Positive discrimination

If you have a baby, it’s a good idea to give special privileges to the older child — staying up a little later or doing grown-up things like going to the shops with you while baby is minded. This will send a signal that you value maturity and that being older pays. This way, you won’t have two or more children competing to be babylike and it will be fair in the long run, as younger children grow into privileges. But, in the short term, special benefits associated with being older will compensate for the time-consuming nature of the younger children and make the older one feel special and want to be more helpful.

Old son, Jason, was still wetting his bed. It was annoying, smelly and worrying, since their other two kids had stopped by the time they were three. Marg and Harry were really ‘peed off!

So, what is your goal?

No more bedwetting.

Put it in the positive. What do you want?

Dry beds.

Good. What do you think might be behind his behaviour? / think he’s just slack. He can’t be bothered going to the toilet. (This from Harry.)

Could be. How about you, Margaret — do you agree? / don’t know if he is lazy — it upsets him, too.

He cries about it sometimes.

We went on to give some background. The thing we usually check out with any behaviour is: what’s normal for this age? Bedwetting is pretty common in five-year-olds. We think about 70 per cent of four-year-olds wet the bed often and 40 per cent of kids of school age still do sometimes.

Other parents piped up: ‘Yes, one of ours still does, too.’ ‘So it’s fairly normal, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it,’ we added.

Next, you check other possible causes:

– Is there any physical problem — bladder capacity, muscle problems, urinary tract infection, diabetes? This is your doctor’s area, and good to check out first of all. (’We’ve done all that, ‘ said Harry.)

– Is there any big stress in his life? Or something he might not have told you about?

– Has he shown that he can control it? Does he sometimes have dry beds? Where and when?

– Is there a pay-off? Does he get to see you in the middle of the night, while he doesn’t see you much in the day? Who washes the sheets? We talked around this with Marg and Harry. He was surprised there could be reasons other than just laziness. Marg, however, was feeling like getting tough. Now, it was time for the third step — deciding to act.

The whole group weighed in with things that had worked for them or other people they had heard of, and Marg and Harry added their ideas, too. What we came up with was:

– Visit to toilet before going to bed.

– See a doctor again to double check. Choose a doctor with commonsense who won’t make a big deal of it.

– Use a wetness alarm, available from pharmacies.

– Have a good think about whether Jason could have secret worries, from school or elsewhere. Ask about this in a caring and undramatic way. Listen to him and talk to his teacher.

– Leave the light on in the hall and toilet, or a potty near the bed with a night light beside it.

– Consider homeopathic or chiropractic treatment.

– For a few nights, let him sleep on a mattress on the floor beside your bed, so he can wake you if he wants to do a wee. Help and praise him if he wakes you up and gets it right.

– Conversely, don’t get involved at all during the night.

– Give rewards for dry nights — stars on a chart towards a zoo trip or an overnight visit to a friend’s house.

– Let him know where clean bedding and pyjamas are kept. Don’t help with this. It’s his job to put wet bedding in a separate bin to be washed. Kids older than six can wash their own. (The reason we don’t wet the beds is that it is too much work cleaning up!)

Harry decided to spend time with Jason at bedtime, and to have a talk with him about school and so on. Marg was pleased and decided to follow the other ideas, stop changing the sheets for Jason and have a star chart for his successes, with a reward for five straight nights. The secret is to be creative and keep experimenting.