How a parent reacts to bedwetting can impact the child's emotional wellbeing
Have you heard of The Loneliest Runner? It is a semi-autobiographical movie based on the the childhood of a boy named Michael Langdon and his struggle with bedwetting till the age of 14. In an effort to stop Michael from wetting his bed, his mother Peggy displayed the urine stained sheets in prominent view by the window, so his friends could see them on their way back from school and have a good laugh. Deeply embarrassed, Michael raced home every evening and retrieved the sheets, even before his friends could leave the school building. Michael started running to salvage the situation but this training later contributed to his athletic prowess and won him a scholarship to the University of California. Although his Olympic ambitions never saw the light of day, he went on to make a stellar career in cinema. Today the world knows Langdon as a TV actor, writer, director and producer of acclaim. What it doesn’t know is that for the longest time, Michael suffered from poor self-esteem and it took many years for him to get over the painful memory of his mother displaying the sheets.
Not all parents adopt extreme measures like Michael’s mother, but what latest research shows is how a parent or caregiver reacts to a child’s bedwetting can have an impact on the child’s emotional wellbeing.
Let’s get the basics right. Enuresis, the medical term for bedwetting, refers to the involuntary discharge of urine. Enuresis can occur during the day (diurnal) or at night (nocturnal). Nocturnal enuresis, which is more common, is of two types: primary or secondary. In primary enuresis, the child has been wetting the bed since he or she was a baby and has not gained voluntary control yet. On the other hand, in secondary enuresis, the child or adolescent (or an adult as the case maybe) wets the bed after demonstrating voluntary control for many months or years.
If your child is wetting the bed, know that he or she is not doing it deliberately. Bedwetting upto the age of five is not uncommon and most children gradually gain voluntary control. The causes of enuresis are varied, including delay in maturation of bladder function. In some cases, bedwetting may be triggered during periods of transition (such as a new school, birth of a sibling) or if the child is in a difficult home or school situation (for example, abuse, neglect, parents getting divorced, being bullied at school, punishment or ridicule by teachers).
Here are some pointers on how to respond helpfully if your child is wetting the bed:
Never punish or send the child on a guilt trip. Nocturnal enuresis happens unconsciously and punishing the child will not change anything for the better.
Choose your words with care. Refrain from making negative statements. Harsh criticism can leave a huge dent on the child’s self esteem now and later on.
Give them the facts. Explain to the child how bedwetting occurs (see image below) and how other children of their age may have the same problem.
Involve the child in the cleaning up. Never do this as a form of punishment. Rather, see it as the child helping remedy the consequences of a wet bed.
Ensure the child is not being teased about their bedwetting. Your child’s bedwetting is not a topic of conversation or a cause for ridicule. To stop others from teasing the child, you need to express confidence about the child’s ability to overcome bedwetting.
It helps your child immensely when you express confidence about his or her ability to learn to stay dry. Encouraging your child’s small successes in this direction will go a long way!
Work with your child on overcoming the problem. Limit the amount of fluids consumed after dinner; ensure the child empties their bladder before bedtime; take the child to urinate once in the middle of the night.
See the larger picture. Bedwetting is a part of growing up. Do not let an accident ruin your day or set the tone for how you communicate with your child for the rest of the day.
This article was written using inputs from Dr.Nithya Poornima, clinical psychologist, NIMHANS.