Do you know someone who wets the bed at night? You probably do, but they’re not talking about it. Bedwetting is common (up to 20 percent of five-year-olds, 10 percent of seven-year-olds, and 3 percent of ten-year-olds do it). Five to seven million kids in the U.S. are affected. The guilt, shame, embarrassment anxiety, anger, and poor self-concept that may develop can create havoc in a youth’s life.
Many developmental issues can contribute to bedwetting, including bladder size, insufficient hormones to decrease urine production at night, or a nervous system with an underdeveloped “wake up and pee” signal. And bedwetting runs in families – if one parent did it, a child has a 43 percent chance too.
But if a child is wetting the bed – and it’s bothering him – no matter what the reason, it should be addressed.
Consider This Scenario:
Wet bed again! How many mornings have you reached your child's bedroom hoping for a dry bed. And instead, the sheets are soaked. You expected this at 3 or 4 or 5 years old, but not at 7 or 8, or 12 or 13, or even older. How embarrassing for your child after all this time. Sleepovers and camping trips are a nightmare!
Fortunately, excellent help is available. I’ve found that a child’s imagination has been especially effective in overcoming and controlling bedwetting. By learning to deeply relax, turn inward, and listen to what their body truly needs, children find their own unique solutions. When incorporated into a holistic approach, using Imagination Tools of deep breathing ("the balloon breath"), symptom dialogue ("talking to body parts"), and connecting to inner wisdom ("listening to wizard or wise animal friend") have been invaluable. Affirmations, behavioral charting, and monitoring stress have also proved useful. With this program, children have been able to create their own "dry" beds.
Bright, sensitive, and highly motivated Jenna* is a typical example. She was almost 10 years old when I met her and had been wetting the bed almost nightly for as long as she could remember.
We developed a three-part program that fit into her lifestyle. First, Jenna continued with the "traditional behaviors" recommended for controlling bedwetting, though not always consistently. For example, not drinking after 6:00 pm, ("It worked for a little while, but then I got really tired of it, cause if I had something really salty for dinner I wanted a bit to drink.”) going to the bathroom right before going to sleep, and having her parents wake her and take her to the bathroom before they went to sleep ("sometimes they forget").
Relaxation and Imagery:
Second, we added a deep relaxation and creative imagination component, which assisted Jenna to more easily connect with her inner guidance. Her personal Stay Dry Wizard and speaking directly to her affected body parts (e.g.: bladder, heart, etc.) offered the best ways to proceed. Initially Jenna imagined a white light flowing through her body to encourage deep relaxation and healing. You may choose to start with white light, then ask your child if another color feels more relaxing to them for future journeys. The following is an excerpt from an imagery designed for this purpose.
"You find yourself walking on your path. Feeling very safe and very protected you realized you’ve been here before. Notice how beautiful your path is, where you are, all the colors and any scents around you. As you step slowly, your own very special Stay Dry Wizard joins you. He is there to guide, protect, and help you reach your goal of staying dry each night. Your Wizard takes you down your path, and into the truth that awaits you... deep inside your heart. He shows you what you can do for yourself so that every night you are dry. Take your time…You can feel successful in the good work and the care that you are beginning to take of yourself. For your body, your mind, your heart - everything about you."**
A critical component is scanning the body while deeply relaxed to see what state the bladder and urethra are in – if there is any damage or weakness that might be contributing to wetting the bed at night. Many children notice that their bladder and/or urethra walls are thin or weak, so they have difficulty holding in urine at night. Color is used as a healing vehicle and the "body part in need" tells the child (arising like a thought or feeling) what color would be most useful to breathe in to help the bladder/urethra becomes stronger and healthier.
Another element in this imagination equation is the "internal alarm clock." Although we are asking the bladder to hold urine all night, as a backup plan we install an "alarm clock" so that if the bladder is full and about to "spill over" the alarm clock wakes the child up to go to the bathroom. After one boy came in and said he wet the bed because "his batteries failed," we began using long-lasting Duracell batteries and double-checking equipment.
Charting Stress and Progress:
Third, to bring awareness to the healing process, charting progress is recommended. Along with giving herself stickers for a "dry" night, Jenna wanted her mother (who in the past had been irritated with her around this issue) to write positive statements such as: "I'm proud of you.” "You can do it." "Two in a row, that's great!" "I knew you could do it." "Isn't that wonderful!" and "Wow, you're incredible." To quote Jenna: "The only thing that I think might help me and my Mom get along with this business, is when I'm dry, she writes ‘good job’ or something. I like the stickers, but this might make me feel better." Working together in this way helps families reduce the shame, blame, and guilt often involved in bedwetting.
We also developed a "stress meter" (zero to ten) to see if life stress affected her "dry" and "wet" days. Starting out at "about an eight," Jenna was able to bring her overall stress level down by deep belly breathing several times a day, checking in with her Wizard for advice, and listening to her special tape each night. Jenna's nightly ritual also included saying or writing affirmations, such as: "I wake up with a dry bed" and "I have been dry every night for two weeks."
Jenna's progress was generally steady, with a few minor setbacks. Whenever we hit an obstacle, she was always able to ask her bladder or Wizard how to proceed. When it was suggested, "take a few moments to scan your body and see if there are any dark places or parts that need some support or help" she readily offered: "My bladder.... It's worrying. It's very jittery. It wants blue light – a little lighter than indigo and a little darker than royal." It was then advised that she send Love to her bladder. "The kind of unconditional love that no matter what your bladder does, it's OK. "
After a particularly successful week, she explained: "Well, it was just kind of like, I was dry one night because I worked very hard. Then I was dry another night because my emotions were up that I had been dry that day. And then I was dry another because I was so glad that I was dry that night too. And then the rest of the week kind of worked that way and I didn't work that hard to be dry."
Success often follows success. In this healing process, if your child brings his or her own unique combination of self-caring rituals into daily life, many worthwhile, lifelong positive results can ensue. After much consistent and loving inner work, Jenna had a final “Ah ha” moment. "One day I was sitting alone in the cafeteria at school and I heard this voice inside me and it said, 'This is gonna be a good month. Don't be surprised if you are dry'. And it was – soon she was totally dry!
Your child may report, just as Jenna simply summed up about her newly created "dry" bed... "I feel great."
*Name changed for confidentiality.
** See double CD set, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination for complete guided imagery Second CD, Track 1 at http://www.ImageryForKids.com
Charlotte Reznick PhD, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (New York, NY, Perigee, 2009): 170.
Charlotte Reznick, PhD is a child educational psychologist, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, and author of a new book, The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/Penguin 2009,www.ImageryForKids.com).