Advice from Dr. B
Constipation management relies on consistency, calmness and comfort. Let’s face it, the consistency of our daily schedules, responsibilities and expectations in our world has shifted due to COVID-19. Our communication between families and friends has an underlying feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. While our homes are normally a place of comfort and control, many of us are experiencing “cabin fever” and feel out of control. If your child’s constipation has come back or gotten worse during this challenging time, they just may need some extra support.
When managing constipation at any time, routine is key. Now that more parents are working from home and kids are schooling from home, make sure you have revised routines set in place for your household. You may want to make newly adjusted schedules and habits for going to the bathroom, sleeping, eating, exercise and communicating.
Remember, when a child has an episode of constipation, the body and brain do not forget the pain. The child becomes afraid to go to the potty even after the constipation is resolved. It’s a “gut reaction.” The key is to find ways to make going to the potty less stressful or fearful.
One tip is to find ways to reward the child for any potty attempts. You could rename potty time as something more fun, like “story reading time” or “potty fun break time.” Other ideas include bringing favorite toys or stuffed animals into the bathroom, using a sticker reward system where they put a sticker on a chart for each attempt, or singing favorite songs. You may also want to have one or two checkpoints in the day to remind them to make potty attempts. Reward them with two stickers if they remind you! These are all creative ways that you can help your kids to put good potty habits in place.
Having a healthy sleep pattern can also help keep constipation in check. When a child is well rested, they are not cranky during the day. They are more apt to be cooperative in making decisions about food and taking on daily activities including potty time. The recommended amount of sleep for children varies from age group to age group. Toddlers and young children need 10-14 hours of sleep, while teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep. Getting the right amount of daily rest is so important in creating any routine, as well as overall good health.
Does “stress eating,” “comfort food” and “eating out of boredom” sound familiar to you? The average household during quarantine is experiencing all of these emotions. We are only human! What does eating comfort food look like?
If you have not done so already, it’s time to kick junk food to the curb and re-establish healthy eating habits. A child will follow the eating habits of the adults who purchase the groceries. If your child sees you eat healthy, they will eat healthy too. Get back to good bowel habit basics:
A sample schedule could be: breakfast, small mid-morning snack, lunch, small mid-afternoon snack and then dinner, with each about three hours apart. You can make this special time with your family an opportunity to find new favorite recipes and adopt even healthier eating habits!
Exercise and being active generally help kids poop regularly. But it can be particularly challenging in this day of social distancing. “Mommy and Me” yoga classes may be cancelled. Once-filled parks are now closed off. Walking on the beach may not be an option. There are still ways you can keep your kid’s body in motion to help ward off constipation. There are plenty of kid-friendly exercise type videos on social media and online. Do some of these fun exercises with your child. If that fails, put on their favorite songs and dance around your home for a few minutes. That will guarantee to make you sweat (and smile). If you can take a walk around your neighborhood and be safe, do that as well. Make sure you get some sunshine and fresh air, even if it’s just on your porch, deck or in your own yard. Remember, a body in motion keeps the gut moving and the mind happy too!
Children are very perceptive. Even if they cannot express it, they can sense others’ emotions and feed off them. As always, they need your voice and words of comfort. Some of you may be experiencing illness now and cannot hold your child for some other reason. Make sure their caregiver can. You can write them notes, hold video calls or talk with them over the phone to reassure them everything will be okay. Remember to also listen. Let them express what they are feeling. Sometimes general anxiety causes constipation or makes it worse. Let them be heard. It helps so much.
If your child has not had a normal bowel movement in 24-36 hours and does not have fever, you can try giving the child water and/or prune or pear juice. If the child still does not poop, Pedia-lax® products such as the chewable tablets or liquid stool softener can be used as directed. If the child’s symptoms persist or worsen within a 24-hour period, contact the child’s doctor.
It is important that you call your doctor or hospital first before going to their office. Many doctors are helping and guiding their patients through telemedicine these days. Also check our other resources for more tips on managing constipation.
Now more than ever, it is so important for the whole family to keep all healthy habits in place and your immune system strong. Following the tips above will help you do that. Keep safe and healthy!