“My Kid Still Wets the Bed” – What Should I Do?
Potty training can be an intense time for both kids and parents – once the diapers come off, kids feel the pressure to please mom and dad, and parents tread carefully hoping not to slip on any “puddles or piles” that didn’t make it to the toilet.
While most kids get the hang of potty training by age 4, many children and even teens still can’t control bedwetting while they sleep. The scientific term for this condition is nocturnal enuresis – the inability to control urine while sleeping (many kids also struggle with enuresis while awake, but we’ll save that topic for a later blog!) When a child struggles with bedwetting, parents often wonder if their child is experiencing a harmless phase or if there’s a serious problem they need to address.
So what should parents do if their child is struggling with bed wetting?
1. Do realize that it’s common
Your child may feel shame or embarrassment thinking that other kids their age don’t have this problem. They might avoid camping trips or sleepovers for fear of their friends finding out or making fun of them. Encourage your child or teen by letting them know that one in five children struggle with this, so it’s a very common issue.
2. Do look at your family tree
There are many biological factors that contribute to enuresis, and sometimes these issues are hereditary. Did you or anyone else in the family wet the bed until you were 12? If so, sharing that information with your child can help them understand that it’s not their fault and that their body will eventually mature past this.
3. Do learn health factors
Learn the various health conditions that might impact your kid’s bladder control. Some common conditions include:
Underdeveloped nerves that don’t sense a full bladder
Having a small bladder
If you are concerned that your child or teen may have any of these conditions, consult their pediatrician for support.
4. Do consider stressors
Anxiety can cause a child or teen to start bedwetting, even if they’ve been dry at night for years. Stress from major life changes such as gaining a new sibling or starting a new school can often be released in the form of bedwetting. If they’ve had a major life change shortly before bedwetting started, consult with a mental health specialist to evaluate if your child may need additional support.
5. Do practice “dry charting”
Create a chart to track dry nights and consistently mark it each morning; when your kid sees their “dry nights” adding up, they will feel empowered to keep trying for more. Offer small rewards for each dry night such as a sticker or candy, then increase the rewards for several dry nights in a row, such as a small toy or gadget after 10 dry nights.
6. Do try technology
There are a variety of products on the market designed to help kids become more aware of when they need to use the bathroom. Check out different “bell and pad alarm systems” which have a pad that senses urine and triggers an alarm to go off each time your child or teen starts to go. Over time, they will become more aware of their body’s cues before the alarm goes off.
7. Do get them involved
Have your child take part in cleaning up after accidents. Sharing responsibility for changing and washing sheets can help your child feel as if they are actively tackling their problem. But, be cautious not to shame or berate them when asking them to clean up; be calm and neutral in your approach.
1. Don’t place blame
There are a variety of factors that can cause enuresis, and none of them are your kid’s fault. And news flash, they aren’t your fault either! Nothing positive is gained by placing blame; instead of pointing the finger, focus your energy on finding effective solutions that works for your family.
2. Don’t punish the peepee!
Parents often think that punishing their children or teens for accidents will reduce how often they happen, but in reality this just increases their kid’s anxiety and makes them feel bad about themselves. Encouraging them and staying positive will incentivize them more than guilt or punishment. Remember that next time you feel tempted to tell your daughter that a fairy dies each time she wets the bed.
3. Don’t lose patience
It’s natural for parents to get frustrated after changing sheets for the umpteenth night in a row or still having to buy diapers for a 9-year-old. No matter how upset you feel, try to keep your cool when they have accidents. Replace, “Why can’t you stop wetting the bed?!” with, “That’s ok, you’ll try again tonight and maybe get another point on your dry chart tomorrow.”
4. Don’t be inconsistent
Make sure your child or teen has a consistent bedtime and reduces fluid intake toward the end of the day. The more you can make their sleep and bathroom schedule consistent, the more dry nights they will have. You can also set periodic alarms to awake them to use the bathroom throughout the night, but again, make sure they are in the same time intervals each night so your kid anticipates them. In time, this can help their body adjust to their routine and wait to empty their bladder until they awake for the bathroom.
5. Don’t do it alone
Enuresis is a complex health issue that can have a variety of causes. If your child is 7 or older and still having trouble controlling their bladder at night, a specialist in Child Psychology can help you uncover the issues that may be delaying their development.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. Dr. Shinn can assess your child for mental health challenges such as anxiety or attention issues that could be contributing to their enuresis. Dr. Shinn can help your family uncover where your child’s challenges are coming from and learn ways to support them while reducing bedwetting.
Cynthia R. Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. Cynthia can provide counseling, support, and effective tools to help your child or teen struggling with bedwetting.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men and teenage boys through life’s transitions. If your teenage son is struggling with enuresis, Dr. Sample can provide a comfortable place for him to overcome obstacles that may be contributing to his challenges.
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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.
Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).
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Mayo Clinic (2018). Bed-Wetting. Retrieved online:
Elsevier (2007). Bed wetting: nocturnal enuresis. Retrieved online: http://www.impcna.com/intranet/Nelson%20Pediatric/Kidney-Urinary%20Tract/BedWetting%5B1%5D.pdf
WebMD.com (2018) Talking to your child about bed wetting: the do’s and don’ts. Retrieved online: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/dos-and-donts-for-parents