Unpacking the emotional turmoil of bedwetting: How families can navigate the night-time struggle

How families can navigate the night-time struggle of bedwetting. Picture: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

How families can navigate the night-time struggle of bedwetting. Picture: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

Published Jun 4, 2024


Bedwetting, or nocturnal enuresis, is a familiar yet often misunderstood challenge that many families face.

This involuntary urination during sleep can have deep emotional ramifications for both the child and their parents, transforming bedtimes into a period of anxiety rather than rest.

It is crucial to unpack the complexities of this condition and explore constructive ways to navigate it.

For children, bedwetting can be a source of immense humiliation and shame. This deeply personal issue can affect their self-esteem and sometimes lead to social withdrawal.

Being perceived differently by peers can further worsen feelings of isolation. Experts note that the emotional distress associated with bed-wetting often outweighs the physical discomfort, influencing a child’s confidence and overall well-being.

Independent Media Lifestyle reached out to medical experts to shed light on the psychological distress that bedwetting causes for both children and parents.

Parents to create a supportive and understanding environment. Picture: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

Dr Michael Mol, a medical doctor and Huggies DryNites Ambassador, strongly encourages parents to create a supportive and understanding environment.

He shares helpful resources and insights, drawing from his own experience as a former bedwetter.

Dr Alicia Porter, a board member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists, emphasised that mental health professionals should become involved in bed-wetting cases only after ruling out medical causes.

According to her, it is essential to first thoroughly investigate and eliminate any medical reasons for bed-wetting. Mental health experts should only step in if there’s a suspicion of a psychological cause.

She pointed out that medical causes are generally more common than psychological ones.

Children internalise bedwetting as a failure, which can lead to a cycle of negative self-perception. Having a bedwetting child can often leave parents feeling helpless and frustrated.

Parents often struggle to balance supporting their children with their own exhaustion and worries about slow progress.

Many may unknowingly make things worse by showing their anxieties, adding to the child's emotional stress.

Disciplining or showing frustration towards the child doesn't help. It's crucial to handle the situation with empathy and patience, keeping in mind the child is not bed-wetting on purpose.

Mol shared tips on where parents can find support to better manage their child's bed-wetting issues.

Support Groups: Enuresis South Africa: This organisation helps parents dealing with bed-wetting by offering online forums, support groups, and resources tailored for South African families.

Online Resources: South African Urological Association (SAUA): Their website provides information on bed-wetting and guides parents on when to seek medical help.

Parenting Websites: Parent24: This South African parenting website features articles and advice on various child-related topics, including bed-wetting.

Porter explains that medication for bedwetting depends on several factors and requires a thorough assessment.

For older children, medication may be considered sooner due to urgency. For younger children, behavioural management is preferred initially.

The type of enuresis matters: primary or secondary. Additionally, if there are underlying psychiatric conditions like anxiety or depression, those should be treated first.

Medication options include:

1. Tricyclics - imipramine

2. Desmopressin

3. Oxybutynin

However, tricyclics can have problematic side effects such as heart issues, sudden blood pressure drops, and dizziness. Therefore, behavioural treatments are recommended as first-line options over medication.

For bedwetting beyond the expected age, a thorough assessment is necessary. This includes determining if the issue is primary or secondary. Medical causes should be ruled out through urine tests, ultrasounds, and other investigations if needed.

She further goes on to say that psychological causes require screening and assessment, taking into consideration stressors and adjustment issues. Underlying disorders like anxiety or depression are treated if present.