In the largest study of its kind to date, researchers have confirmed that high levels of family stress in early life can cause children to wet the bed for prolonged and persistent periods of time.
University of Bristol researchers analysed data on over 8,500 participants in Children of the 90s to see whether stressful events in early life were more or less likely to be linked to bed-wetting when the children were aged between four and nine.
They found that children who frequently and persistently wet the bed (defined as at least twice a week up to the age of nine) were more likely to have experienced a stressful event earlier in their lives than those who stopped bedwetting before school age.
Stressful events were recorded by the child’s main carer at three points in time – when the child was aged just under two, three and four.
Carers were given a list of 42 life events to select from and categories included acute (e.g. death of a parent), chronic (e.g. financial problems), predicable (e.g. birth of a sibling) and unpredictable (e.g. parent involved in an accident).
Speaking about the findings, Dr Carol Joinson, the paper’s lead author, said:
Most children master bladder control between the ages of four and six. Where frequent bed-wetting continues to persist after this age, health practitioners and teachers need to be sensitive to the fact that this might be due to high levels of family stress and to direct families to appropriate sources of support.
We need to do more to educate parents about the long-term consequences of stress and the potential benefits of preventing or reducing sources of stress in early childhood, while recognising that some forms of stress are by their very nature unavoidable, e.g. the death of a parent.
Families at high risk of stress should be offered guidance early on, especially for sensitive developmental transition periods such as toilet training, because they may find the demands even more challenging.
‘Stressful events in early childhood and developmental trajectories of bedwetting at school age’ by Carol Joinson, Sarah Sullivan, Alexander von Gontard and Jon Heron is published today (12 April 2016) in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsw025.
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