Young girl sitting on couch holding a teddy bear

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing stress for everyone, and kids are no exception. Depending on their age, kids may have a varying understanding of what is going on around the world, but even young children know that nothing is normal at this time.

Changes in routine are stressful for kids, and stress can cause a variety of physical ailments, including childhood constipation.

It’s more important than ever to pay attention to gut health and bowel regularity. Constipation can be an indicator that other aspects of wellness are off, such as diet, fitness, and sleep.

How Stress Affects Children’s Gut Health

A child’s gastrointestinal tract and brain are woven together, often referred to as the ‘gut-brain connection’. The millions of neurons found in the brain and the gut constantly interact with each other and both directly affect kids’ physical and emotional health and wellbeing.

The most common way we all experience this connection is when we’re nervous or excited about something, and we talk about having “butterflies” in our stomach. Anxiety, uncertainty, and stress can alter gut bacteria which affect mood, producing a reciprocal relationship that is in constant flux.

In times of stress maintaining proper gut health is more important than ever.

Stress and Constipation in Children

For kids and adults alike, stress impacts eating, hydration, and fitness habits. It’s hard enough when everything is normal to keep children on a regular schedule of eating healthy foods, engaging in physical activity, and staying adequately hydrated. During quarantine – when everyone’s routines are off – it can be even more difficult. But now is the time to prioritize wellness to keep the physical impact of stress on bowel regularity to a minimum.

Constipation can be the cause of – or product of – stress in children. Stress affects how quickly waste moves through the intestine, causing constipation or diarrhea. The way the body absorbs nutrients in the intestine changes under stress, which impacts bowel regularity and can produce symptoms in children such as gas, bloating, and reluctance to have a bowel movement.

Sticking to a regular routine is an important aspect of maintaining regular bowel movements and avoiding constipation. When children become constipated they may have a painful or uncomfortable bowel movement, and this may make them reluctant to have bowel movements in the future. Add the additional stress and irregular routine in today’s current crisis, and the risk of constipation due to anxiety and/or stress increases.

 

Tips for Reducing Stress in Children

Here are some useful tips for reducing stress in children, keeping the focus on health and wellness, and taking measures to prevent and/or address constipation:

Stick to a Regular Routine: During these unprecedented times everyone is off their normal routine, but creating a ‘new normal’ routine is healthy for adults and children alike. Getting up in the morning at a regular time (and prompting children to use the bathroom) even without school or play dates to go to is important to keep kids’ lives feeling as normal as possible. Maintaining the usual bedtime and bedtime routine is also important.

Proper Nutrition and Fiber Intake: Proper nutrition keeps kids’ immune systems strong, and during this time that is more important than ever. Ensuring kids eat a balanced diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, protein and fiber is essential to maintain gut health and bowel regularity.

It’s essential that kids consume enough fiber, especially during times of stress. Fiber helps relieve constipation, and is also important for preventing it. Foods that are fiber-rich include whole grains, fruits, legumes, vegetables, and nuts (as long as your child doesn’t have a nut allergy!). The amount of fiber that is appropriate depends on the child’s age and gender. Be sure to check with your pediatrician to determine the right amount for your child.

Physical Activity: Exercise is a highly effective stress-buster, as it releases vital anxiety and depression fighting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin (remember the gut-brain connection?). If your child is feeling constipated, physical activity also helps get the bowels moving!  Make fitness fun by playing active games outside with the family, like a pick-up soccer game, tag, hide-and-seek, and going for a nature walk.

Avoiding Boredom: Parents are also stressed, and many are trying to juggle working (in some capacity) from home, home schooling, and looking after children. Screen time with television and computers is tempting to keep children occupied. During these hectic times, more screen time than usual is unavoidable, and it’s important to remember we are all doing the best we can. However, too much screen time causes anxiety, boredom, and restlessness in children, so carve out some time where the kids have their own ‘me-time’ and engage in activities they love that don’t involve screens, like reading, coloring, or imaginary play.

Virtual Playdates: Just like adults, kids can use technology to stay connected. Especially older kids, who can get together virtually through Zoom or Skype and play games together, chat, touch base, and just hang out together.

Family Time: While our routines are disrupted in many ways, spending time together as a family is important to show kids that while a lot is different, many things remain the same. Sitting down every night for a family dinner, having family game nights, watching movies together, and other fun family times are essential to reduce children’s stress and promote fun and wellness for everyone.

DocuSol® Kids Can Help!

The last thing a parent wants to do when their child is not feeling well is to make them wait for relief.

Parents and caregivers can help young ones with constipation not only feel better faster but avoid further complications by being aware of the reasons and signs of constipation.

DocuSol® Kids, a first-of-its-kind formula, provides constipation relief in 2-15 minutes. The non-irritating DocuSol® formulation functions as a stool-softening, hyperosmotic laxative by drawing water into the bowel from surrounding body tissues, replicating a normal bowel stimulus. This unique formulation provides children ages 2–12 fast, predictable relief of constipation.

For more information please see our other resources, including family resources and doctor tips!

 

Disclaimer:

The material contained is for reference purposes only. Alliance Labs, LLC and Summit Pharmaceuticals do not assume responsibility for patient care. Consult a physician prior to use. Copyright 2020 Summit Pharmaceuticals and Alliance Labs, LLC.

 

Sources:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection

https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress/effects-gastrointestinal

https://uichildrens.org/health-library/managing-stress-during-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak