Teaching your child the steps for self-catheterization helps build their self-confidence and independence. Children typically begin to show interest in self-catheterization between the ages of three and five.

Teaching children before they go to kindergarten will give them confidence and freedom to use the bathroom on their own at school. It is important that your child can understand the importance of cleanliness in the self-catheterization process when you teach them; their awareness will help prevent infection.

When the time is right for your child, you will want to talk with them about the proper steps for complete bladder emptying to keep them healthy and help encourage their freedom as they grow up. Routine is critical in setting your child up for a successful bladder management program, and self-catheterization will be a normal part of their daily activities. Much like tying a shoe, the more times a child performs self-catheterization, the more natural it becomes in their self-care routine. 

Be supportive and patient as they learn. Encourage their success and help them build their routine.
As your child learns self-catheterization, they may have questions about catheters and why they 
must use them. Helping your child understand that everyone goes to the bathroom, but that some 
just go differently, will help normalize the self-catheterization process, build their self-esteem, and give  them confidence in self-care. When self-catheterization is normalized, a child may be less embarrassed and more likely to adhere to their routine when you are not around. When they are comfortable with the routine, they will quickly realize that using the bathroom is not a big deal and doesn’t have to take a long time!

Typically, the bladder needs to be emptied four to six times per day. The frequency may vary depending on your child’s fluid intake and activities. Ensure your child stays hydrated and does not avoid fluids to avoid self-catheterization. Always follow your child’s doctor’s instructions and teach them how to use the intermittent catheter they prescribe. Some children find alarm reminders on a phone or watch helpful as they establish their routine. If your child transfers from their wheelchair for toileting, teach them how to safely transfer in different bathroom environments so they are comfortable no matter where they go. Ensure their catheters are stored in a bag or backpack that they can access. Provide extra antibacterial hand wipes or hand sanitizer in the same bag with your child’s catheters for on-the-go hand washing. Some children find it helpful to have their catheters in zip-top bags that are labeled “clean” and “dirty.” Providing two bags ensures they are using a clean catheter every time and if they are waiting to dispose of their used catheter, the “dirty” bag gives them a sealed place to store it until they are home. To discreetly dispose of the catheter on-the-go, include small trash bags that are dark colored and teach them to put the used catheter inside and dispose of the bag in the trash.

Practice and consistency build a routine and will allow your child to quickly become comfortable in taking care of going to the bathroom. Many catheter manufacturers offer use instructions that are specific to their product. These product specific instructions will guide you in teaching your child and remind your child of the steps in their routine. Ensure your child knows the importance of washing their hands, proper handling and insertion of their catheter, and how to dispose of the urine and their catheter properly. Learning to use the bathroom on their own will build their self-confidence, set them up for long-term self-care success and independence.
Alexis Miller, OTR/L, ATP

Author

Alexis Miller, OTR/L, ATP

Alexis Miller is an Assistive Technology Professional specializing in equipment for persons with spinal cord and brain injuries. She graduated from Xavier University with a degree in occupational therapy in 2003 and is currently working toward her clinical doctorate. As a therapist, Alexis specialized in acute adult neurologic injury, but also worked as a pediatric home health occupational therapist. She now works as a wheelchair provider at a large rehabilitation hospital in Denver, Colorado. Alexis is a mountain sports lover and an avid world explorer.

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