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Children & Bedwetting, Why it occurs and how you can help

Bedwetting is a frustrating occurrence for both children and parents. Parents long for an undisturbed night of rest so that they can face their day at work, children are filled with guilt and shame at their inability to control the problem. While many children simply grow out of their bedwetting phase, there are a small amount of children who need extra help and patience.

Bedwetting, otherwise known as enuresis or incontinence, is a fairly common problem for younger children and most will outgrow the issue by the time they are 5. A small percentage of children continue bedwetting past their tenth birthday. While there are a variety of contributing factors, it is difficult to pin point one cause for bedwetting. In some instances a traumatic incident such as an accident, loss of a parent, or a break-in can result in children regressing to a bed wetting stage. Sexual and physical abuse are also big contributing factors to children who continue to struggle with enuresis.

However, it is not true that all children struggling with incontinence will have suffered some sort of trauma. Other contributing factors include;

  • An exceptionally small bladder
  • A delay in the maturation of the nerves that control the bladder
  • An imbalance in the hormone that reduces urine production during the night
  • An inability to wake up when the bladder is full
  • Fear of leaving the bed, or fear of the dark and going to the toilet alone
  • Drinking large amounts of liquid before bed

There are a variety of ways to treat enuresis. In particular behaviour modification and positive reinforcement programmes are created with the help of a psychologist. Medication can be used in treatment when there is a physiological problem and there has also been effective treatment with the use of an alarm system that is triggered when it senses wetness. Aside from these methods of treatment, it is also essential that parents help their children through this difficult time. While it is enormously frustrating to be woken up once or twice every night by your child, remind yourself how ashamed and guilty your child may be feeling and remember that this is not a conscious behaviour.

Parents can assist their children by:

  1. Reminding themselves and their child that bedwetting is no one’s fault per se.
  2. Remember that this is a common problem and that many children struggle with it. Reminding your child of this will also help that they don’t feel like something is terribly wrong with them.
  3. Don’t punish or shame your child for wetting the bed at night. Creating more anxiety around the issue will certainly do more harm than good.
  4. Make sure that your child is not being teased by other adults or siblings in the family. Try to generate an atmosphere of understanding and support rather than ridicule.
  5. Discuss whether there are other family members that also wet the bed while growing up.
  6. Maintain a low-key attitude after the wetting episodes. Try not to make too big an issue of it. Help clean it up, get a dry sheet and go back to bed. Punishing, shaming, getting angry and shouting are only going to do more harm than good.
  7. Remember to praise and positively reinforce any attempts the child makes to help with the bedwetting. For example, cleaning the bed, helping to strip the sheets etc.
  8. Praise the child for small successes such as waking up to urinate, having smaller wet spots, less frequent wetting and having a dry night!
Lisa Kunde | CFHP
Lisa Kunde

Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).

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