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Children's Health

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Anxiety Linked to Constipation in Kids

Constipation and Anxiety in Children, How to Learn to Let Go

What to Do? continued...

If your youngster refuses to go to the bathroom, Banez suggests having the child sit on the toilet three to five times a day for a brief time, starting with as short a period as 30 seconds and gradually increasing to five minutes. Dr. Banez calls this 'positive toilet sitting.' The goal, he says, is to teach the child to relax while sitting on the toilet. It's acceptable during this phase for children to wear underwear or diapers, he says.

Banez also stresses the importance of diet. Prepare meals high in fiber -- possibly with a stool softener thrown in -- to promote softer stools.

Over time, a routine of scheduling trips to the toilet at least two to three times a day for approximately five to 10 minutes, especially after meals, can also help, he says. You might even consider offering incentives to constipated children for using the toilet, and reward them for going on their own, he says.

William Whitehead, MD, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says he has had some luck treating constipation anxiety with biofeedback, though he points out that studies in Europe suggest that laxatives work just as well as the relaxation technique.

The question now, he says, is whether anxiety is the cause or the consequence of constipation. "This study doesn't really tell us, but it is still a major advance, the first trial I know of where they have linked defection and anxiety directly using such a systematic approach."

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