Bedwetting is a fairly common problem for young children. The majority of children who wet the bed are healthy, both physically and emotionally, and will outgrow the problem with little or no intervention.
Many children who wet the bed are very deep sleepers for whom a full bladder is not enough to wake them. Others may not be developmentally ready to control the muscles of the bladder, and just need a few more months of wearing protective garments at night. Some children begin wetting the bed during a period of stress or uncertainty, and the problem will cease when the period of stress is over. A small percentage of children who wet the bed have medical issues that require intervention.
No matter what the reason behind the bedwetting, the experience can be embarrassing for children and frustrating for parents, so parents need to take some time to prepare how they are going to address the matter with their child. Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when planning to approach your child about the occurrence of bedwetting:
- It's very important to try to put yourself in your child’s place and understand his anxiety and embarrassment. Think about how you would feel and how you would want someone else to handle the situation. Do not be critical or sarcastic, and do not punish your child for bedwetting, as these types of responses can make your child more anxious, which may make the bedwetting more frequent.
- Make sure that you are composed and matter-of-fact when you talk to your child. Practice what you will say ahead of time and try to imagine how your child will respond. It will be easier to stay calm if you are prepared.
- Approach your child when he is alone (e.g. away from eavesdropping siblings) and relatively calm. Be brief and to the point, such as saying, “I noticed that your sheets were wet this morning. Everyone wets the bed sometimes, and it is nothing to be embarrassed about. I just wanted to tell you that I can help you figure out ways to stop wetting the bed if you want me to.”
- Give your child the facts. Let him know that many children wet the bed, and most of them grow out of it as the muscles of their bladder develop or their sleep patterns change. Wetting the bed does not mean that the child is bad or has anything to be embarrassed about. Tell him that chances are, 4 or 5 other kids in his class wet the bed, and he probably could not guess who they are just by looking at them.
- Make it clear to your child that you are not disappointed or upset with him. If a child is nervous about your reaction, the stress about letting you down may actually make matters worse. Say, “I am only worried about this because it seems to be upsetting to you, and I don’t want you to be upset.” You can also say, “I want to help you if you want me to, but let me know if you think I’m pushing you too much and you want to try to handle it on your own for a while.”
- Ask if your child would prefer to talk to someone else, such as a doctor (though you may want to consider consulting your doctor to rule out medical problems, such as urinary tract infections) or an aunt. Do not be offended if your child says yes, and set up a meeting as soon as possible.
- Try to figure out if there is a reason behind the bedwetting that can be easily solved. Give ideas that start with the phrase, “Some kids…,” which can make the child feel like his experience is more normal. For example, say, “Some kids don’t like to get up in the dark and like to keep a flashlight by the bed. Should we try that?” or “Some kids don’t have to go as much during the night if they stop drinking for a few hours before bedtime. Would you like me to help you watch how much you drink at night?”
- Try to figure out other reasons why your child might be wetting the bed, such as change or stress. Say, “Sometimes, when I get really worried about something at work, I have trouble sleeping or my stomach hurts, and I make mistakes that I don’t usually make. Does that ever happen to you? Are you worried about something right now?” Give your child a few seconds of silence so that she can think and feel comfortable responding. If she cannot think of anything, do not push her, but be on the lookout for anything in her life that she might perceive as stressful.
- Let your child know that while it is not her fault that she wets the bed, she has the power to control the situation. Offer some suggestions for fixing the problem, and let her come up with some ideas, as well. Write every idea down, and then let her pick one to try. Approach the process like an experiment; tell her that you are going to try one idea for a while, but if it does not work, you will try another one. If a strategy does not work, focus on the idea that it was the wrong strategy, not that she is a failure or is to blame, and select another one to try. Be optimistic about your child’s ability to eventually conquer this problem.
- High percentages of children who wet the bed have one or both parents who wet the bed as children. Share your own story, if you have one. If not, think of a time when you did something you thought was embarrassing at the time and talk about how you overcame it.