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Advice on bedwetting children from parents who’ve been there

If your child wets the bed, you are certainly not alone. Moms and experts offer advice about nighttime accidents to help you cope with the challenges you’re facing within your own family.

Child sleeping in bed |

Photo credit: Jerome Gorin/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

“Nighttime bedwetting is one of the most common pediatric health issues,” says Ingrid Kellaghan, parenting expert and founder of Cambridge Nanny Group. “Parents are often surprised to learn that occurrences may happen until the age of 6 or 7, sometimes beyond.”

Margene’s story

A mother to three children, Margene “tried everything” to deal with her son’s bedwetting issue. “I wouldn’t let him drink after a certain time, I would give him rewards if he made it through the night and I moved him to the room right by the bathroom,” laments Margene. “Nothing worked.”

Getting to the real problem. “I was so focused on the bedwetting that I didn’t notice his other changing behavior,” says Margene. “He was acting far more withdrawn. I took him to a counselor that specialized in play therapy with kids, and through a few sessions we got to the root issue.”

It wasn’t about the bedwetting after all. “The issue wasn’t that our son was wetting the bed, the issue was why he was wetting the bed,” says Margene. “We realized that he was getting picked on at school and was experiencing a lot of fear. After the root issue was addressed and dealt with, he stopped wetting the bed.”

What Margene wants other parents to know. “Our son’s case is unique, but I would encourage any parent to investigate if there could be a traumatic event that could be prompting the behavior.”

Jill’s story

Jill’s children were potty trained between the ages of 21 months and 2 and a 1/2 years, but they have since struggled with bedwetting. The eldest, now 8 years old, started wetting the bed about a year after she was trained. The next two kids, ages 6 and 4, “were never dry for any extended amount of time.”

Seeking help. Jill took her oldest to see a urologist because of daytime wetting, but “even with that addressed, the nighttime wetting didn’t cease.” She also tried essential oils to address the possibility of an underlying emotional issue, “but nothing stops the wetting.”

For now, Jill is just doing her best to prevent it. “Honestly, based on the history, we are just preventing the kids from actually wetting the bed. We limit their evening drinks, and they drink only water (with juice, milk and sodas as only a rare option).”

Jill’s kids wear pull-ups. “We tried using cloth diapers overnight, but the process of diapering a child was both degrading for them and even more frustrating for me as the parent. We decided that pull-ups and a trashcan in their wing of the house was best for everyone. It removed me completely from the situation and allowed them the ability to use the restroom if they actually woke up when they needed to.” 

It’s all in the family. Dad was a bed wetter until age 9, and his siblings wet the bed, too. There were no pull-ups then, so his parents did what they could do deal with the situation. “His parents set alarms to wake themselves up to take the kids to the bathroom and tried potty alarms,” says Jill, “but, in the end, the kids were only dry if they were basically up all night taking them to the bathroom.”

What Jill wants other parents to know. “Honestly, if you’ve tried all of the typical ‘tricks,’ it may be time to accept that this may truly be out of your control,” says Jill. “I had anger issues over it — especially since it wasn’t me that was ‘causing’ it.”

Jill acknowledges and accepts that she’s doing her best to help prevent and manage bedwetting. Buying pull-ups for her kids to use on their own is “worth my sanity and the overall happiness in our household.”

Sasha’s story

Sasha, author of Waiting 4 Baby Y: The Y Brothers, is the mom of three boys and has a baby on the way. Yaden, now 7, was potty trained at age 3; Yoel, 4, and Yosiah, 3, were both just recently trained.

Each child is unique. “Yaden, my oldest, wets his bed about every other night,” says Sasha. “I use sheet pads and pull-ups for him, and sometimes I will wake him up in the middle of the night to go potty.” Yoel wets his bed less than once a month and Yosiah, the youngest, doesn’t wet his bed at all.

Just lazy? “I have not consulted a doctor about Yaden’s bedwetting because he doesn’t wet the bed every night,” says Sasha. “I think Yaden’s issue is that he does not like to get up in the night to pee. He’d rather just wet the bed. If he had a real bladder issue, then he would wet himself during the day as well.” 

Expert advice

“If your pediatrician has ruled out a physical reason for nocturnal wetting, focus your energy on helping the child stay dry during the night,” says Kellaghan.

Preventing accidents:

  • Encourage your child to empty his bladder immediately before going to bed.
  • Encourage your child to drink more fluids throughout the day. Have him urinate as soon as they have to go. This teaches him to recognize the feeling of a full bladder. When he recognizes that feeling at night, he knows to get up and go to the bathroom.
  • Plastic sheets and mattress protectors protect the bed and are sanity savers.
  • Training pants are designed for night use and can help.
  • Parents of older children report good results using a bed-wetting alarm. When properly used, it can keep children motivated through behavior modification.

“It seems that nighttime bedwetting is the last piece of rounding out success in toilet training,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. Dr. Walfish offers advice on what to do when those middle-of-the-night accidents do occur.

Responding to accidents:

  • Make it a “no-big-deal” accident but provide some boundaries and motivate your child back into eliminating into the toilet.
  • Have your child participate in his own cleanup.
  • Have him remove his pajamas, clean himself with wipes and put on clean fresh pajamas.
  • He should also strip the bed linens off while you help him put on fresh, clean ones.
  • Encourage and praise self-reliance while letting him see that accidents and cleanups require much more work than sitting on the toilet.

More on bedwetting

Bedwetting problems seen in kids with ADHD
Myths and facts about bedwetting
Help! My potty-trained toddler is refusing to use the toilet

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