Should Your Child be Punished for Bedwetting?
Punishment as a treatment for wetting the bed: Does it work?
All around the world, there are regular reports of children being punished for wetting the bed. Some parents believe that their child should be punished for bedwetting, wishing for a quick fix to a complex and misunderstood problem.
Is there any benefit to a child being punished for bedwetting, and what alternatives are there to make the child stop bed wetting?
This article will look at why parents are punishing their children for wetting the bed and some common misconceptions about bedwetting. In addition, we will discuss how children are affected by this issue. We will look at the impact of punishing your child and explore whether there should be any consequences for wet nights. Finally, we will look at the best way of dealing with your child wetting the bed.
The frustration of wet nights
Let’s face it, it isn’t easy dealing with bedwetting. You’ve had to deal with broken sleep, the endless washing, the smell of urine never leaving, and the anxieties that come with bedwetting.
“Is this normal?” “Is this my fault?” “Will this ever end?”
The worries and doubts seem to pile up like the sheets that still need washing. This can go on for years, taking its toll. It can push anyone’s patience to a tipping point. Moreover, some children appear not to be bothered by the bedwetting at all, which can make it even more frustrating.
For all the parents who related to this experience, take a deep breath and relax, you are not alone.
Many parents aren’t aware of just how common bedwetting is. In addition, your perception of the cause of bedwetting often shapes how you react to it. If you believe that it is the child’s fault, then it is easy to get angry, especially if it continues for a long time.
How you react to your child wetting the bed will not only impact your emotional and mental wellbeing and your relationship with your child, but it will impact the child’s self-worth, and influence their ability to overcome bedwetting.
There has to be a consequence for bedwetting - doesn't there?
Some parents believe that there should be consequences to a wet episode, otherwise it won’t stop. They are angry their child has wet the bed. They believe the required discipline or consequence is all that is needed to fix the problem. In fact, up to a third of parents have been found to punish their children for bedwetting. (Faten Nabeel Al-Zabena, 2014)
Examples of common consequences in Australia and the UK is shaming or teasing within the family, being made to sleep in the wet sheets, a strict telling off, being shouted at, threats, deprivation of privileges, and physical punishments.
I regularly receive news articles with reports of children around the world being punished for bedwetting. Punishments range from being beaten, tortured, and some children have been killed for wetting the bed. Whilst writing this blog, I read in the news about a 5-year-old girl’s genitals being burnt as a punishment for bedwetting. How can this possibly be happening?
A lot of people believe wetting the bed is more embarrassing than anything else. It is never talked out. As a result, people don’t understand that it is a common problem. They think their child has a rare and embarrassing problem that they hope they will simply grow out of.
This shame increases as the child gets older. What will other people think if they find out? Different cultures have different believes about bedwetting that can increase the level of shame and anger making it a huge secret within the family.
Fear can also affect how a parent might react to wet nights. What if there is something wrong with my child? Why is my 8-year-old not growing up properly? Why are they being so disobedient?
My child doesn't care!
Some children appear not to be bothered by it at all which can increase the level of frustration and anger in parents who can’t understand why they don’t seem to care.
There can be a variety of reasons why a child acts as though they don’t care.
For some, they are simply so used to wet beds that there isn’t any point in being concerned about it every time it happens – after all, they can’t help it so what is the point of being worried about it.
For others, they feel a quiet, and such a deep sense of shame or incompetence that they want it all to just disappear and go away. They don’t want anyone to talk about it – it is too embarrassing.
My child is lazy, wetting the bed on purpose!
What if my child wets the bed on purpose? No child wants to wet the bed, and most children wet the bed when they are fast asleep. Some kids wake up before or during wetting but can’t wake up sufficiently to go to the toilet. There is a multitude of reasons outside of disobedience that can cause this to happen, but this can often be misunderstood as wetting the bed on purpose.
A lot of parents mention that their child is a deep sleeper. Studies have shown that bedwetters often do find it difficult to wake up from sleep.
Bedwetting is very common
For older children, bedwetting is such a hidden problem that it isn’t often discussed among other parents or kids, for fear of bullying or embarrassment. However, bedwetting is more common than you may think.
At the age of 6 years, 10% of kids wet the bed, and by the age of 10, 5% still wet the bed. Kids start school around age 5 or 6 which opens a whole new door about sleepovers stresses and embarrassment for the child (The Royal Children’s Hospital General Medicine department, 2020).
The impact of being punished for bedwetting
Although bedwetting is quite common, the impact of bedwetting on children and their families can be significant and can worsen as the child gets older.
Studies have shown that being punished for bedwetting can lead to depression and reduced quality of life. In fact, parental punishment can also INCREASE bedwetting.
Wetting the bed can affect the child’s level of self-esteem, and they often quietly feel a huge amount of shame, hiding it from their peers and even sometimes parents. So, punishing can simply be an added burden.
Why doesn’t punishment work? Most children will be totally and utterly oblivious to wetting the bed. Some children may wake up mid-flow and still be unaware of what is happening, or they may find it difficult to wake up enough to get out of bed. Other children will dream they are going to the toilet and so wet the bed. As bedwetting is not a conscious act, punishment cannot fix the issue.
Punishing a child for wetting the bed is like punishing someone for snoring when sleeping, you aren’t going to see positive results from either. Punishing them for something they have no control of or shaming them in the hope it will change their behaviour, is damaging to the child and the parent-child relationship.
Putting pressure on the child to stop bedwetting can also be harmful. If the child constantly fails their parent’s expectations to stay dry, this feeling of failure can also affect their self-esteem and spread into other aspects of their lives.
Nevertheless, the frustration for a parent can increase with interrupted sleep, the cost of nappies or pull-ups, constant washing and for some parents the solutions they have tried that haven’t worked.
What counts as a punishment for bedwetting?
What counts as a punishment? Surely not having a stern word with my child.
Physical punishments are extremely harmful and should not be carried out under any circumstance.
Additionally, non-physical punishments can come in all forms, ranging from light verbal reprimanding to deliberate sleep deprivation.
A lot of parents don’t realize they are punishing their child and therefore causing harm and worsening the situation.
Some parents make their children change the sheets in the night as punishment for bedwetting. The problem with this is the word ‘punishment’. If you are doing this to teach your child a lesson, it won’t work. However, if it needs to be done for hygiene reasons, that is ok.
Repeatedly making your child sleep in wet sheets to ‘teach them a lesson’, usually won’t help your child become dry at night. Nevertheless, if this naturally happens when the child wets, that is a different scenario.
A common punishment for bedwetting is humiliation, the parent purposefully or unknowingly embarrassing their child in front of others. Even if the parent had no ill intentions and didn’t class the humiliation as a punishment, it is detrimental to the child and the situation.
So how should I react to bedwetting?
So what should you do? Should you ignore it?
If your child is under the age of five, it is sensible to regard the bedwetting as normal. Children learn at different times, and the less you make an issue of it, the easier it will be for your child to stop.
It is useful, however, to read up on how to help your child to stay dry at night. For instance, certain drinks can increase the chances of bedwetting, and sleep-deprived children can wet the bed too.
Try going without nappies for a while
If your child is still in nappies, stop using them for a week or so, and see if there are any signs of your child becoming dry. Additionally, it can make life easier for everyone if you use an over-the-sheet mattress protector such as a Bed Mate, keeping the sheet and mattress dry underneath.
When there are dry nights, you can use praise and encouragement to mark this as a positive event and see what happens in future nights.
But what if there are no signs of staying dry or the process is frustrating everyone? It is ok to resume wearing nappies and try again later. The more positive you keep the experience, the easier it will be next time you try.
Show Kindness & Compassion
The most important way of helping your child when they have wet the bed is to show compassion and kindness. Be as supportive and encouraging as you can. Equally, understanding that there are many reasons why a child might wet the bed is key to staying calm. It isn’t their fault and there are effective bedwetting programs that will help to stop bedwetting for good.
If your child is around six or older and still not showing any signs of stopping bedwetting, then it is useful to take action. They could still grow out of it; however, it could continue for some years.
Firstly, it is best to get your child checked out by a doctor to ensure there is no underlying medical reason for the bedwetting.
It is also helpful to tell your child that thousands of children still wet the bed at their age and reassure them that they will become dry. You can talk to them about their achievements and encourage them to have self-compassion.
If there is no medical reason for the bedwetting, that is a good start. Read up on what can cause and contribute to bedwetting and look at some bedwetting solutions.
Options include the bedwetting alarm and the Stay Dry at Night Bedwetting Program.
The bedwetting alarm is a device that when wet, sets off a loud alarm to awaken the child. Although it can work well, it is also a great sleep disturber for the whole family. The bell only sounds after the person has started to urinate which is why it may not work for some children.
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Stay Dry at Night bedwetting program
Stay Dry at Night is a gentle and effective bedwetting solution. Key to the program is a recording customised for your child to help build the communication between the brain and bladder, to increase awareness of the sensations of the bladder becoming full at night and help them to get out of bed to go to the toilet, or, sleep though staying dry. It encourages the child to remember some things they have achieved and builds confidence that they can learn to do things automatically.
The recordings are set to beautiful music and are a very calming solution. Children listen to it in bed as they drift off to sleep. Read about this natural bedwetting solution here.
Punishment for bedwetting can be counterproductive as it lowers the child’s self-esteem, makes them feel more inadequate for not being able to control an unconscious event.
Although bedwetting is hugely disruptive for everyone, it is useful to understand it, learn how you can help your child to stop wetting, and try to stay positive
Be as kind, supportive, and caring as you can. Remember that children don’t wet the bed on purpose. You aren’t on your own, so when you are changing the sheets again in the middle of the night, think of the millions of parents around the world doing the same thing.
As bedwetting is such a hidden issue, it would be helpful to other parents if you can share your stories and leave a comment below. Did you find this article helpful?
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Faten Nabeel Al-Zabena, M. G. (2014, November). Punishment for bedwetting is associated with child depression and reduced quality of life. In Child Abuse and Neglect: Volume 43 (pp. 22-29). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0145213414003779
Hamed Akhavizadegan, J. A. (2018, September). A comprehensive review of adult enuresis. Retrieved from NCBI: PMC: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6737735/
Ihsan Karaman, O. K. (2013, February). Methods and Rates of Punishment Implemented by Families to Enuretic Children in Turkey. Retrieved from SciELO: https://www.scielo.br/j/ibju/a/BycpkhSr8jTHqQgNFWP7Ffr/?lang=en
The Royal Children’s Hospital General Medicine department. (2020, July). Bedwetting. Retrieved from The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne: https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Bedwetting/
Hi! I’m Ginny! I specialise in helping children learn how to stop wetting the bed.
If you have any questions about my program, or simply want to chat about how you can help your child, then do email me, and I will be happy to help.
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