The Right Approach for Your Bedwetting Special Needs Child
Bedwetting is a problem that many parents are faced with when raising their children. Parents who are raising special needs kids are no exception. It can be stressful on a family that is already handling the needs of their child with love and understanding. It is important for parents to ensure that they are receiving the best help and information that is available.
"In my sphere of influence, I have known parents of many special needs children who are bedwetters," says Deanna Luke of Fort Worth, Texas, a frequent speaker on the topic of parenting. "My husband and I had one daughter who was ill at birth. The doctors didn't know what was wrong with her and diagnosed that she was probably not going to live long, several times. She is now 31 years old."
Luke says that she has her thoughts on why doctors were so wrong. "I cared deeply about the outcome of her life and the quality of her life," Luke says. "That is essential. You cannot go around saying, 'Why did this happen to me?' and have the best interest of the child as a priority at the same time."
The advice, from her own experience with her child, that Luke gives parents is to choose. Either you focus on your child, her needs and how to be an advocate for her in every way – or you stay focused on yourself.
This is especially true when you are dealing with bedwetting and a special needs child. The focus can't be on how to make it better for you, the parent; it must be on how to compassionately help your child who is counting on you to do just that.
The Right Attitude
"First off, never make an issue of the bedwetting," says Yvette DeLuca, a behavioral health consultant in Glendale, Ariz. "Never punish, scold or otherwise draw negative attention to the situation."
It is vitally important that parents who are dealing with bedwetting and their special needs child do not exhibit serious negative behaviors that could further inhibit the child's development.
"If you have a lot of anger about the problem, you need to seek counsel to help you work that through," Luke says. "Anger in parents produces guilt in children and never produces a positive outcome. It is OK to have the feelings of concern, but they must stay focused on the well-being of the child."
Luke says finding a healthy way to handle those feelings is paramount to a parent. It is pointless to show anger, resentment or severe annoyance at the child or at the wet bed. If the child is unable to control his behavior, it will not help the situation to make him feel as though he is doing something bad. Children, especially those with special needs, are very sensitive to their parents' feelings toward them. If a parent shows blatant disapproval at something that is clearly not in the child's immediate control, the results can be detrimental.
"A parent must be proactive and not see themselves or the child as a 'victim,'" says Dr. Jonathan A. Slater, director of pediatric psychiatry for Consultation-Liaison Service at Children's Hospital of New York. "They should not assume they know what the child is experiencing and should ask more open-ended questions."
Dr. Slater stresses that the parent must act comfortable with the topic when approaching it with their special needs child. "A child will borrow a parent's optimism, but also inherit a parent's anxiety and pessimism," says Dr. Slater. "A parent, similarly, should not make light of the situation. Accepting the child's feelings and validating them is very important."
Parents and kids are in this together. "An important thing to remember is not to get angry with the child for wetting the bed," DeLuca says. "Special needs children tend to be sensitive to parental displeasure. Many of these children know they're different, although they may not know why."
Absorbent underpants can be very helpful when working through bedwetting with your child. They allow your child to wake up feeling dry, increasing self-esteem and creating less laundry for you.
Not So Different
"My son is a special needs child," says Cate* of Aberdeen, S.D. "He was epileptic, but is now seizure free. He is still a chronic bedwetter at 7 years old. We put him to bed in GoodNites nightly and have decided for the time being that though there are medications we could use to help him, we will not try that yet as they can cause further developmental difficulties."
Cate says she takes a similar relaxed attitude with all of her children. "With our oldest, we just figure it's the least of our problems," she says.
Dr. Slater says he doesn't like to think of these kids as having "disabilities." He feels the approach should always be that of helping a child feel special in spite of the problem. To do this, as parents, we must build on the child's particular strengths, working on their weaknesses and always striving to help the child feel that he is successful.
"Don't allow the child to feel like a victim," Dr. Slater says. "Don't allow a child to feel that he can't do something or that he doesn't have to play by the same rules."
Dr. Slater stresses that the sky's the limit with any child – whether they have special needs or not.
* Last name withheld to protect privacy.