Many of the same causes of adult constipation will lead to children having infrequent or painful bowel movements as well. However, the primary difference between the two groups is that it is much more common for emotional concerns to be the source of child constipation than is the case with adults.
One of the most trying and difficult rites of passage for a child is known as potty training. It is the first time that children are forced to wait to have bowel movements or urinate. The sudden attention paid to them for performing what used to be a perfectly natural function is sometimes stressful and embarrassing. Child constipation happens during potty training when the child withholds bowel movements due to stress and can cause a cycle that can lead to serious health consequences.
In addition to the standard causes of constipation like poor diet and lack of exercise, delaying bowel movements can lead to constipation as well. So, when a child withholds a bowel movement during potty training because of stress or some pressure to perform on command, constipation takes hold. Unfortunately, this may mean that even when the child is ready to have a bowel movement it is simply not possible. Confused by the sudden attention and problems with their bodies, children may develop even greater stigmas about potty training as a result of child constipation.
The other big emotional cause of child constipation is the school bathroom. If potty training had been difficult in the privacy and comfort of their own home, the added stress of a public bathroom can almost seem too much to bear for many children and the source of socialization problems. The mere presence of other children in the bathroom can be enough to cause a child to withhold a bowel movement until they get home. It may then be too late and either painful or impossible to pass stool—hence, the onset of child constipation begins and the cycle may not end without some sort of medication or parental intervention.
For children preschool aged up to 12, a stool softener is generally prescribed as the constipation remedy. Older children may be given the softener in tablet form or maybe a mild laxative. However, be sure to stay away from laxatives that use stimulants or other chemicals as they may be habit forming or cause harmful side effects. Licorice is a natural laxative that may be consumed during the day so that a natural bowel movement is possible later at night or the following morning. Prune juice is another natural means of eliminating constipation and a glass before bedtime should relieve mild cases by the following morning.
Remember that any medicine used to treat child constipation should contain only natural ingredients. Using harsh chemicals to treat constipation can cause side effects such as dehydration. As dehydration is a known cause of constipation, this can start the cycle all over again.