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Helping to Maintain the Self-Esteem of a Child Who is Wetting the Bed

Helping to Maintain the Self-Esteem of a Child Who is Wetting the Bed

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Updated on Aug 25, 2010

Wetting the bed can be an extremely painful and embarrassing occurrence for children. Even if parents handle such incidents with warmth and support, children may still feel as if parents are disappointed in or frustrated with them. All of these feelings can contribute to a lower sense of self-esteem in children who wet the bed, whether they do so only occasionally or on a more consistent basis. 

While parents may not be able to completely solve the problem of the bedwetting (often children simply outgrow it) or the occurrence of negative emotions, they can help to keep such negative effects to a minimum. The key to maintaining self-esteem for children who wet the bed is to discuss it matter-of-factly, as a minor problem that can be solved. Never shame, punish, or humiliate the child. Empower her to come up with and evaluate solutions on her own with your support. Other ideas for helping a child who wets the bed maintain self-esteem include:

  • Assist your child in regaining control over the situation by helping him clean up after himself. Leave a drawer in his bedroom that is filled with clean sheets, plastic bags, towels, etc. Teach him how to do the laundry or soak the sheets. Let him do as much as possible on his own. Make sure your child knows that his having to clean up is not a punishment, but rather a way of learning how to take responsibility for tidying up after the accidents that we all have sometimes in life. 
  • Let your child know that you respect his privacy, and therefore respect him, which is very important for developing self-esteem. Tell your child that you will never discuss his bedwetting without his permission, even with other family members or the doctor. Make sure that your child knows that it is not because you are embarrassed of him, or because you think bedwetting should be a secret, but rather that some things, like bathroom-related issues, are personal and private. Be scrupulous about following through on this promise.
  •  If you do feel the need to share, especially with the doctor or with a family member at whose home the child may be spending the night, ask your child first. Say, “I think the doctor may be able to give us some good advice. Can you let the doctor know what you want to work on, or would you rather that I ask him?” If your child insists on secrecy, honor his wishes, unless you feel that there is a medical problem that needs to be checked out. In that case, let your child know ahead of time that you are going to tell the doctor and why is it so important. 
  • Support your child so that he does not have to miss out on activities that he wants to do because of concern over bedwetting. Encourage him to attend sleepovers and go away to camp. Work together to plan how your child will try to prevent bedwetting incidents, such as by limiting drinks in the evening, and discuss what supports might be helpful, such as disposable underwear, underwear with moisture sensors, or short-term medication. Ask your child if he wants you to approach other parents or counselors to enlist their help, or, even better, if he would like to talk to them (or write a letter, if that is easier) himself. Make sure to include a plan for what he will do if an accident does occur so as to minimize any potential embarrassment. 
  • Many children who wet the bed have parents who did so when they were children. Talk to your child about your own experiences. Talk about the hereditary nature of the condition, which may take some of the shame away from your child. Focus on some of the things that your child is doing to control the situation that you did not do, and talk about how proud you are of your child for taking such control. It can also be helpful to talk about your feelings, such as how you felt hopeless or discouraged, but eventually overcame the problem.
  • Set up a reward system that is based on your child’s ideas of success. Write down her goals and let her reward herself with stickers or points on a card for each success, such as waking up to an alarm she set to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or not drinking after a certain hour. Try to keep goals focused on behaviors she can control, rather than simply having a dry night. Help her figure out what she would like as a reward and how many stickers/points she needs to reach that reward. Let her be in charge of self-monitoring and bring the card to you when she has reached her goal. 
  • When your child has a dry night, let her acknowledge, take credit for, and celebrate it. If you get overly excited and heap on the praise, your well-intentioned reaction could just cause more pressure for the nights to come. Give a brief, understated positive reaction, such as a quick smile and a statement such as, “I can see you are very proud of yourself. Nice job.” Then move on to another topic of conversation.
  • Look for ways to boost your child’s self-esteem in other areas. Enroll him in activities that he enjoys, where he is challenged in a healthy environment, and where he gets a lot of positive reinforcement. Ensure that wetting the bed is such a small part of his idea about who he is and what is can do, that even if he has a few accidents, he can still feel good about himself overall. 
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