"My eight-year-old boy still wets the bed. I've heard of all kinds of remedies from waking him up several times a night to getting a sheet that sounds an alarm. They all sound like a hassle for me or a frightening and intimidating experience for him. Any suggestions?"
Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation
There are many reasons for bed-wetting. Bed-wetting can be the result of a developmental issue, a physical condition, a sign the child is being sexually or physically abused, or it can be a mistaken goal. A child may unconsciously choose a mistaken goal when she experiences some kind of stress, such as a new baby in the house or moving to a new location. The first thing to do is have a medical checkup to see if the problem is physical or developmental.
1. Take a look at what you might be doing to create the need for undue attention, power struggles, revenge cycles, or helplessness. Many parents of bed-wetters create this problem by nagging, reminding, coaxing, and trying to control the child's bladder. Stop! Instead spend special time with your child. Get him involved in family meetings to solve problems, share feelings, and deal with hurt feelings. Give him meaningful jobs to enhance his sense of belonging and contribution.
2. If your family is going through a change that might create stress, such as the birth of a baby, moving, or a new job, spend extra time with your child to increase her sense of belonging and significance. The bed-wetting will stop when she feels secure.
3. Decide what you will do instead of trying to control what your child does. You might want to cover the mattress with a plastic sheet. You might want to make sleeping bags out of old sheets that are easy to throw in the washing machine. You may choose to stay out of his room because you can't stand the smell. Whatever you do, do it with dignity and respect.
4. Instead of compounding the problem by using humiliation, get into the child's world. Ask the child how she feels about the problem, and how it is for her to have this happening. Ask if your child needs help or can handle it by herself. Listen respectfully to what she says.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
1. Do not attempt toilet training too early. This invites behavior problems. We suggest waiting until the summer after your child reaches two and one-half before you even start. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some children start the toilet training process on their own. Our point is don't get uptight about it too early.
2. To avoid behavior problems, take time for toilet training and then stay out of the way. Teach your child how to use the washing machine. Even a three-year-old can handle this job. Also you could teach him how to change his clothes and sheets in the middle of the night if he is uncomfortable. Once you have taken time for training, keep your nose out of his business and let him take care of himself however he chooses. He may choose to sleep in wet and smelly sheets and experience ridicule from his friends.
3. Share respectful stories about bed-wetters so your children know it can be a common problem. Michael Landon wrote a television movie about bed-wetting based on his childhood experience. We have a friend who said that in the U.S. Marines there was a special tent for bed-wetters. The sergeant in charge woke the residents up every two hours.
Life Skills Children Can Learn
Children can learn that their parents respectfully and lovingly help them learn to deal with problems that are physical or developmental. Both parents and children can learn effective ways to interact with each other.
1. One clue that the problem is developmental is if your child has difficulty with bladder control during the day. (See Booster Thoughts.)
2. Another clue that bed-wetting is developmental, in addition to difficulty with bladder control during the day, is if the child is a heavy sleeper and has difficulty waking up in the night. Don't wake the child up, try to monitor his fluid intake before bed, or ask him if he has gone to the bathroom before bedtime. Instead, let him know that some people take longer to develop bladder control, and that you are sure he will be able to handle it on his own schedule.
Here's the experience of one family: "We became familiar with our children's bladder control capabilities on family camping trips. If Josh announced that he needed to go to the bathroom, we knew we had about twenty minutes to find a suitable stopping place. If Katey said she needed to go, we knew we had about ten minutes. If Brian announced a need, we pulled over to the side of the road immediately.
"Brian was also a bed-wetter into his early teen years. We knew it was developmental and very embarrassing for him. At the age of fourteen, he was invited to an overnight camp-out with his friends. He stayed up all night because he was afraid he would wet the bed and be ridiculed. We were grateful that we knew his problem was developmental so we didn't add to his problems by hassling him. We simply gave him empathetic understanding and worked with him on many possible solutions. The funniest was our agreement that he would tie a string around his toe. Since I have to get up several times in the night to go to the bathroom, he asked me if I would pull on the string around his toe to wake him up.
"Eventually we became so unconcerned about the problem, and Brian became so good about taking care of his own sheets, that we don't know for sure when he stopped wetting the bed. I think he stopped. I'll ask his wife."