About one in five 4 and 5-year-olds wet the bed, and as many as one in ten boys still has a problem by age 12. For some reason, it's more common in boys than girls.
There may be some kind of physical problem or health condition that's causing your child to wet the bed. If you're concerned about that, you should definitely discuss your child's bed-wetting with a doctor. But usually bed-wetting can be cured without medical intervention, given enough time along with a healthy dose of patience. Here are the techniques the experts recommend.
Rid yourself--and your child of the guilt. Realize that you're not a bad parent because your child wets the bed, and make it clear to your child that he isn't a bad child because he wets. Bed-wetting is a biological problem. It occurs in a child who, during sleep, has not learned bladder control skills.
Ban punishments. One study found that nearly three-fourths of parents punished their children for bed-wetting. Never punish or scold your child for a wet bed. This does not help the child. Children do not want to wet the bed.
Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep? A sleep-deprived child may sleep so deeply that the need to urinate doesn't wake him. See How Much Sleep?
Protect with plastic. A zip-up plastic mattress cover should be standard equipment on any bed wetter's bed. It protects the mattress, of course. But also it means there's less of a "crisis" when the child wets the bed. Both parents and kids will stay calmer if they know there's not much clean-up to worry about.
Encourage clean-up duties. You should, however, encourage the child to help clean up. Perhaps placing sheets in the laundry pile.
Recognize the signs. A child often becomes motivated to stop wetting when it begins to interfere with his social options. When the child starts to refuse invitations to spend the night away from home, or doesn't go to camp because of bed-wetting fears, you can point out the benefits of being able to do these things. Then suggest some ways your child can help himself get through the night with a dry bed.
Pick a good time. Before starting, choose a relatively peaceful period. Like with potty training, do not choose a time just before an exciting holiday or vacation.
Put the child in charge. You want your child to understand from the outset that staying dry at night is his responsibility.
That means don't waken your child at night to take him to the bathroom.
Waking the child doesn't teach him anything about bladder control, and it's probably counterproductive. If the child goes to bed thinking his parent is going to wake him up at night, that's teaching the child that the parent is going to take care of his bladder and that he doesn't have to worry about it. Your child has to go to bed just a little bit worried to stay dry.
Reward dry nights. Consistently reward or congratulate your child when she has made it through the night with a dry bed. You'll get a lot further if you give positive psychological support such as hugs and warm congratulations. Some kids might like happy faces drawn on a calendar or special stickers. Whatever reinforcement you use, do it first thing in the morning.
Say nothing if your child wakes up with wet sheets. Be careful not to grimace or say something like, "Oh, no, your bed is wet this morning." Instead, say nothing. You only want to focus on successes.
Give your child permission to get up. Some kids are reluctant to leave their beds, and others have been ordered by parents never to get up after they've been tucked in. So you need to give your kids permission to get up to go to the bathroom. They need a flashlight or a night-light, and they need to be asked if they want a potty-chair next to their bed. Some kids who don't want to go to the bathroom are perfectly willing to use the potty-chair and go back to sleep.
Try an alarm clock. If the child has a regular pattern of wetting the bed at the same time every night, furnish an alarm clock and explain how it works. The child can set the alarm clock to wake him up 20 minutes to half an hour before he usually wets the bed so he can get up and go to the bathroom.
Encourage a dress rehearsal. Practice with a school-age child during the day. Have the child lie in bed, close his eyes pretending it's the middle of the night. Have him give himself a little pep talk. It goes something like, "I'm in a deep, deep sleep, my bladder is full, my bladder is starting to feel pressure and is trying to wake me up. It's saying get up before it's too late."
The child should then practice getting up, walking to the bathroom and going to the toilet. Have him actually walk from bedroom to bathroom, so he knows exactly how many paces it is.
Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, a substance that encourages urination. It's in many sodas and in chocolate as well as in coffee and tea. Avoiding these foods and drinks may help your child avoid wetting.
Encourage bladder control practice. Explain to your child that she can help "train" her bladder by practicing during the day. Have your child drink a lot, and then wait as long as she can to go to the bathroom. Have her try to wait a little bit longer each time. You want to train a child to associate the feeling of having a full bladder with having to go to the bathroom.
Stream-interruption exercises can also help. Similar to the Kagel exercises women practice during pregnancy to build up the sphincter muscle. Have the child begin to urinate and then stop briefly before starting up again. He should try to do this several times when he urinates.
Buy a bed alarm. Most experts agree that moisture-activated bed alarms are the most effective treatment for bed-wetting. When moisture hits the pad an alarm goes off and wakes the child. It conditions the child to recognize the sensation and wake up before they have to urinate. Alarms are battery-operated, cost around $40 and are available from several companies without a prescription. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a brand or type. Use the alarm until your child is dry every night for one month. In most alarms, wetting triggers a loud sound that awakens the child. A silent, vibrating alarm is also available for children who don't respond to sound.
We recommend a portable, transistorized alarm that is worn on the body rather than the bell and pad devices. But, parents shouldn't insist on using the alarm if the child is opposed to it.
Stick with it. Be understanding and patient with your child, and stick with your efforts to stop the bed-wetting. Conditioning takes time.
Bed-wetting is usually a normal, harmless condition of childhood, but there could be a serious physical reason such as a urinary tract infection, diabetes or a physical abnormality although, these are rare.
See your child's pediatrician if:
Robyn's Nest would like to hear how your family deals with bed-wetting. Share your experience on our discussion boards.
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