Your son’s favorite pastime may be hunting snakes or tackling players on an opposing football team, but he’s still a little boy. The idea that male equals macho and that boys are supposed to be tough may lead parents to believe that bedwetting is somehow more unusual or shameful for their son than their daughter. In reality, boys are more apt to wet the bed longer than girls, and they need as much love and support as their female peers. Little Men?
Dr. Marlene Huff, an associate professor in the College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics at the University of Kentucky, says boys can feel deeply ashamed of their bedwetting because of our society’s expectations for them to be "little men."
"We hear a lot about girls being sexualized and forced to grow up too soon, but the fact is that this pressure is felt by boys as well, perhaps even more strongly because of the masculine element," Dr. Huff says. "We begin calling boys ‘young men’ when they’re as young as 6 or 8 years old. They aren’t young men, they’re still little boys."
To illustrate how ludicrous it is to call a boy as young as 6 a “young man,” Dr. Huff points out that at age 6, only about 85 percent of all children are completely beyond the possibility that bedwetting might occur. At about age 10, approximately 5 percent of all children still wet the bed. And, of that number, boys are almost twice as likely to wet the bed than girls.
The big problem with perceiving little boys as “big” is that they may not get the little boy attention that they need from their parents, the cuddling and lap sitting that, perhaps, is still available to a girl of the same age, but that a boy needs just as much. Dr. Huff also says boys tend to be less open about their emotions than girls, so they really need parents to be sensitive to their need to communicate.
"Within a male peer group, there isn’t the same level of communication as within a female peer group," Dr. Huff says. "Whereas girls may talk about various issues, boys don’t do that. Boys often perceive that they can’t be less than strong or perfect and can become really secretive about things like bedwetting that make them a less than perfect young man."
One thing parents can do, in addition to being understanding in general and assuring the child that bedwetting is not their fault, is bring up positive male role models who may have struggled with the same issue. This is what Lori Vest of Troy, Mich., did with her son. Vest says her son never saw his bedwetting as a "male" issue, but he often became embarrassed and frustrated over not having that level of control.
"I explained to him that my little brother – who he knows as a grown man – had the same issue until he was around 7 or 8," says Vest. "I think knowing that other men had similar problems when they were children was helpful to him, and to me, as I knew it was normal and not anything to be overly concerned about." Boys and Bedtime
One interesting facet about bedwetting and boys and how they differ from girls is in bedtime rituals. Dr. Huff says that girls tend to get into the same routine and boys tend to vary their schedules.
"We know that kids who have a solid bedtime routine are better able to avoid bedwetting," says Dr. Huff. "In my experiences, I’ve seen that girls have a set of activities to get ready for the next day, whereas boys are involved in the moment."
Dr. Huff recommends a consistent bedtime routine for boys that involves some structured time at least an hour before bedtime, and includes a time for limiting liquids and a time for going to the bathroom. The difficulty in that advice, Dr. Huff notes, is that she’s seeing more and more boys with overloaded schedules, even as young as kindergarten age.
"I have seen boys who have every minute scheduled from 7 a.m. up until bedtime every night of the week," Dr. Huff says. "Sometimes, these kids haven’t had an actual meal or a healthy drink until 9 p.m. because they’ve been so busy, and they went through the drive-through for dinner, and someone handed out sports drinks at practice. This is how our socialization of boys is evolving and the boys buy into it because they see their friends doing it as well."
The problem, says Dr. Huff, is that boys often can’t recognize when they’re tired and stressed. They also will often feel a strong sense of obligation to a group, as if they’re letting the group or team down. They’ll feel that they’re not supposed to be tired because they’ve been socialized not to be vulnerable. This may lead boys to decompensate, and bedwetting may be a part of that. It’s up to the parents to take control of the situation and cut back so there is time to decompress before bedtime.
"I really do believe that people who limit their activities to a manageable level are happier and healthier," says Dr. Huff. "It’s important to let the child choose and decide, but parents can set limits on the choices the child makes. Just tell them that you love them and want and need them to be part of the family. It’s also a good lesson in helping your children set priorities." Tips for Parents of Boys
- Set a bedtime routine. Include things like reading or singing songs.
- Make wise choices in how you spend your evening. Relax and do fun activities that aren’t energizing.
- Avoid constipation, which can put pressure on the bladder. This is more common in boys, and Dr. Huff encourages parents, and the boys if they are old enough, to monitor bowel movements and make sure they’re normal.
- Kids with ADHD are more likely to be bed wetters, and boys are more likely to suffer from ADHD. While Dr. Huff cautions that this is not necessarily the first thing you should suspect, if you do see bedwetting in combination with some common characteristics of ADHD, it’s probably worth discussing the issue with your physician.
- Focus on your child’s achievements in other areas. The more the child thinks he can do, the more confident he’ll be about success in other areas.