When Your Child Just Cant Go

There is a way to break the painful cycle of your kid's constipation. Keep reading.

Pooping can literally be the hardest part of life for some children. From birth, his bowel movements resembled little pellets, unlike the soft mustardy ones that his older brother, Jake, once had. Just before Ryan turned 5 and we wanted to potty train him, things got much worse. Every night, he'd scream from belly pain, and occasionally he'd pass small, watery poops.

In retrospect, I feel foolish for not realizing what was going on-after all, I am a doctor. My wife and I finally learned the poor kid was so constipated that only a little liquid waste could leak around the concrete-like mass of poop lodged in his intestines, a condition called appetite because of his stomach pain, Ryan started to lose weight.

My wife and I knew things were really bad when our evening conversations regularly focused on his bowel habits. One night.

• Here's a shocking statistic: 50 percent of electricity used to power home electronics is consumed when machines are turned off, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Imagine what's happening at schools. Ask the teacher if students can take turns being a weekly energy monitor, to make sure that computers are unplugged and lights turned off when not in use - usually at lunch or recess time and the end of the day.

• To save energy, talk to the school administration about replacing incandescent lightbulbs with fluorescent ones. Want to go a step further? A 1999 study conducted by the building-energy-efficiency consultancy firm Heschong Mahone Group found that students whose classrooms received the most daylight performed 20 percent better on math tests and 26 percent better on reading tests than kids in rooms with artificial light. Consider organizing a fund-raiser so your school can install skylights.

When Your Child Just Cant Go

• Make signs for your child's teacher to post above the sinks that read: Don't forget to turn the faucet off all the way! For kids who can't read yet, use pictures or symbols.

• Go to greenschools.net for all sorts of tools and resources to help you take meaningful action.

Clear the Air

Are you concerned about how much classroom time your child has been missing because of sick days? Think about the air he's breathing at school. Mold, lead paint, and chemical cleansers are all major contributors to what the EPA calls poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). The American Lung Association has found that schoolchildren miss more than 14 million school days a year because of asthma exacerbated by poor IAQ.

When her 8-year-old son, Liam, developed asthma. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, mom Lindsey Carmichael decided to find out everything she could about the disease's triggers. She learned that many of the cleaning products commonly used by schools contain toxic chemicals that linger in the air and are particularly threatening to a child's developing respiratory system. I knew I had to get that stuff out of my son's classroom, says Carmichael. whose research inspired her to earn a master's degree in public health and write Greening Your Family. She and a group of like-minded class moms donated enough nontoxic cleaning supplies to replace the old, harmful ones. She wanted to make the change permanent for the entire school, however, so she presented her case to the Wellness Committee. If all goes as planned, the switch to safe cleaning products will be implemented throughout her entire school district for the 2010-2011 school year.

The air kids breathe affects their brain as well as their lungs. Studies show that low IAQ actually lowered IQ. EPA research indicates that indoor air pollutants can reduce kids' ability to perform mental tasks involving memory, calculation, and concentration, says Christopher Gavigan, executive director of Healthy Child Healthy World, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about preventing kids' exposure to harmful chemicals.

Improving air quality is essential to creating a healthy learning environment, and encouraging our schools to switch to nontoxic cleansers is an easy, commonsense place to start, says Gavigan. In fact, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, and New York already have laws in place requiring green cleaning - the use of nontoxic cleansers and high-efficiency equipment such as HEPA vacuum cleaners - in schools. Legislators in Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, and Hawaii passed green clean schools bills in 2009.


• Join the board or Wellness Committee (any school that receives federal funding for a lunch program is mandated to have one) at your child's school to make your voice heard.

• Some plants are known for removing specific chemicals from the air. Make a gift of a Boston fern, a rubber plant, a philodendron, or a spider plant to your child's classroom.

• Ask your school what cleaning supplies are used. Talk to other parents and approach the administration about switching to green cleaning products. Look for products with an EcoLogo or Green Seal label. These two organizations identify products and services that are more environmentally responsible. For a list of approved green cleaning products, visit greencleaning.ny.gov/Products.asp.

• Outdoor air quality is important too. Pollution from idling cars and buses can negatively affect children's lung growth and development. Kids breathe, on average, 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults so they are more susceptible to toxins. Set up car-pool groups or encourage kids to ride their bike to school. Go to earthday .net for information on how to start a No Idling campaign.