“You don’t understand! I’ve been constipated since I was a kid–it runs in my family!”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that statement! We constantly reiterate on this blog that bowel dysfunction is never normal–common, yes–but not normal! And this is true for any situation, whether a person is 5 years old or 85 years old. Recently, I’ve been thinking about that same above statement and a light bulb went off,
“What if we were to change poor bathroom habits into good bathroom habits from an early age?”
Would that help reduce the number of people who need my help when they’re older? I can’t help but think it would! So, today’s post is for you Moms and Dads! Strive to build healthy, good bathroom habits for your kids to decrease problems both now and later on!
Here are your 5 tips to do just that!
1. Encourage adequate fluid intake (mostly water!) and fiber intake
The average person should consume 5-8 8-oz cups of fluid per day–and your child is no different! Fluid is SO important for both the bladder and the bowels! For the bladder, having adequate fluid decreases the risk of urinary tract infections, encourages normal bladder urges, and allows for a normal light colored urine instead of a dark concentrated urine. As an aside, taking in too many sweet sugary drinks, caffeinated drinks, and carbonated drinks will actually irritate the bladder and could make your child go to the restroom more frequently as well as put your child at risk for problems with the bladder later on in life! (Note: Remember this if your child has difficulty with bed wetting!). For the bowels, adequate fluid allows for a soft stool that is easy to pass! If your child is not getting enough water, he or she will likely have a more firm stool as the intestines have worked to absorb the fluid your child needs for normal bodily functions. Many a patient has been “cured” of constipation simply by drinking more fluid!
Fiber is also very important to encourage a good bowel consistency. Aim for 20-30 grams of fiber per day! Good fiber sources include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, oatmeal, granola, seeds and nuts! For good recipes for your kids, check out Gina’s recipes from Skinnytaste.com that are “Kid Friendly” here.
2. Encourage your child to listen to his or her normal body urges
This goes for both the bladder and the bowels as well! Quick lesson on anatomy and physiology–We have a normal reflex in our colon that helps us hold our stool to empty at an appropriate time (Yay!). Unfortunately, if a person holds stool for too long, the normal colon response to help us poop is dampened–meaning it won’t work as well! For the bladder, over suppressing bladder urges can cause a similar issue; however, your child could also develop some problems from going too often without an urge–Yes, I’m talking to you, “Just-in-case Mom.” A bladder that empties often without an appropriate urge can begin to give urges at inappropriate times. So, go when you need to go. Don’t go when you don’t!
3. Get your kids moving!
I’m sure you’ve heard it in the news these days that kids need to get moving more! But, to take a new spin on it, encouraging your kids to move more will actually help keep their bowels more regular! Yes, it’s true, exercise is a stimulant to the bowels. So, encourage your kids to get outside and play, ride their bikes, do family walks and games– the more your kids move the better!
4. Help your child develop a bowel routine
This one ties in perfectly with our last point. Here’s the scenario:
“8 year old Mary is not a morning person. Mom has a hard enough time getting Mary out the door in the morning, and this often means eating a bagel on the way to school. After Mary gets to school, she often needs to go #2, but is too embarrassed to go and holds it the whole day.”
Unfortunately, kids like Mary usually develop constipation from over suppressing those urges! This can be helped by building a routine for your kids in the morning (or evening) to help encourage a normal bowel movement. We know that the colon LOVES consistency, so try to encourage your kids to spend some time on the toilet at the same time each day. We also know that the colon loves fluid (hot especially), hot food, and exercise! So, a good bowel routine would look like this:
“To help Mary’s bathroom habits, Mom started waking Mary up 30 minutes earlier. Mary starts her day with a warm bowl of oatmeal, then plays with her pet dog. After they play, Mary heads straight to the bathroom to have a BM.”
Yes, building a routine takes some extra time–but it is well worth it to prevent constipation in your kiddos!
5. Encourage proper toilet positioning
Yes, there is a right way to sit on the toilet. For children, most toilets are too tall and this makes it difficult for them to relax the muscles around the anal canal to help them poop without pushing hard. Kids will compensate by straining, but over time this can be very detrimental to their pelvic health. To help them out, get a small stool to go in front of your toilet seat which will help encourage them to fully relax their muscles. Encourage them to lean forward and relax on their knees. This will help straighten out the rectum to encourage easy emptying.
Then, and most importantly, make sure they have time. Encourage them to read a book or magazine and give their colon 5 uninterrupted minutes to “do its thing.” If they feel like they need to push, encourage them to breathe while they push to avoid the typical valsalva maneuver we often see. Learning this will help them so much both now and in the future! For more information, read this excellent post from my colleague, Jenna Sires, called “Are you Pooping Properly?“
What have you tried to help encourage good bathroom habits for your kids? Feel free to comment below! Here’s to a healthy upcoming generation!
Written by: Jessica Powley, PT, DPT, WCS