This week, I am honored to be a guest on The Doctors on CBS (scheduled airdate: March 5, 2015). The topic: bedwetting. I won't give away the discussion or the controversial punishment one mother chose to use when her son wet the bed; I encourage you to watch the show and let me know what you think.
Instead, I would like to offer you solutions to help your child understand and deal with bedwetting - or sleepwetting, as it is sometimes called.
When grown-ups are asked what are the most traumatic events of their childhood, after death and divorce, they often cite bedwetting. Your child feels ashamed, frustrated, and out of control when he wets the bed. Feeling pressured, guilty, anxious, and humiliated, your child may try to hide his secret for fear of discovery, peer teasing, bullying, or punishment by parents. Bedwetting isolates your child from his peers, making him feel out-casted and socially unacceptable. Because he cannot participate in rights-of-passage, such as sleepovers and overnight camps, your child may miss the social connections so important to bonding with other children his age. Embarrassed on a regular basis, your bedwetting child prays to wake up in a dry bed for fear that something is wrong with him and others will find out.
Parents, I cannot stress enough that this is a time when you have to be there and support your child. Your child is not at fault for wetting his bed; it's a developmental delay beyond his control. He needs your love and positive reinforcement throughout this confusing, frustrating, painful, and stressful time. The shame and embarrassment of bedwetting can strip away your child's self-confidence, feelings of competence, physical attractiveness, and social acceptability, which can all lead to problems at home, at school, and in sports. Keeping this embarrassing secret stresses your child beyond his developmental ability to cope, therefore, you have to be his home team and give him the skills and support to move through this traumatic period.
Parenting solutions for children who are wetting the bed
1. First and foremost, let your child know: it's not his fault. The brain needs to develop enough to put brakes on the bladder, and this happens at a different age for each child. Wetting the bed, in most cases, is not something a child chooses to do purposefully. Rather, it is a neurological development that happens when the brain is developed enough to send the right signals to the bladder. Make sure your child understands this, and that he knows that he count on you to love and support him unconditionally, while explaining to him that bedwetting is not intentional and therefore, not his fault.
2. Engage in my Empathic Process. Talk openly with your child and together, create a plan of action. This proactive, nonjudgmental, team approach can help restore your child's sense of control by allowing your child to invest in his own solutions.
3. Reward your child for dry nights. During the empathic process, have your child give input as to what sort of rewards might be appropriate for having dry nights.
4. Change the bed together after nights he wets the bed. Approach this with love and support, and this action can help your child feel like he is doing something proactive to help himself. This can help your child regain some sense of control that was lost by wetting the bed. It is important to NOT use this as a punishment.
5. Consider trying a bed alarm. These have been proven to be quite helpful for some families, as they help train the brain to wake up when the bladder begins to go.
6. Give your child a journal. Let him know he can write out his true feelings about his experiences in this journal, that it is a safe place for him to release any frustrations, feelings of inadequacy, shame, and also feelings of pride and relief when he has dry nights.
7. Try meditating with your child. Meditation can give your child a sense of stabilization. It can help alleviate anxiety and help him feel centered.
8. Contact your child's pediatrician. Get a physical and neurological work up to make sure there is no physical problem. If necessary, and only if under the advisement and supervision of your child's doctor, consider prescriptions for medicine that can help, such as nasal sprays that can help make less urine.
What you do NOT want to do is punish your child in any way for wetting the bed. Punishment only sets your child up for poor self-esteem, poor self-worth, or frustration. Some forms of punishment, like the kind we discussed on The Doctors show, can be deemed a form of abuse. If you deal with bedwetting in an abusive way, you can create post-traumatic stress disorder and possibly even antisocial personality disorder. Punishing a child or making fun of a child who is wetting the bed will only cause your child to feel more shame, more stress, more anxiety, which can actually make matters worse.
As the parent, remember you are your child's advocate as well as his safety and security. Bedwetting usually does not last for very long, and if you offer your child support and positive reinforcement during this time, he is more likely to be able to come out of it without lasting trauma.