I remember one beautifully sunny day, we had friends over for a BBQ, and all the children were playing beautifully in the garden, yet I was inside, in tears, as I was having to change my seven year old again. He’d wet himself for the fifth time that day. I remember looking at the pile of soggy pants and shorts and feeling real anger.
It didn’t seem to matter how we approached this whole wetting thing, it still happened. We did rewards, we did consequences, I did loosing it, and I became obsessed. I would constantly be checking him to see if he’d had an accident, even in public, when I think about it now; the stress it was creating between us was enormous.
I’d like to say that it’s a long and distant memory now he’s twelve, but it’s not. He still wets himself fairly regularly. The difference is that now I’m not as up tight and stressed about it. Of course it’s not ideal that as a twelve year old he has problems recognising when he needs to go to the loo. However, I’ve come to recognise that he is not actually always to blame.
I’ve come to see that he does have a level of desensitisation around when he needs to go. This is I’m sure down to the fact that he wasn’t taught to identify a wet and smelly nappy. You know how mums do that “who’s got a stinky nappy, someone needs changing”. These are all social cues for children that this is not a pleasant sensation against their skin or a pleasant aroma. For children who may spend days in the same nappy, and who are never offered up the associative thoughts, it is hardly surprising that those connections in the brain which alert him to his need to wee, don’t always work.
I have noticed that it happens more when he’s engrossed in something, computer games are the main culprit or doing outdoor activities. When he goes away to camp I dread the stench of the washing which returns. I can’t do much about when he’s not at home but I remind him to go before he leaves the house or is about to play on computers.
He’s got much better at telling me after he’s has an accident and often says to me. “I’ll sort my washing out mum because there is something really smelly in there”.
The big problem now is making sure he washes after he’s had an accident; I know that’s why he sometimes doesn’t tell me, because he can’t be bothered to wash. I think this is as much a boy thing as anything else. He is however starting to recognise the pleasantness of clean hair and skin and he loves putting clean pyjamas on.
I think the biggest thing that really helped us was lowering the levels of stress and anxiety around these occurrences.
In contrast my other son has never been a wetter but instead, due to a very slow digestive system and how his body reacts to stress he often becomes constipated. The constipation will lead to a watery discharge into his pants which is like diarrhoea. He again will not always do anything about these pants and will spend all day in them. I have to say that this is nowhere near as bad as it used to be.
At the height of this problem I would throw pairs of pants away in nappy sacks because I just couldn’t face having to clean them. He would also put his hands into his pants and then smear on his bed frame and bed sheets. It was hard some days to get the stench of facieses out of your nostrils. Again I’d become obsessive looking for the source of the smell all over his bedroom. The constipation would also create small pellets in his pants which he would remove and hide in his room. This was probably at its worst when he was maybe seven or eight. He would constantly fight the need to go to the toilet and make the situation worse.
The doctor prescribed Movical, a powder you mixed with water, to encourage bowl movement. The problem was getting him to take it. We would get to a point where he would have days off school whilst we waited for him to go.
I finally realised that he didn’t like sitting on the toilet and was scared of falling in. We went about getting a step for him, so he could balance his feet on it whilst he sat, and as a distraction I gave him his Kindle to play whilst he sat or sat with him.
Thankfully, whilst also this problem hasn’t disappeared, the situation has improved. He now recognises when his tummy is becoming sore and he’s starting to become constipated. He will ask if he can have a Movical to drink and suggests that he should sit on the toilet, if he can have extra Kindle time. Again I’ve dropped the stress over the situation and try and praise as much as I can for good toilet behaviour. I feel with this son we have been filling and developmental gap around toilet training. I always had to inspect what’s in the bowl and be delighted at how well he’d done; this I’m happy to say is no longer always required.
I think it was a light bulb moment for me when I realised that less anxiety around the problem would help us all. Also I realised that my children were maturing, learning and changing their attitude to hygiene slowly but surely. I think it’s easy to be cross and upset with our children for not wanting to be clean but I’ve found, the hard way, that kindness and understanding goes a lot further in helping them to learn.