Bedwetting, Accidents, Bathroom Phobias: From a Brain’s Perspective


Bedwetting, urinary accidents during the day, and bathroom-related phobias can weigh heavily on kids, especially as they age and such problems persist. For example, if I’m 10 and I wet the bed, how do I go to slumber parties or summer camp? If I have an accident during the day, how will I cover it up so no one knows? If I have distorted fears about going into a bathroom by myself, how does that affect my overall life?

There may be a connection between bedwetting and incomplete lower brain development.

But more times than not, no one is asking, “How might brain circuitry be related to each of those problems?”

So, here are some of those answers.

Bedwetting and Accidents

It turns out . . . we don’t have just five       senses—as we’ve all been taught. We have vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems, as well.

Now, when these systems are functioning as intended, we acquire automatic functions. But if such sensory systems are not operating efficiently, bedwetting and accidents during the day (among many other behaviors) may result. Here’s why.

When we have good proprioception, our brain naturally “senses” when it’s time to eliminate. But here, our proprioceptive system will signal us before it’s ever urgent. In other words, people with good proprioception have a grace period between getting that information and having to act.

Yet, that’s not often the case for those with poor proprioception. Their brain may only get that signal at the very same moment it’s now no longer an option to wait.

So, can the brain learn to compensate for poor proprioception? Yes, but there’s always a trade-off whenever we compensate.

For example, a child who has poor proprioception may now have to rely on his cortex to ensure there are no daily accidents. But requiring the cortex to additionally direct its attention to a job that it isn’t intended to do . . . means it’s now less available to learn and do other cortex functions. In other words, every brain can only direct its attention to so much at any given time.

Also, if we’re relying on compensations—then we’re vulnerable, meaning we can’t always count on our compensations to work. So, if a child with poor proprioception becomes very engaged in an activity, he may consequently have an accident. In such case, the cortex was so preoccupied with the activity that it “forgot” to do its extra job.

Likewise, if we have good vestibular and proprioceptive processing, we may take for granted that we automatically sense that we need to go to the bathroom while we’re asleep, and that our vestibular system then wakes us up to do so. Yet, note that many kids with poor vestibular processing already have a difficult time waking up in the morning. So, they’re not likely going to wake up in the middle of the night—when they’re sound asleep—to make a trip to the bathroom.

Of course, there can be other reasons a child wets the bed or has accidents during the day. But if traditional solutions have not worked, then a lower brain connection becomes more probable. I cannot even begin to count how many Brain Highways parents have gleefully reported that their kids longer no wet their bed or have accidents during the day.


Bathroom Phobias

Some kids fear going into large public restrooms, such as those in an airport. But if they have incomplete lower brain development, there may be a physiological reason for their apprehension.

For example, some of those kids may process the sound of a toilet flushing very differently than others. What does that mean? Well, imagine however we ordinarily hear a toilet flushing has now been amplified ten-fold, twenty-fold in its volume—and there are four or five toilets flushing at the same time.

Well, that may be what some kids are experiencing whenever they’re inside a large public restroom. That’s why these kids will often even resist entering such places. If made to do so, they’ll then put their hands over their ears and become very stressed. Yet, if we heard toilet flushing as they do, we’d respond in the same way.

Learning about our brain’s amygdala may be helpful when understanding how other bathroom phobias—that aren’t directly related to incomplete lower brain development—originated in the first place. For example, suppose a child has been constipated for a long time, and so, she then experiences pain when she’s finally able to go.

In such case, her brain stores that memory with that pain. In other words, elimination and pain have now been “wired together” in her brain. So, whenever she just thinks about having to eliminate in the future, her amygdala is triggered (Danger! Impending threat! Avoid pain!), and her amygdala now responds by sending a stress response to her entire body.

Yet, without understanding how to disable this kind of unproductive wiring, a child’s fear of elimination will likely escalate. That’s because this child’s brain now believes it is helpful to refrain from eliminating. After all, the brain is naturally wired to avoid pain. But, of course, the longer the child withholds, the more likely there will be pain, perpetuating a cycle that has now become an unproductive “learned” response in terms of brain circuitry.

Other kids may have different “learned” bathroom phobias. For example, some kids believe they can’t enter a bathroom—in their very own home—without someone accompanying them. But, again, once we understand how to disable such unproductive circuitry, such behaviors are truly eliminated.

And so, that’s why learning how to complete our lower brain development (if incomplete), as well as how to eliminate any unproductive, learned behavior is often viewed as miraculous. But without question, there’s a huge relief when the frustration, embarrassment—and even shame—associated with kids wetting their bed, having urinary accidents during the day or being held “captive” by bathroom phobias . . . are no longer part of a family’s life.

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