Constipation is common in childhood, particularly when children are being potty trained at around two to three years old.
These can be tricky to spot. Your child may be constipated if:
If your child is constipated, they may find it painful to poo. This can create a cycle: the more it hurts, the more they hold on to poo. The more constipated they get, the more it hurts, and so on. Even if pooing isn't painful, once your child is really constipated, they may try to avoid going to the toilet altogether.
Your child may be constipated because they:
Find out about other causes of constipation in children.
Firstly, try to stay calm. Getting constipated and soiling their clothes isn't something your child is doing on purpose, so there's no reason to get cross with them. You may both find the situation stressful, but staying positive and relaxed is the best attitude to help your child, and praising positive steps is important.
If your child is potty training, they may be feeling anxious or stressed about using the toilet. This can cause them to hold in their poo and lead to constipation. Give your child plenty of time to use the toilet while they are still learning. Encourage them when they do use the toilet. Some parents find a reward chart works. If you think your child is having difficulty with toilet-training, you can also chat to your health visitor.
If your child remains constipated despite the measures listed above, take them to their GP who can decide if they need medicines. The treatment for constipation depends on your child’s age. The longer your child is constipated, the longer it can take to get back to normal, so make sure you get help early.
Laxatives are often recommended for children, alongside diet and lifestyle changes.
It may take several months for the treatments to work, but keep trying until they do. Remember that laxative treatment may make your child's overflow soiling worse for a time before it gets better so consider the impact e.g. on school/planned trips.
Once your child's constipation has improved, it's important to stop it coming back. Your GP may advise that your child keeps taking laxatives for a while to make sure their poo stays soft enough to push out regularly: the medicines are safe and don’t cause a lazy bowel.
NHS Choices info on constipation in children
Contact the ERIC helpline on 0845 370 8008, Monday to Thursday 10am to 2pm, or email a question to firstname.lastname@example.org
ERIC's guide to children's bowel problems