Make Your Child Feel Better About Bedwetting
Parents praise children with "Great hit!" or "Way to go!" after a line-drive double in a baseball game. How many times have you told your child what a great job she did on the math test, or how creative the clay sculpture is that she did in art class? For children who wet the bed, the right phrase can keep them in positive spirits and help boost their self-esteem.
Amy Scranton's son did not have a dry night until he was 6 1/2 years old. Now 7 1/2, he still has some wet nights. She feels it's important to encourage with positive phrases because you want to give the child a sense of confidence that they can do it. "But it's also equally, if not more, important to explain that much of what is causing them to wet the bed isn't something they can physically control," says the mom from Gilbert, Ariz. "Most kids don't want to wet the bed and would stop if they knew how; it's a matter of maturing into it."
Here are 5 phrases to make your child feel better about bedwetting while waiting for those dry nights. "These statements are helpful because they can really empower the child to face a problem in their life without it becoming all encompassing," says Tonya Freymiller-Hazen, a psychotherapist at the Family & Children's Center in La Crosse, Wis.
1. It's not your fault.
Bedwetting, which can be caused by genetics, physiological or environmental factors, is not the child's fault, but children may have a hard time believing this.
"Children cannot rationalize or think through things the way adults can, and as a result, feel most things are their fault," says Dr. Gretchen Phillips, a hospitalist with Fairview Hospitals and a private practice family physician at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minn. "We often don't even realize they are taking blame for things because to us it just doesn't make sense. Helping a child understand that their bedwetting is a medical concern can ease the pressure they put on themselves to fix it."
Judsen Culbreth, parenting expert and former editor-in-chief of Working Mother and Parent&Child magazines, agrees. "Children have a very fine-tuned sense of shame," she says. "Blaming them for something that isn't their fault can deeply scar them and have a long-lasting effect. Parents need to reassure their children that this isn't something they can control, but there are ways to manage bedwetting." She suggests saying to the child, "Your body isn't ready and it will be at some point – this is just like any other developmental stage, such as loosing teeth."
Freymiller-Hazen feels that children need to be explained why it is not their fault. "Children need a lot of reassurance through this period of time, especially for older children," she says. "Along with this statement it may be beneficial for children to understand the different reasons why children wet (sound sleepers, body growing too quickly, weak sphincter muscle, etc.). Children generally want to please those around them and they may take on more stress if they feel that [it] is their fault."
2. You will outgrow it.
Scranton agrees with this phrase. "I've come to realize that bedwetting is something that kids just need to mature out of – both physically and sometimes emotionally," she says.
Children are keen on growing, and referencing past examples of growth will help them associate bedwetting with growth and development, Culbreth says. "A parent might say, 'Remember last year when we measured your height and you were only this tall? Now look at you! This will happen with bedwetting too,'" she says.
While it is important for children to realize that their bedwetting will not go on forever, Freymiller-Hazen reminds parents that children grow at different rates. "The amount of time that this problem lasts is different for each child," she says. "This statement helps reiterate that it is not their fault and though they may not have control over how long it lasts, they can control how they deal with it."
Dr. Dawn Huebner, psychologist and author of What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (Magination Press, 2006), says the best predictor of when a child will be able to stay dry through the night is when others in the family who wet (parents, uncles, cousins) became dry, but cautions on giving too many details. "There is no need to tell your 7-year-old that he is likely to wet until he is 11 (if that has been the family pattern)," she says. "Simply stick with the fact that he will outgrow it when his body is ready."
3. I'm proud of you.
Kids will do anything to make adults, and even other kids, proud of them. "They cherish achievement," Dr. Phillips says. "When they have a dry night, they are hesitant to be proud of themselves, often fearing the success will be short lived. When we reinforce the pride they have, they take more stock in it and continue to engage in the effort of beating the bedwetting problem. Additionally, we should do what we can for them to feel proud of themselves, rather than seeking external reward." She recommends saying, "I bet you're so proud of yourself for staying dry!"
Adelaide Zindler, family life strategist and author of Fearless Parenting (David Bauer Press, 2008), suggests parents add more to this phrase. "While this is an affirmation statement, be sure to add something valuable that you are proud of, such as how well they are able to handle stress in general, how they went potty all day, so that they are not confused by this statement and the bedwetting that is being addressed," she says.
Huebner agrees. "Kids do need to hear this, but not in relation to staying dry, which is outside of their conscious control," she says. "Parents can and should be proud of kids for their accomplishments (making the soccer team, doing something without being asked), but saying 'I'm proud of you' for staying dry is a little like saying 'I'm proud of you' for growing into a size 6 shoe (it isn't very meaningful). It is helpful to express pride in your child's cooperation with a bedtime plan (i.e., remembering to go to the bathroom before getting into bed or getting out of bed to pee if the child wakes up in the night), so these ways of taking responsibility/using strategies can be praised, rather than the fact of dryness itself."
4. We can do it together.
Most people feel comforted when they know someone is on their side, and this is especially important for children who wet the bed. "When children know that they have the support of other people it does not make the problem seem so overwhelming," Freymiller-Hazen says.
"How powerful!" says Zindler of the phrase. "I refer to this as level III listening. It is a form of collaborative parenting that tells the child they are not alone and that their greatest hero has come to their rescue. Now that's more powerful then Superman any day!"
Huebner, however, would modify the statement a bit to something more along the lines of "I'm on your side." "Kids need to know that their parents aren't blaming them or keeping score or punishing them about wetting," she says. "Instead, kids and parents are on the same team, creating both daytime (bladder retention training) and nighttime (limiting beverages, voiding before bed, wearing a PULL-UP®, using a bed pad, etc.) plans that move kids in the direction of nighttime dryness while recognizing that kids can't stay dry by willpower/effort alone (their bodies need to be ready, too!)."
5. I love you.
Kids feel not only embarrassed, but also as if they are letting their parents down, especially if parents make a big deal about monitoring wet/dry nights or express frustration about needing to change the bedding. "Making clear that you know your child isn't doing this on purpose and staying both calm and low-key are essential," Huebner says. "Saying 'I love you' underlines for kids that they aren't defined by their bedwetting, anymore than they are defined by how straight their teeth are growing in or how good they are at math. Saying 'I love you' helps kids to feel cherished and safe."
Zindler says this phrase is most important in regards to bedwetting when something disruptive has occurred. "It lets the child know that no matter what may have happened they have not diminished the love their parents have for them," she says. "Another level III response indeed!"
Understanding how we can be angry and still love someone is very difficult for a child, Dr. Phillips says. "When something bad happens, he immediately assumes we as adults are going to stop caring about him because he is having trouble and may be causing us trouble," she says. "The reassurance that we do love them, no matter what, can instill confidence in a child, no matter what challenge he is facing."
Beating bedwetting is not a one-time problem with an easy fix. "Ongoing reassurance and building a trusting relationship with our children is crucial to bringing the bedwetting to an eventual end," Dr. Phillips says. "The more anxiety a child faces about his bedwetting and the more isolated he feels, the more likely he is to continue wetting the bed or hiding his concerns, fear and shame."