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How To Help Siblings of Special Needs Bedwetter Kids Understand

Vanessa and Brian Miller* are the parents of 11-year-old Emily and 13-year-old Mark. Emily and Mark both have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Mark also has central apnea and stops breathing several times during the night. Both children are also chronic bedwetters.

Mark's incontinence problems were compounded by the fact that he wandered the house at night. Often he would wake up on the living room couch, where he would wet the furniture. While the Millers sought professional help, they also pursued a practical solution: absorbent undergarments. The results have been wonderful for both Emily and Mark. "I love it!" says Vanessa Miller. "They can go on sleep-overs with no worries about being embarrassed."

"It's Not Your Fault"

The Millers openly discussed the bedwetting issue with their children, and say it is a critical part of searching for a solution. "I think self-esteem is such a huge issue here," Miller says.

According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), the worst thing parents or caregivers can do is punish a child who wets the bed. "Children, particularly special needs children, are not being rebellious by wetting the bed," says Ray Blackstock of the Michigan-based NKF Patient and Family Council.

"The worst thing parents can do is humiliate or ridicule a child," Blackstock warns. "It could leave psychological problems that will stay with the child all their life." He adds that children are generally more accommodating than adults to try remedies such as absorbent undergarments or other solutions that help prevent bedwetting. "Kids often [bedwetting] better than the parents do," Blackstock says. Using disposable undergarments helps boost self-esteem since the child no longer feels guilty about having to wake the parent to change sheets or do laundry.

Michael P. Hayes, Ph.D., a psychologist in Traverse City, Mich., suggests that parents should broach the subject with the incontinent child's siblings as well. "Children should be able to understand what is happening to their sibling, and parents should give them as much awareness of the problem as to be helpful," says Hayes. He urges parents to be supportive and nurturing and impress on the incontinent child – as well as the siblings – that they are OK. "Tell your children that everyone has some type of difficulty; no one is perfect," Hayes says.

Support From Siblings

Mary and John Warner's 10-year-old son, Jake, struggles with autism and epilepsy. "We remind him to go to the bathroom before bed, just like we do to his sisters," Mary Warner says.

When Jake does wet the bed, the Warners don't make a big fuss about it – and neither do his sisters. "We'll talk more about changing the bed than the actual wetting," Mary Warner says. The Warners assure Jake that he is OK and help him clean up, and explain the situation to his sisters. "They realize Jake has no control over his bedwetting," Mary Warner says. "Our son has so many other things to worry about, like fitting in at school and trying to speak in a way that others understand, that we try to keep his home life as stress free as possible." Jake's sisters simply accept that Jake has special needs. "They don't think he's very unusual at all," Mary Warner says.

Hayes advises parents to discuss the issue with the siblings of an incontinent child privately in an informal, yet honest, way. Explain to the siblings that this is something their brother or sister cannot control. "Siblings can be given suggestions as to how to be sensitive to the problem and how they can support their sibling," Hayes says. Try some role-playing and ask the non-bedwetter to pretend he woke up wet. How would he feel? How would he like to be treated? Although siblings will inevitably tease each other, it shouldn't be tolerated where bedwetting is concerned. Instead, focus on support and understanding, not disapproval of the child.

Ways to Help on Wet Mornings

Gary and Beth Olman remember the days when their now-adult mentally impaired son, Roger, wet the bed. "When he was old enough, around 10 or 12, he would change the sheets himself when he woke up wet," Beth Olman says. Hayes agrees that children who are able can change their own sheets. "It can be a good tool to promote responsibility and ownership of the bedwetting," Hayes says. For Roger, it was a small sense of control over his bedwetting because he no longer needed to wake his parents for help.

Using absorbent products eliminates wet mornings and makes them good mornings for not only the child – but also the parent. Talk to your child's doctor and discuss what options are available. GoodNites absorbent underpants may be beneficial for your child, and most insurance companies will cover the cost of absorbent underpants.

Check out www.goodnites.com/sn for coupons and more information on bedwetting. Also visit the National Kidney Foundation Web site at www.kidney.org. Click on the "Patients" link to find a Patient and Family Council in your area.

* Names of parents and their children have been changed.

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