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Advice for Parents

When Your Child Doesn't Acknowledge Bedwetting

Julia just turned 5 and can't wait to start kindergarten in the fall. But Julia also has a secret — she wets the bed. She doesn't want anyone to know, not even her grandmothers. Her mother says that Julia is smart enough to understand what's happening, but she needs to get over her embarrassment.

The embarrassment, says Julia's mother, keeps Julia from talking about nighttime wetting, and, in turn, not talking about it is keeping Julia from working on solutions to manage it.

Many children are like Julia. They don't realize that nighttime wetting is common. Instead, they believe they are the only one who wets at night. Nighttime wetting, in their minds, makes them babies among their peers. So, rather than admit nighttime wetting and asking for help, some children deny it ever happens to them.

According to Dr. Hugh Bases, a developmental behavioral pediatric physician at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, NJ, it is not unusual for children younger than 6 to wet the bed.

"Children need to know that it is extremely common," says Dr. Bases. "The child is not alone." As parents reinforce that message, the stigma of nighttime wetting will lessen.

Like Parent, Like Child

Nighttime wetting runs in the family. If one parent wet the bed as a child, it increases the likelihood that his or her children will also wet the bed.

A good way to open communication with your child after a nighttime wetting accident is to admit that you used to wet the bed, too. Talk about the way it made you feel, and assure him that you really do understand his concerns. Also, share some funny stories about the lengths you took to deny your nighttime wetting — most kids love laughing at the things their mom and dad did. Finally, stress to the child that you don't wet the bed anymore and that eventually he, too, will stop.

While parents should talk openly about their own experiences, they need to make sure other relatives don't sabotage the message, as Carmen experienced.

"We talked about the whys of bedwetting: small bladder, deep sleep, family history," says Carmen, of Virginia Beach, VA. "I've encouraged my daughter not to feel embarrassed, as it is something completely out of her control. She still becomes embarrassed, though, especially if her older siblings tease her."

Teasing from siblings or other relatives should be strictly forbidden. When a child knows she will be taunted for nighttime wetting, she may go even further into denial in order to hide it from her siblings or whoever might poke fun.

Keep It Positive

Sometimes parents, too, will say or do things to make their children feel bad about nighttime wetting. In these cases, even when the mattress is soaked and the pajamas are dripping, the child will deny wetting the bed in order to avoid getting yelled at or punished.

"Self-esteem is really important," says Dr. Jack Cassell, urologist and author of Better Living through Urology: 21st Century Solutions to Age-Old Problems (Acorn Publishing, 2004). "You don't want to embarrass the child."

According to Dr. Cassell, if the child is in denial it is usually because someone put him down in the past. No child wants to repeat that experience, so lying about nighttime wetting is an easy way out.

The best tactic parents can take is to put the responsibility of nighttime wetting — and not nighttime wetting — on their child. In addition, parents can do things to guide her to take steps that can help avoid accidents at night, such as the following strategies:

  • Avoid beverages with caffeine, such as soda.
  • Make sure she uses the bathroom right before going to bed.
  • Provide a lighted path between your child's room and the bathroom. This could include night-lights in the bedroom, bathroom and hallway or giving her a flashlight to keep by the bed.

Dr. Bases recommends parents take a noncommittal, boring attitude toward nighttime wetting. "Be neutral about it," he says. And, if accidents occur, "Whatever the child can do should be his responsibility," he advises. For example, if your child is old enough, he can help strip the bed and put wet sheets in the laundry.

"Remind them frequently that it will get better," says Dr. Bases. "All children eventually stop wetting the bed, and your child will, too."

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