Children usually outgrow bed-wetting

CHILD LIFE

June 26, 1994|By BEVERLY MILLS

Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. Call our answering machine with any advice or questions you have. Please check the end of the column for the toll-free number and today's question from a parent who needs your help.

Q: My 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son both have a problem with bed-wetting. We have tried many things, and now I am at a loss for solutions. Any suggestions?

-- S.H., Reisterstown

A: Hardly a day goes by that we don't get a call from parents of children from age 3 all the way up to 12 desperate to find a cure for bed-wetting. It's one of the most common problems we hear, yet one of the most difficult to solve.

What's especially frustrating is that physicians really don't know a lot about bed-wetting that's backed by research, so their advice often tends to be limited and their attitudes casual. Wetting the bed isn't life-threatening, and with each year of age, a good percentage of kids outgrow it with no treatment.

Tell that to the parents tired after years of changing sheets at 3 a.m. and weary from endless mountains of laundry.

During the past four years, we've heard stories from parents whose bed-wetters have been miraculously cured by everything from bed alarms to allergy treatments to doing their own laundry to pinworm treatments to hypnosis to chiropractic adjustments. Then there are the parents who have tried all of this and more, yet nothing helps.

Taking into account the medically proven and the parental back-fence wisdom, there's a lot of information on bed-wetting. We'll report it in two parts.

First, the explanation accepted by most pediatric specialists is that bed-wetters have a small bladder capacity. Studies indicate that heredity can also play a role. Eighty percent of children whose parents wet their beds also will.

The condition, called enuresis by the medical community, is most prevalent in younger children. At age 3, about a third of all children wet their beds. At 4, 25 percent still do. At 6 1/2 , it's 10 percent, and 2 percent at age 12.

Everyone seems to agree that nighttime wetting is not something children do consciously or on purpose, so punishment is not appropriate.

"We found that the best way to deal with the problem is not to get upset about it," says Pamela Farmer, a parent from Palo Alto, Calif. "Bed-wetting is something most children will outgrow."

Take care not to embarrass your child about this, says Ellen Brown, a mother from Montross, Va.

"Never let your children overhear you discussing their problem with anyone," Mrs. Brown says.

In a small percentage of cases the culprit is a urinary tract infection or diabetes, so you may want to consult with a pediatrician.

We've also heard from hundreds of parents who have observed that their bed-wetters seem to be exceptionally deep sleepers.

"My 10-year-old son slept so soundly that sometimes when he would try to get up to go to the bathroom it was like he was sleepwalking," says C.F., a mother from Concord, N.C. "He would end up in the closet and never wake up."

Many others blame food or environmental allergies and say that once their children's allergies were detected and treated, the enuresis also subsided.

"I hear this all of the time, too, but there are no studies to prove it," says Dr. Marcel Deray, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Miami Children's Hospital. "It is possible that it's caused by different reasons in different children, but we just don't know."

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.

CAN YOU HELP?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Equal treatment: "I'm finding I have a tendency to treat my 1-year-old son better than his 9-year-old brother," says Janet Starling of Dallas, Texas. "Since I was young, my own mother has always shown favoritism between me and my siblings; I want to treat both of mine equally. Has anyone else experienced this?"

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