Bedwetting and Genetics
It's a peculiar joy of parents when our children inherit our winning smiles, curly hair or outgoing personalities. We like to know that our kids take after us, clear evidence that we really have passed along our genes to the next generation. However, sometimes we pass along things we wish we hadn't. Parents who suffered through a childhood of bedwetting often wish they could spare their children the discomfort of following in these particular footsteps.
It's in the Genes
Dr. Carolyn Thiedke, professor of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, says genetics play a key role in bedwetting. "There are probably several causes of bedwetting, but it is clear that having parents who wet the bed makes it more likely that a child will wet the bed," she says. "Children who have one parent who wet the bed have a 43 percent chance of wetting the bed, and if both parents wet the bed, the chance climbs to 77 percent."
Parents who have a personal history of bedwetting often find themselves parenting at least one child who wets the bed. Tamara Nichols, of Dallas, Texas, wet her bed daily until she was about 8 years old. Then it tapered off and stopped over the next four years. She now sees her daughters following a very familiar pattern. "Kim is 12," says Nichols. "She wet nightly till age 6 and about two times a week until age 10 and just stopped at 10. Tracy is only 8 now and she wets every night, just about."
However, passing on bedwetting genes to your children is not a simple process – or all bad. Researchers at UCLA have discovered that parents who pass on bedwetting to their kids are also often passing on intelligence. Their study of children with a family history of bedwetting found that children who had a lower than normal impulse to wake up when needing to urinate (often resulting in bedwetting), also had higher than normal IQ scores.
Been There, Done That
Greg Smith, also of Dallas, Texas, feels that his history of bedwetting gives him special empathy for his daughter, Samantha, who at 6 years old wets every night. "I definitely feel my own struggle, and how harshly my parents responded has given me a soft spot for Sam that is deeper than my wife's," he says.
Parents who remember their bedwetting experiences as kids often have special insight into the impact it is having on their children and what they can do to help to soften any trauma. "I have been where she now is," says Smith of his daughter. "I do all I can to help reassure her and make it so she does not feel she is letting me down. I also work hard on making her comfortable both physically and emotionally."
Parents who wet the bed share advice that centers strongly on encouraging your child emotionally. "Relax," Nichols says. "Take time. Be patient. Offer your [child] lots and lots of hugs and reassurance. Relate to them what wetting was like for you so they know you can relate." Knowing that Mom or Dad also wet the bed is a powerful confidence booster for kids. Nichols knows from her own experience that kids usually grow out of bedwetting, and she is working hard to have her daughters come through it with their self-esteem intact. To help children understand more about some causes of bedwetting, including heredity, check out the GoodNites® KIDS site (www.GoodNites.com).
According to Dr. Thiedke, treatment of bedwetting is the same whether or not the cause is genetic. She says that the first step is motivation. "Parents should be certain that their child is motivated...," Dr. Thiedke says. "If the child is not motivated, treatment is less likely to be successful."
Most important, especially when the causes of a child's bedwetting are likely to be genetic, Dr. Thiedke says, "Parents should understand that children who wet the bed are not doing it willfully and should not be punished or shamed." In the advice of parents who have been there, you can hear the echoes and hard-won insights of their own childhood experience. "Begin sharing with your child your own experiences so they feel more normal," Smith says. "Always encourage. Never demean or reprimand. Hug often. Take care of the laundry and mess for your child." It's not hard to imagine the little boy he once was – or how fortunate his daughter is to have a parent who understands so well.