Poopy Pointers from a Mama in the Trenches
Mom and 4-year-old child (name and pronoun withheld to avoid future embarrassment) sitting on the couch together, attempting to enjoy a bedtime story with the child’s twin.
Mom glances over in between pages to find one child squirming. Squirmy Child denies needing a potty break so Mom continues with the story. Only seconds later, Squirmy interjects the statement that sitting on Mom’s lap would be more comfortable. Two minutes later, another proposed change: a move to the living room couch.
Mom fights her battles, so she agrees to move the operation. Immediately, Squirmy commences cramming a large throw pillow underneath the fanny and appears to do sittercise moves on top of it. Shaking her head hopelessly, Mom musters all her concentration and tackles the last part of the pitifully fragmented story. These efforts are completely unraveled when Mom suddenly experiences an olfactory assault by an unspeakable stench. The unsquirmy child begins to lose all sense of concentration and decorum. Unsquirmy theatrically propels head-first into the non-tooted-upon pillow while exclaiming “EWWWW GROSS!” followed by assigning Squirmy the new moniker “Stinky Butt.” Oh, the classy family we are! (End of scene)
This particular real-life scene was followed by a denial of poop even being in the body at all and 4 more consecutive days of the same sort of behavior.
Hey, poop can be funny stuff! Until it’s not. You’ve got some kids who are not in denial about needing to poop but are too bound up to make it happen. And still others who get so worked up about the fear of constipation-related pain that they develop a pattern of avoidance. How do we help our children develop healthy habits of this most private and essential bodily function? And for parents and caregivers who are already dealing with Petrified Poopers, how can we best help them get on the path to Doody Delight?
How it begins
There are a myriad of reasons why children develop problems with numero dos. Do you have a kid at home who doesn’t slow down? There’s a chance he also doesn’t make time for drinking enough water, a critical component to poopy success.
Or is your kid the one who eats so much garbage disguised as food (not judging, btw) that she is not getting enough fiber?
Perhaps your beloved tyke is like mine: an unfortunate blend of the two. In our case, it is a constant battle for me as a parent to chase Squirmy around trying to push the water while pleading with the child to please choose Banana Nut Crunch over Frosted Flakes. What would initially be a mild case of constipation would easily compound itself into a bigger problem. When the need to poop would become undeniable, Squirmy would have such a struggle that after awhile, pooping=pain.
And that’s when the anxiety really began.
What parents can do
Regardless of where our kiddos are digestively-speaking, we want to be proactive in keeping their little systems working optimally moving forward.
- Introduce fiber-rich new foods. I don’t know about y’all, but my children become fixated on certain foods to the extent that they eventually grow bored with eating. If you are in need of mixing things up a bit in the culinary arena, I have a recommendation: Missy Chase Lapine’s cookbook: The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Foods**.
Lapine’s focus is in overall health, but fiber is an important component in her publication. If your kids have a sweet tooth as my son does, you can even sneak healthy stuff into a place they would least expect it: desserts! Mwhahaha!
Another sneaky fiber idea, especially fitting for fall, is pumpkin bread. My brother-in-law found this recipe and it’s fantastic!
- Consider yogurt. A US News and World Reports article states that “any yogurt – not just those that advertise they’re good for gastrointestinal health – can be a good source of probiotics that help relieve constipation.” Thank goodness for yogurt. It’s always been our family’s go-to healthy item.
- Shove that kid off the couch. Physical exercise can also get the bowels moving!
- Have meals at established times and set aside bathroom time afterwards. My family is totally guilty of grazing. (As a grown-up, I got the impression that grazing is a good thing to keep my metabolism going, but there are many articles from reliable sources that have debunked this theory. Anyway, back to the topic at hand….)
There is something called “peristaltic action” (or motion) which comes into play here. Merriam-Webster defines peristalsis as “successive waves of involuntary contraction passing along the walls of a hollow muscular structure (such as the esophagus or intestine) and forcing the contents onward.” In layman’s terms, we’re talking about our body simply pushing our food efficiently through our digestive tract. An article in Sfgate.com does an excellent job of explaining this concept in easy-to-understand terms. “Larger meals trigger muscle activity called peristaltic pushdown, which stimulates the gut to clear out any food remaining in your system from earlier meals.” Enough said…I’m sold. Goodbye to grazing, hello to hearty eating!
In our home, we have begun suggesting potty time about 30 minutes after our kids finish a full meal. If they comply, I will agree to play their favorite YouTube video: The Poop Song. (I apologize in advance for this song playing in your head all night long.) This potty time doesn’t have to result in an actual poop, but rather establishing the habit of attempting to go.
But what if your child is really backed up?
It’s true: your child, like mine, could experience constipation too severe to be corrected by simply adding fiber to his diet. That’s when your doctor needs to chime in. Our pediatrician had previously given us the green light to use Miralax. Now this stuff has been heaven sent. It’s not a stimulant, and it’s not (generally) detectable in food or drink. You and/or your own pediatrician may have differing views of this sort of treatment and that’s OK.
We have also had to resort to enemas on several occasions, which are not glamorous but certainly effective at quickly resolving the problem.
In the case of our family, we are in the midst of trying to prove to Squirmy that pooping doesn’t have to be painful. It should not be dreaded. At this time, it seems like our best option is to use the Miralax to ensure that this most natural bodily function truly isn’t painful. And if we’re lucky, as it goes in The Poop Song, Squirmy may even be inspired to do a potty dance. We can only hope!
Readers, have your children experienced potty panic? What worked for you?
If you would like to read additional information on these topics, I’d recommend these resources:
Johns Hopkins Medicine: Constipation in Children
Seattle Children’s Hospital: Should Your Child See a Doctor? Constipation
**I am a member of Amazon’s Affiliate program. Should you choose to purchase the book mentioned in this article, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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