Bed Wetting Accidents
Question: Our son will be 4-years-old next month. Earlier this year, he potty-trained himself -- right around the time of the birth of his sister. We had him wear pull-ups to bed at night, but each morning they were dry. So, he asked if he could wear big boy underpants and we agreed that he was ready.
And now to the present -- every morning he wakes up to a wet bed. This has been happening since October. He also will wait until the very last second to recognize that he has to go and, as a result, has an accident. The one thing I think may be different than before is that he is now sleeping more soundly during the night. He used to wake up every night 1 - 2 times and now will sleep from 8pm to 8am. When we suggest that he wear pull-up diapers to bed, he throws a big fuss, crying, the whole nine yards. So, we back off.
Our doctor and co-op parent educator say that we should not backtrack either -- just keep washing the sheets and he'll come around. But this whole ordeal is really getting to me. I feel like he may be enjoying the attention. We try to be very respectful and understanding and have him help clean up, but is there something else we can do? What kind of language should we be using? What choices should we be giving? I am very confused and disheartened by the whole scenario. I want to do what's best for him and I just don't know what that would be in this case.
I greatly appreciate your time and advice. Thank you very, very much.
Thanks for writing to Positive Discipline. My name is Laurie Prusso and I am one of the people who answer questions from parents and teachers. I am the mother of six sons and have twelve grandchildren. In my work life, I am a Professor of Child Development at a community college in California. As a parent educator and teacher, I hear stories similar to yours on a regular basis. You are certainly not alone. It can be very frustrating and disheartening when our child has moved through one stage of development and then they seem to go backward.
As I said before, this is very typical -- especially for boys. The new addition to your family has multiple "invisible" influences on relationships and dynamics. These changes are not things that your 4-year-old can verbally communicate to you. When a baby comes into a family, it instantly threatens the position of the older child. Less of each parents' time is available for him or her. It often appears to the older child that the baby gets all of the attention and affection, even if that is not the case. It may stress the child and the relationship. Couple these emotional influences with the shift to sleeping all night, and you have bed-wetting.
It sounds like you have already checked with the pediatrician and have ruled out physiological reasons for the wetting at night, so let's look at how Positive Discipline principles might help. Human beings are in constant pursuit of belonging and significance. Sometimes a child will perceive a threat to his/her belonging and significance when a new baby arrives. Even in the most loving environments, a new baby literally takes up six or more hours each day of actual parent time. This has to have an effect on a 4-year-old.
It is typical for a child to decide, "Mommy loves the baby more than me." This could lead to a decision that makes sense to him. "The way to get the love back is to act like a baby." The stress of the situation and the decisions will show up in the child's behavior. Younger children often become aggressive. Your child is verbal and can participate in finding an effective solution to this problem. I am guessing that he is not washing the sheets each morning and that burden is falling on the mother with the new baby.
It might be helpful for you to review the chapter on solving problems in Dr. Nelsen's book Positive Discipline. Also, you might enjoy watching Jane use candle to provide an example of how to deal with the "Belief Behind the Behavior"
We have a new theme in Positive Discipline called "Connection Before Correction." This means that you do something to help your child feel belonging and significance before trying to correct the problem. This could mean listening to him, helping him name is feelings, validating his feelings. It could be as simple as giving him a hug and spending special time with him. The correction part does not include any kind of punishment (another Positive Discipline theme), and is most effective when the child is involved in focusing on solutions.
A four-year-old can be actively involved in working out solutions. Together, at a time when you are all calm, and the baby is asleep in another room, sit down and talk together about the problem. Invite your child to suggest ways to solve the wet sheet problem. Naming the problem appropriately will help in the problem solving process. If you make his wetting the problem, the solutions generated will be different, so decide what the problem is. Listen to and validate what he has to say about it, and how he feels, using reflective listening. Generate a list of several possible solutions. Every idea, yours and his, should go on the list.
Review the list together. There may be things you have already tried like not drinking liquids after 6pm, or peeing right before bed. As you review the possible suggestions, eliminate those that do not work and that are not acceptable.
Because we believe in mutual respect, your part might be that you are not willing to change the bed and wash the extra bedding each day, and so you would not select any suggestion that has that outcome. Using the curiosity questions in the book will help keep the conversation respectful and help your son feel empowered to solve the problem. He may think that only babies wear pull-ups, but if you put that on your list of suggestions, he may also be willing to toy with the idea as a solution and not a consequence.
When I was raising my kids, there were no pull-ups, so it was a diaper (a cloth diaper) or a wet bed! Now, many young families use pull-ups to navigate this potentially frustrating phase more effectively. If having a dry bed is your goal, and he understands that, he will willingly help you find an idea that will work for both of you. You can teach him how to change the sheets and wash them. Although it would be a challenge, it is a possible solution to the wet bed problem.
When we problem solve, we can try the solution for a week or so and then revisit it to see if it is helping. This also might assist him in his willingness to choose something that will keep the bed dry. The real goal is to encourage HIM in solving the problem and to avoid power struggles and your frustration with this very annoying stage.
While I respect your physician's opinion, I have been a new mother with a three-year-old wetting a bed and I believe that it is a respectable option to use pull-ups. The backtracking or regression can be inconsequential if treated as a stage and not a problem or a power struggle. Your child will feel encouraged and empowered when HE solves this and can get up and with a dry bed every morning. You will also feel respected when the solution works for both of you. Your needs and feelings are important too.
I know of a family with a 5-year-old still struggling with nighttime wetting, but it is not a problem because their child simply puts a pull-up on after his bath each night and takes it off in the morning. Half the time it is wet and half the time it is dry. The wet bed problem is gone.
I wish you the best and hope that your will enjoy both of your children during the coming months as this phase will pass.
The following resource books might also be of help to you.
Positive Discipline A-Z for Parents
Positive Discipline the First Three Years
Positive Discipline for Preschoolers