Bedwetting Children and Their Siblings
Jamie wondered why his brother, Joey, avoided sleepovers. And he was curious about all the laundry Mom did every morning. But most of all, he puzzled over the faint smell of urine that permeated the air upstairs.
He never considered that his older brother had a problem with staying dry at night until his mom, dad and brother sat down with him to discuss the situation.
Should Siblings Know?
Dr. Paul Coleman, psychologist, encourages parents to talk with a child's siblings about his bedwetting problem. "You don't want the child who is enuretic to feel like it's some kind of horrible secret," he says. Secrets foster shameful feelings, and make the problem more of an issue than it is.
Renee Mercer, RN, a certified nurse practitioner at Enuresis Associates in Maryland, agrees, but also understands some children's need for privacy. If your child is overly concerned about teasing or really doesn't want his siblings to know, don't tell them. "Although I encourage communication, respecting a child's wishes is very important," Mercer says.
What Would I Say?
Talking to the family about enuresis is just like talking to them about needing braces. Bedwetting is primarily a developmental problem that can be corrected with time, and in some cases, treatment. In most cases it is simply because the child's bladder has not developed as quickly as the rest of his body. It is nothing the child did, and it is not something he could control. "Be very straightforward and matter-of-fact about it," Dr. Coleman says.
Mercer suggests explaining that everyone has different challenges in life. One child may have difficulty learning to swim; another figuring out how to ride a bike. Some people have a tough time with math; others have trouble in social situations. This child has trouble staying dry at night. "When you explain it like this, it demystifies the whole thing," Mercer says.
Additionally, Mercer encourages parents to share the experiences of other family members who have experienced bedwetting. Often there are parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents who had the same problem. Explain that enuresis is often inherited, just like blue eyes or curly hair. "A lot of times the kids feel fortunate that it missed them," she says.
Dr. Coleman also believes that sharing family history is beneficial. "I think it makes a big difference to the kids if you say, 'Hey look, when I was 8 years old, I wet the bed. Are you going to make fun of me?'" he says. Explaining how you felt as a child can help your children empathize with their sibling. Adding that their sibling is not the only child with this problem will help them see the bigger picture – there are millions of kids around the country who suffer form this problem.
What About Teasing?
When parents discuss the situation with the siblings, it is important that the siblings realize this is not something the bedwetting child should be teased about. "It's important to set this ground rule," says Mercer. Make sure that disposable underpants are viewed as underwear by both the siblings and the child. That way, they become acceptable and not cause for teasing.
Dr. Coleman says you should stress to your other children that this is something personal and private, and not to be discussed with other people. "We don't tell neighbors and friends lots of things," he says, especially things that can be embarrassing.
However, you should prepare your child for all possibilities. "If your child is afraid he's going to be teased, let him know that it may very well happen," Dr. Coleman says. Explain to your child that many times children tease other children, and it hurts their feelings. Offer examples, such as being called "four-eyes" or "buck-tooth" – in the same way the other children can't control their differences, he can't control his.
Dr. Coleman adds that about the only thing a parent can do is be empathetic toward the child. Don't tell him teasing won't happen, because it most likely will. In the same way, don't brush him off with a "Don't let it bother you." These are the things that bother children the most. "You'd be better off saying, 'Well, I can understand why that would bother you, but that's what kids do a lot of times – they tease one another and hurt each other's feelings. And that's really hard,'" he says. Your child may not feel better, but he will feel understood.
What Else Should I Know?
"I think the key is that the parents not make a big deal of bedwetting themselves," says Dr. Coleman. Although there will be inevitable stress, don't scold or berate the child for having accidents. Deal with the problem matter-of-factly.
He adds that you also may want to keep your other children's feelings in mind. "They might feel embarrassed, too," he says. They may be afraid to have friends over if they think their brother is going to wet the bed, or they may worry that if they are playing he might have an accident. "I think that if they feel that way, the parents want to recognize that feeling a little embarrassed like that is normal, but that it's not a shameful thing." He adds that you should let the child know that you are working to correct the problem – for example, by using disposable absorbent underpants such as GoodNites – and that the child will probably stop wetting at some point.
Jamie was shocked to learn of his brother Joey's problem, but he was glad he knew. He wondered why he hadn't figured it out himself. "Well, Sherlock," Joey said, "While I work on my problem, you can work on learning to solve mysteries."
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