about the best way to go about this.

A referral to a gastroenterologist can be considered if the child has any red flags for possible organic causes of constipation, and/or if using the above treatment tips do not improve symptoms.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Photos of constipation cartoon and kid with stomach ache courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD
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