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What About Bed-Wetting?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

There’s nothing quite like being awakened in the night by a child who has wet the bed. Equally upsetting is discovering in the morning, as you’re hurrying to get everyone up and out of the house, that a child and his bedding are soaked in urine and in need of immediate cleaning.

It’s easy to get mad. This is frustrating. But the key bit to keep in mind is that bedwetting is outside your child’s control. It’s not his fault. All the yelling and punishment you can do will not have any positive effect.

Most children stay dry at night by the time they’re four years old, though even then there may be the occasional slip-up. Of the kids who continue to wet the bed into the kindergarten year, most will outgrow this problem eventually on their own. They need patience and some precautions and just time.

But about 3% of middle school students have trouble with bedwetting. This problem affects boys more than girls. Most children who continue to struggle with this have a parent who also wet the bed.

Bedwetting is an outcome of immature physical development, deep sleep, and hereditary factors. None of these are elements any child can control. The ability to hold one’s urine even during deep sleep, and to awaken when one’s bladder becomes full are developmental skills. Obviously, punishing a child for wetting the bed is unfair. Your child isn’t wetting the bed because she’s lazy or doesn’t care. No child wants to wet the bed. If she wets the bed, she does so because she cannot yet control urination while she sleeps.

So if punishing your child will not lead to drier sleeping, what should a frustrated parent do? How can you support your child while also reducing the frequency of wet beds?

  • Limit beverages in the evening.
  • Protect the mattress with absorbent rubber sheeting so bedwetting is less of a nuisance. Keep fresh sheets at the ready so you can switch them out even in the middle of the night.
  • Suggest your child wear disposables at night. Just the fact that there exists nighttime underwear designed for older kids with bedwetting issues is a clue that this problem isn’t all that unusual. Make wetting less of an issue with nighttime disposables.
  • Help your child who sleeps deeply to train himself to wake up. Get your child’s buy-in first and make this a project you work together on. Then use an alarm clock or wake him up yourself for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. Gradually move the wake up time later and later, until your child is sleeping dry throughout the night.
  • Get medical advice, especially if your child is very worried about bedwetting or if this problem lingers into the elementary school years. There are hormone treatments that can help.

Keep in mind that if your child has been dry, then suddenly has trouble with bedwetting that this can signal anxiety, emotional problems, or even sexual abuse. These are not common triggers of bedwetting but are clues to follow if bedwetting begins after many months of dry nights.

If bedwetting is a problem for your child, no matter what his age, punishment is not the answer. He’s not doing it to be mean. Be supportive, help him change the sheets, and see what you can do that will have a positive effect.

Bedwetting is a nuisance but it’s not the end of the world. It will either go away or your kid will find ways to deal with it. Your support will help him, either way.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.