I get a lot of questions about bedwetting, both from clients and friends. It’s one of those childhood obstacles that causes frustration and exhaustion for kids and parents alike, and I find that parents often feel alone in the struggle. The thing is, they’re never alone in this particular source of frustration.
Recently, a 6-year-old boy sat in my office, wondering why he was there. His mother sat beside him, wringing her hands and averting my gaze while she talked. He was potty trained at age 3 and night trained quickly thereafter. The pediatrician said the child was healthy; there was no medical cause for his bedwetting. So why was it happening at least once a week?
As it turned out, the transition to kindergarten was the culprit. This child went from a very playful preschool to a highly academic kindergarten classroom. He was exhausted most days and exhibiting some other signs of stress. It was hard to spot those symptoms of stress, though, because the bedwetting impacted the whole family and took center stage. I worked with the mom to find ways to work on decreasing the stress in the home and to address the bedwetting without placing too much emphasis on the hard parts (exhaustion, constant laundry, and waking his sibling with his cries for help).
Bedwetting is fairly common in kids under the age of 7, and it does have a genetic component. If one biological parent was a bed wetter, there’s a good chance the child will also wet the bed. The good news is that most bedwetting resolves without intervention as the bladder matures and children gain nighttime bladder control. Even so, many parents are eager to help the child work through bedwetting at a faster pace.
But here’s the thing: When families attempt to “treat” bedwetting it becomes a huge source of stress and pressure for the child, and stress can actually trigger bedwetting. When parents become hyper-focused on children staying dry, kids sometimes feel like failures when they wet the bed.
The best thing parents can do is support their kids through the process. Normalize bedwetting. Kids often report feeling like the “only one,” and those feelings can lead to shame and low self-esteem. Talk to your kids about the fact that many kids wet the bed helps them feel less alone. It becomes less personal and they can view it as a temporary obstacle. Sometimes the act of bringing the issue out into the open in a calm and understanding way helps kids stop stressing about it each night before they go to bed.
Too much talk, however, can make bedwetting feel like the only thing a family ever discusses! While there isn’t a quick fix for bedwetting, there are a few ways you can help your child change his habits (and hopefully reduce bedwetting) without talking the talk every single day.
1. Cut down on evening liquids. Some kids can go all day without a drop of water, until dehydration sets in and they suddenly start draining water bottles. While my kids have never been bedwetters, I do hear them get up during the night on the days when they “forget” to hydrate until the evening. Encourage your kids to hydrate early by yelling “water break!” and passing around cups of water at regular intervals. During the school day, a water bottle on the desk can encourage daytime drinking. Staying hydrated throughout the day will reduce the need to load up on water before bed. When they do ask for water in the evening, provide just a couple of ounces.
2. Schedule family bathroom breaks. When one kid is in the spotlight, that kid feels pressured to succeed. When the whole family works together, obstacles feel less personal and easier to overcome. Get your child on a regular urination schedule (every two to three hours) by scheduling family bathroom breaks. Everyone stops what they’re doing and gives it a try whether or not the urge is there. This helps kids internalize the process of paying attention to bladder cues and taking time out to relieve a full bladder.
3. Eliminate foods and drinks that can irritate the bladder. Caffeine is the obvious one (watch that chocolate milk!), but also consider citrus juices, dyes, and artificial sweeteners. An irritated bladder can trigger bedwetting.
4. Have your child pee before bed. Adults take this step for granted because they know that if they don’t try, they will probably wake up during the night. Kids, on the other hand, tend to skip this step. Creating healthy bathroom habits helps kids make peeing regularly part of their daily routine.
5. Have your child use a bedwetting alarm. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, these alarms are about 75 percent effective in eliminating bedwetting. There are several of them on the market that include moisture sensors to alert your child that it’s time to go. The latest technology includes smaller, lighter sensors that don’t feel bulky when attached to the pajamas and a buzzer for a more soothing alarm (to avoid startling the child). These alarms are not, however, a quick fix. It does take about 12 weeks to work.
Bedwetting can be stressful for both kids and parents. Remove some of that stress by empathizing with your child, using bedwetting products that help your child feel confident, and changing your child’s daytime habits.