Understanding and Addressing Constipation in Toddlers and Children: A Guide for Parents

Toddler struggling due to constipation.

By: Red Door Pediatric Therapy Staff


Constipation is a common issue that affects many toddlers and children, often causing discomfort and distress. However, identifying constipation in young ones can be challenging for parents as the symptoms may not always be apparent. This article aims to shed light on the signs of constipation in toddlers and children aged 4-7, emphasizing the leading symptom of bowel leakage and its connection to constipation. We will also explore how constipation can contribute to bedwetting and accidents and discuss several ways parents can help alleviate constipation in their children. Additionally, we will highlight the role of Physical and Occupational Therapists as valuable resources for advice and services to address constipation-related issues in children.

Recognizing the Signs

One of the most common signs of constipation in toddlers and children is bowel leakage. Many parents may not immediately recognize this as a symptom of constipation, assuming it indicates a different issue. However, bowel leakage or smearing in the underwear often occurs when stool backs up in the intestines, causing softer, liquid stool to leak around the hard, impacted stool. It is crucial for parents to be aware of this connection and consider constipation as a potential cause.

The Link between Constipation and Bedwetting/Accidents

Constipation can contribute to bedwetting and accidents in children, particularly when daytime accidents occur alongside bedwetting. The presence of constipation may interfere with the child’s ability to sense and control their bowel movements fully. As a result, the child may experience unexpected accidents, both during the day and at night. Addressing constipation can significantly improve these issues.

Ways to Help Alleviate Constipation:

  • Hydration: Ensure your child drinks an adequate amount of water throughout the day. Staying hydrated helps soften the stool, making it easier to pass.
  • Regular Toilet Routine: Establish a regular toilet routine, encouraging your child to sit on the toilet for a few minutes at the same time each day. This routine helps develop healthy bowel habits.
  • Physical Activity: Encourage your child to engage in regular physical activity. Exercise stimulates bowel movements and promotes overall digestive health.
  • Recognize Bathroom Cues: Teach your child to recognize and respond to their body’s cues for a bowel movement. Encourage them to use the bathroom whenever they feel the urge.
  • Supportive Toilet Posture: Ensure your child is using a proper toilet posture by using a stool or special seat insert. This helps align the rectum and makes passing stool easier.
  • Increase Fiber Intake: Encourage your child to consume fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fiber adds bulk to the stool and promotes regular bowel movements. 

The Role of Physical and Occupational Therapists:

Therapists play a crucial role in addressing constipation-related issues in children. They are valuable members of the healthcare team who provide expertise in evaluating and treating musculoskeletal, neurological, and functional aspects of a child’s health.  Therapists can offer guidance on exercises, positions, and techniques to help alleviate constipation. They may also provide therapies such as pelvic floor muscle training, biofeedback, and abdominal massage to promote regular bowel movements.
Constipation in toddlers and children aged 4-7 can be challenging for parents to identify, especially when the leading symptom of bowel leakage is misunderstood. Recognizing the signs and understanding the link between constipation and issues like bedwetting and accidents is crucial. By implementing strategies to alleviate constipation, such as maintaining hydration, establishing a regular toilet routine, promoting physical activity, increasing fiber intake, and recognizing bathroom cues, parents can help their children find relief. Physical and Occupational Therapists are valuable resources within the healthcare team, offering expert advice and services to address constipation-related issues from multiple perspectives. By working together, parents and healthcare professionals can improve the health and well-being of children struggling with constipation.