Bedwetting Nightmares for Parents and Older Children

Nancy Muller Health Pro
  • There are millions of abandoned children in this world:  those harmed physically, others abused emotionally, and still others neglected financially. Many experience all three forms of abandonment.  Even in this country, American society struggles to address needs of abused youth and certainly accommodate the costs of the cumulative damage as individuals reach adulthood.


    The same is true with stray and neglected animals. Why do we disassociate between the two categories? We cast off human children just as easily as animals. 


    I hear grandmothers who call and to share their deep concern about their grandchildren - treated like abandoned kittens - who are being abused because of their nighttime bedwetting.  They are years far beyond being "potty trained"- and otherwise free of diapers during daytime hours - which suggests they should be rid of nighttime accidents.  Right? Wrong!  How are their stories different from those of us worried about abused and abandoned animals?

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    So distinctly, I recall the Latina grandmother from Miami who called crying that her daughter was increasingly emotionally abusive to her 10-year old granddaughter about recurrent bedwetting, shouting at the child, locking her in her room, and restricting her from playing with friends as punishment.  Could anything be done, she asked? Was my only advice to send to her to a social worker and report her daughter for child abuse?


    Persistent bedwetting in the older child is exasperating for parents and grandparents, struggling to sleep at night in hopes of functioning at work the next day.  They are angry over the fact their older children are leaving a bed linen mess in the morning, in a flood of tears as they head off to school, as they themselves ready for work.  Many doctors just say, give it time. They will grow out of it.  Right?  Not necessarily.


    But sometimes, in at least 10% of the population, these older children genuinely need clinical intervention and help.  So do the parents.


    Steps Parents Can Take To Help Children Feel Better About Themselves

    There are a number of things parents can do to reduce the stress associated with nocturnal enuresis:


    • Remind children that bedwetting is no one's fault.
    • Let children know that lots of kids have the same problem. 
    • Do not punish or shame children for being wet at night. 
    • Make sure the child's siblings do not tease him about wetting the bed.
    • Let children know if anyone in the family wet the bed growing up.
    • Maintain a low-key attitude after wetting episodes.
    • Reinforce any efforts the child makes to help with his wetting, e.g. stripping the bed or helping parents carry wet bedding to the laundry room.
    • Praise the child for success in any of the following areas: waking up at night to urinate, having smaller wet spots, having a dry night.

    Use Information That Children Understand

    Although there is a lot of information available on bedwetting, there are few sources that present the material in a child-friendly way. Using school-based statistics is a way to help children understand how common bedwetting is.  Ten percent of elementary school and three percent of middle school children have nocturnal enuresis. Parents can apply these statistics to their own circumstances.  For example, if an 8-year-old attends a school with 480 children, his parents can reassure him that there are 48 kids in the school that have the same problem he does.


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    Should Parents See a Specialist?

    In most cases, a child's regular healthcare provider will be able to treat his bedwetting. However, if parents are not getting the help they need in this setting, there are a number of specialists that have an interest in bedwetting. Pediatric urologists are surgeons that specialize in the urinary tract. They are experts in bedwetting and spend a lot of their time helping children become dry. Urologists are particularly skilled helping children with complicated types of wetting. Pediatric nephrologists are pediatricians that specialize in kidney problems. They also know a lot about wetting problems. Child psychologists and child psychiatrists also treat children with nocturnal enuresis.


    Conclusion:  The reality is that a lot is possible. Like most solutions, it takes a team. In this instance, it relies on parental involvement, experts, and support.

    Nancy Muller, PhD, Executive Director,




Published On: November 22, 2010