Bed-wetting is more common than parents may think
Wet sheets, soggy pajamas and an embarrassed child are a familiar scene in many homes, and practically a rite of passage for parents. In fact, bed-wetting, otherwise known as nocturnal enuresis, is a normal part of a child’s development and is quite common, affecting about one in five children.
As for the “whys” behind it, there is a variety. Bed-wetting can run in families and tends to affect more boys than girls. Your child’s waking-up response to having a full bladder may not yet be fully developed, meaning they don’t have conscious control over it. It could also be that their bladder simply can’t hold the amount of urine they produce overnight. Or, they may just be a super-deep sleeper.
The good news: Almost all kids grow out of bed-wetting, usually before age 7. But until that happens it can be very stressful, both for parents and kids. Children tend to feel uncomfortable and anxious while parents feel helpless and frustrated. To avoid bed-wetting becoming more of an issue than it has to be, start by understanding its causes; then take the following steps to help ease your child — and yourself — through it.
Educate. Explain that bed-wetting is a common problem and that it’s happening to other kids (they just aren’t talking about it, either). Let your child know the causes behind bed-wetting and that it’s not their fault. Knowing they’re not alone can help kids feel less isolated.
Share. Tell your child if you — or another family member — used to wet the bed. This helps them understand that bed-wetting may be hereditary and that they will grow out of it.
Be low-key. Accidents happen. Be calm and positive when they do and don’t yell or punish. Similarly, don’t shame your child as this can damage their self-esteem as well as make their efforts to stay dry even harder.
Involve your child in cleanup. Sharing the responsibility of changing and washing sheets helps a child actively tackle the problem.
Praise for dry nights. Set up small rewards for nights they don’t wet the bed (i.e., a book or a sticker) as a way to motivate children. It helps, too, to keep a chart of dry nights so you can track if it’s getting better or worse, and identify patterns. One suggestion: Give two stickers for dry nights, one for telling the truth about a wet night or none for lying about it.
Encourage sleepovers. The use of absorbent pants — and the help of other parents — can allow your child to enjoy nights out just like everyone else. Ask your child first if it’s OK to tell other adults about their bed-wetting; most often, other parents want to help.
Take precautions. Reduce beverages before bed and eliminate caffeinated drinks as caffeine increases the need to go more often. Encourage kids, too, to use the bathroom 15 minutes before bed and again right before bed. You can also wake your child up for one more trip to the bathroom before you go to bed yourself.
Seek help. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider to ensure there are no other issues at play such as stress, a urinary tract infection or other medical causes. You can also do little things to make night times easier, such as covering the mattress with plastic or investing in a bed-wetting alarm. These alarms sense urine and wake a child so they can use the bathroom.
Don’t lose patience. This is a family process that will take time. Stay patient and positive and know that, as with other stages of a child’s development, this, too, shall pass.
K. Lori Hanson, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and chief of research, evaluation and strategic planning at The Children’s Trust, has more than 20 years’ experience assessing critical data and community research regarding the needs of children and families. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org