Parents find it shocking when I give the advice ‘don’t force your child to say ‘I’m sorry’ after an incident.’ They think I am letting kids off the hook. Not true! Let me take a moment to clarify my reasons.
First, to be clear, I want your children to have good manners and develop a true sense of empathy and compassion for others. Yes, I want them to take responsibility for their actions and to make amends when someone has been wronged. All of those pursuits are important. I am only suggesting a different means and method to arrive at that end.
When parents simply force a child with the ole’ parenting chestnut, ‘Come on now, say you’re sorry,’ they invite that classic nasal and sarcastic reply, ‘I’m saaaawry’.
Step into the child’s mindset and emotional state. You can imagine that any empathy that they were feeling because of their wrong doing just flew out the window as their parents put the spotlight on them and their screw up, which is now on public display. Embarrassing.
Next, you’re commanded to apologize (as if you wouldn’t have capacity to do so of your own volition). Well, it’s humiliating and degrade, frankly.
Why They Do It:
- The child’s use of a mocking tones serve to help them save face and keep a shred of dignity in the moment.
- The child is saying with their behaviour, ‘I won’t be forced against my will. You can’t make me. You might be able to force me to say ‘I’m sorry,’ but you can’t make me feel it – HA! I win! I defeat you!’
- Sadly, it becomes a war between parent and child, a total distraction from the actual task of learning from their mistake, helping the harmed party feel better and ultimately making amends for the incidents.
- The child begins to feel angry at their parents and instead of owning the responsibility for their behaviour, they feel the other party actually got them in trouble with their parents, so they don’t feel empathy or remorse anymore. In fact, they now feel justified and not responsible.
What to Do Instead?
- Modeling. If you are one to say ‘sorry’ when you err, they will mimic you. Trust me on this one.
- Pause. That’s right. Give kids a moment to volunteer a genuine response to a situation before you jump in two guns a blazin’. You may well discover that your children do say they are sorry, if given a moment to compose themselves.
- Focus on the future. Instead of forcing them to say sorry about the past, which they can’t change, put the focus on their commitment to do something differently in the future. ‘Can you let your friend know that you won’t take his bike without asking again.’
- Ask your child ‘what should happen now?’ If they broke a neighbour’s window playing ball, letting the child think for themselves of how to right the situation; it helps build empathy, internalizes the lesson, and generates positive feelings about rectifying the situation. Replacing the window with their allowance and writing a letter stating it was an accident and promising to play in the park in the future feels restorative when they come up with the idea.
It’s frustrating to make it all the way through potty training with apparent ease, only to be knocked down by the kids who won’t stay dry at night. I know, I know—you’re thinking “God Lord, how long will this go on?”
Let me see if I can offer some advice to help you regain your sanity and give you some practical survival tips for this last haul in the training journey.
It’s common for five year-olds to still be wet at night. By age six, about 90% of children will be dry at night. Because there is always that small percentage that are late trainers, your doctor will probably not be concerned until about age seven. Many people won’t remember how old we were when we were trained, but will remember their childhood hassles of wetting the bed and subsequent embarrassment. It turns out that there’s a hormone to blame—it slows down the kidney at night so you make less urine when you’re sleeping. For some people, that hormone doesn’t appear until around seven.
If the doctor has ruled out a physical problem (and yes, there are a host of problems that can lead to night bedwetting, but I won’t get you all freaked out about that) then you can begin to work on dealing with a nighttime action plan:
- Show emotional support. Many children are ashamed they are wetting the bed at night. Be empathetic to their embarrassment and help them understand. Never shame a child or call them a baby.
- Normalize and educate your kids. Explain that it takes time for the body to develop. Remind them about how they learned not to fall off the bed. Soon, their bodies will feel the sensations of needing to pee in the night and will tell the brain to wake up and pee. Right now their bodies are only whispering and the brain is not hearing the signals, but it will. Be patient.
- Reduce fluids in the evening. It helpful to reduce the amount of liquids your child drinks in the evening. No drinks after supper can be a house policy. Be sure they get lots of fluids in before supper though. Dehydration is NOT the answer.
- Don’t wake them to pee. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes parents make is waking their children to pee when turning in for the night. It may be an attempt to help them make it through the night dry, but actually it interferes in the learning process. We want children to pay attention to their body signals. When parents wake them, the child doesn’t get the chance to listen to those signals, and this becomes a crutch for them. If you want to get that bladder drained, do it while they are awake. Have them use the toilet at the start of tuck-ins and then again right before lights out.
- Avoid hidden benefits. Some children discover that if they wet the bed, they get attention from Mom or Dad while their siblings are sleeping. In an exhausted haze, a parent may just opt to have the child tuck in with them and deal with bed sheets in the morning. To avoid hidden benefits, keep your night time interactions to a minimum, and if possible, train your child to deal with the nighttime wet waking independently. Consider keeping a sleeping bag in their room. Explain that if they wake up wet, they can get out of wet jammies, use a diaper wipe for a quick clean up, and then crawl in to the bag on the floor. You can then deal with the bed in the morning. No Mom or Dad required. Alternatively, buy extra plastic sheets and layer the bed: one sheet, one plastic, another sheet, another plastic etc., so that if they wet the bed, they can independently peel off a layer and crawl into the dry bed and continue sleeping without disturbing others in the house.
- Add a hassle. Not only can your child strip their sheets independently, now is also a good time to show them how to use the washing machine and how to make a bed. As they gain skills, they can do the chore themselves (and it can get pretty dull pretty quickly). This is not really meant to be a ‘punishment’ so much as tying together responsibility for themselves. The burden of the clean up stays with the person who made the mess; just like when you spill a box of crayons.
- Teach tricks to ease social stigmas. Many kids have to continue with pull ups at night and it’s hard on them socially. If they are going to overnight camp or sleepovers, spend some time practicing how to pre-place their pull ups in their PJ’s and roll them up so they stay in place. This way they can slip into them at the same time as their PJ bottoms, so no one notices.
Have patience. It will take time, and if it takes too long, speak to your doctor for recommendations (there are medications, bedwetting ‘alarms’ and more) but hopefully the other steps will lead to success first. Good luck—and may the mattress protectors be with you.