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Child Caring

Bed-wetting in wake of dad's death

Hello Barbara ,,,,,I'm so concerned about my 6 year old grandson,,, he was dry every night and during the day,,, right up until he was just turned 4 years old when his Daddy died ,,,Since then, Ethan has been wet every night and he wets himself during the day too ,,,he's a really lovely, well- behaved boy ,,,,he misses his Daddy so very very much ,,,and has been having unprofessional counseling for almost 2 years since our son died ,,,our daughter in law doesn't seem to have much patience with him and is always comparing Ethan's 3 year old sister in front of him saying she's younger and dry all the time ,,,,,our daughter- in- law also keeps telling Ethan that he stinks of pee ,,,,so she isn't really helping him at all ,,,,she has had him to the Doctor's a couple of times but the Doctor says he will eventually grow out of it ,,,,,Barbara please what can we do? Thank you for listening.

From, Worried grandmother ,,,,

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Dear Worried Grandmother,

There are really three separate issues here: Your grandson's incontinence; your DIL's response to it; and your role as grandparents.

First of all, I'm disappointed at the pediatrician's answer. Sure, incontinence is not all that unusual in young children; in fact, the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse cites age 7 as the time to be worried if bed-wetting happens two or three times in a week, or age 5 if both day and night wetting occur. By that standard, the doc is not technically wrong to take a wait-and-see attitude. But while the cause of incontinence is frequently an undeveloped bladder, it can also be the result of emotional stress. Because this is happening both day and night, and in the wake of a parent's death, that seems the likely cause. What's more, it's likely being exacerbated by his mom's responses. It sounds like she makes comments in front of other people. That's humiliating. It sounds like she's disgusted and judgmental rather than matter-of-fact. It sounds as if she thinks his behavior is purposeful, which it is not.

In fact, he knows this behavior is "babyish;" he knows he's upsetting mom; he likely blames himself and even sees himself as a "failure." He's not any happier about this than mom is. What is happening to his self-esteem?

Which brings me to this: What is "unprofessional" counseling? Young children need help when a parent dies; their understanding of the event is variable and filled with magical thinking: Most young children think they are somehow responsible for the death, even when there is not a remote possibility that is true. Add to that this regressive bed-wetting and he's caught in a vicious cycle that is beyond his control.

All of this needs to be explored with him in an age-appropriate way by a professional trained to work with children. I can't stress that enough.

What can you do as grandparents? You can let your daughter- in- law know that you have some worries. Make "I/we" statements rather than "you" statements. ("I'm wondering if there are other avenues to explore, to get help with his wetting...." rather than, "Why aren't you doing more....Why are you saying those things....") Make it your goal to avoid placing blame so that you can act as a team. She's likely over-whelmed; is this something you can offer to look into and then make some suggestions? If she shuts you down, well, perhaps you will at least have planted a seed that this needs work.

Coping mechanisms typically include:

* A plastic covering on the mattress;
* Teaching him to change himself. Does he know where there is a set of clean clothes so he doesn't need to wake mom? Is there a plastic hamper with a tight cover so he can deposit the wet clothes there and not be disturbed by unpleasant odors?
* Asking if he wants mom to routinely wake him before she goes to bed so he can empty his bladder. He has to agree to this and be fully awake to walk to the bathroom so that he can eventually do this on his own, and when mom wakes him, it needs to be done matter-of-factly: "Remember? You wanted to wake up so you could go pee."