Nighttime as Quality Time
When you have a child who wets the bed at night, the nighttime routine can often be filled with stress for that child. They worry about drinking too much liquid, they worry about making sure they go to the bathroom and they worry about staying dry. Such worry can lead to a child feeling pressure, anxiety and tension, which can, in turn, lead to some pretty sleepless nights.
Why Is Bedtime so Important?
Dr. Sharon Buchalter, a clinical psychologist, family/marriage therapist and author of Children Are People Too: Unlocking the 8 Secrets to Family Happiness (People Too Unlimited, 2006), says nighttimes, especially for the bedwetting child, should be as relaxing and calm as possible.
"The more of an issue that is made of bedwetting, the more of an issue it will become," Dr. Buchalter says. "Potty training and bedwetting can be stressful and can cause anxiety for both children and their parents. Parents should remind their children that accidents do happen and if it happens, it is OK. While parents should engage in conversation about bedwetting if the child wants to, this should not be the focus of pre-bedtime activities."
It's important to remember that bedwetting is not something kids do on purpose, nor can they consciously control it. While open and ongoing dialog is important, there is no need for repeated discussions. This will only further stress the child. The emphasis should be on bedtime routines that calm the child and create deeper family bonds.
The Bedtime That Bonds
"Bedtime can be a wonderful opportunity for family bonding," Dr. Buchalter says. "There is a special closeness that a parent and child can get during bedtime. Consider bedtime a quality time to talk to, soothe and love your child. Most kids – especially active ones – may not like to cuddle. You may be surprised that, at night, your child may want to cuddle. Take advantage of that and feel the special closeness. Use this as an opportunity to remind your child how proud of them you are and how much you love them."
Dr. Dawn Huebner, a clinical psychologist and author of What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (Magination Press, 2005), agrees that bedtime should be about family bonding, not bedwetting.
"Too often, families have so much going on that bedtime becomes a frantic time of finishing dinner, finishing homework, throwing together lunches for the next day, squeezing in baths, trying to share the news (for the first time) from that day," Dr. Huebner says. "It is better for kids to have a half-hour or so before bedtime to connect with their parents in a positive way – to talk and play and be together. Having things happen at a sane pace at home, and having time for kids and parents to actually interact with one another, is more important than playing a sport every season or keeping up on all the greatest TV shows."
Creating a Relaxing Bedtime
Dr. Huebner recommends that all electronics be turned off in the hour before bedtime, leaving time for a 30-minute nighttime activity that is interesting and fun without being over-stimulating – a nighttime walk, a family game, a puzzle, the telling of family stories, etc. Then, Dr. Huebner advises a three-part bedtime routine that she calls "shift, snug and snooze."
"Shift time" is the five or 10 minutes that provide the transition to bed – a light snack, a goodnight to all the pets, washing up, etc. Then kids climb into bed for "snug time," which can be 10 to 15 minutes of reading or talking with Mom or Dad. "Snooze time" is the last part of the bedtime routine – maybe a brief backrub or a favorite song, or a special way of saying I love you – the final two or three minutes that signals kids to close their eyes, snuggle down and fall asleep.
"The shift-snug-snooze routine helps kids feel calm and connected, rather than keyed up and hungry for parental attention – the perfect recipe for sleep," Dr. Huebner says. "At no time during any of this does bedwetting need to be mentioned." Parents need to keep the focus off bedwetting by not talking about it before bed. Reminding a child to stay dry does nothing but make a child anxious; it in no way helps them to actually stay dry.
"Once the focus is removed from dry nights, anxiety around bedwetting goes down significantly," Dr. Huebner says. "Parents and kids can plan for comfort and ease (Pull-Ups®, bed pads, etc.) and let maturation take its course."
"One of my boys was a bedwetter," says Sharon McGuire, a mom from Campbell River, British Columbia. "I know that he was calmer and less stressed at bedtime if we were calm about it. For example, we wouldn't remind him to go the bathroom or to not drink very much water before bed, because of course he already knew these things and he did them without us nagging – because he wanted a dry night."
At night, McGuire would treat the sheet changes very matter-of-factly and kept things as calm and quiet as possible – lights dim, no discussion, just change the bed, tuck him in with a smile and back to sleep. "These behavioral things were no magic cure, for sure, but they took some of the stress away for our son," McGuire says. "And that's what was truly important while he waited to outgrow the bedwetting."
Bedtime should be a special occasion for you and your child. By keeping the focus on quality time as opposed to bedwetting, your child can enjoy the time with you and get a good night's sleep.