Allison Smith, mom of three from Peterborough, Ont., remembers feeling ashamed and helpless when she struggled with bedwetting as a kid. Now that she’s helping her 10-year-old son, Ben, navigate the same problem, she’s conscious about doing it with compassion. “I can see that he’s embarrassed and frustrated, too,” says Smith. “So we remind him that it’s normal and OK, and otherwise rarely talk about it.” She feels not making a big deal about it, helps Ben to feel less self-conscious.
Bedwetting is common: 10 to 15 percent of five-year-olds and six to eight percent of eight-year-olds wet the bed. A visit to the doctor after the age of seven can rule out any medical or psychological causes (especially if there have been any big changes in a child’s routines), but for most kids, it’s simply a matter of growing out of it. And while you’re dealing with it, wetting the bed can be an emotionally charged issue for both kids and parents. Here are some strategies to help your kid cope with bedwetting.
How to talk about bedwetting
“It’s important for parents to educate the child and remove the shame,” says parenting expert Alyson Schafer. Schafer suggests putting it in terms that are easy for a child to understand: “Your body hasn’t learned to listen to the message that it needs to wake up and go to the bathroom, but it will when it’s ready.”
Child and family therapist, Michele Kambolis in Vancouver agrees, and says parents can help their child keep a healthy perspective by talking to them about bedwetting during the day (rather than in the moment) and reassuring them that it’s not their fault. But she notes that parents should reassure themselves first. “It’s important to take the time to acknowledge nighttime wetting is not a reflection of parenting,” says Kambolis. “That way parents can focus their attention on helping the child.”
Parents should also share their own personal stories of wetting the bed, notes Schafer. If you have a kid who wets the bed, chances are you or your child’s other parent were in the same boat as kids, and talking about it with your child helps to normalize bedwetting. More importantly, talking about your bedwetting experience also helps you and your child bond, and makes her feel more comfortable talking to you about it, explains Schafer. When Smith does talk to Ben about his bedwetting, it’s only to remind him about her own childhood experience and to reassure him that she knows what he’s going through.
How to empower your child
When London, Ont., mom, Jessica Oliver’s son, Matthew, was still wetting the bed at age eight, she wasn’t too worried. But she could see it upset him, so she took him to the doctor so he could be part of the conversation about why it was happening. Oliver also let Matthew opt out of wearing night protection and instead they set up a system of protective mattress covers and sheets that he could manage on his own. Schafer believes letting kids take care of wet bedding in the night or first thing in the morning helps to reinforce the idea that it’s a small issue. “Tell your child the house is asleep at night, so you need them to help themselves,” suggests Schafer, adding school-aged kids are more than ready to do so. You can give your child the tools to do that by providing a waterproof mattress cover and layering clean sheets on the bed or putting a sleeping bag in the closet so they can climb into it if needed.
As for sleepovers and camps, there’s no reason to avoid them, says Schafer. Instead you can empower your kid to independently problem-solve by walking through some practice sessions. Kids can insert protective overnight wear into their pyjamas ahead of time and then just step into them discreetly when it’s time for bed. Packing a second set of pyjamas and a bag for any wet items is a good idea, too.
Ultimately, it’s all about empowering your kid. Smith also decided to leave the door open for Ben to take more action, by telling him they can revisit the naturopath and talk about next steps if he wants to. Oliver’s doctor was similarly open to a repeat visit, but Matthew outgrew the problem before they needed it.