Coping With Bedwetting: 20 Tips for Parents

This article is far from a” how to” train your child to potty train in one day or in one week.  Everytime I read articles like that I would have to chuckle because in the midst of our battle it just seemed funny to be able to train a child in one day (though I know it has happened to some lucky parent).

We hope that this is an encouragement for parents or caretakers who have children who just can’t stay dry at night and or parents whose children suffer from Enuresis.  This long journey began for us on March 22nd when he turned 2, everything that I read said that between the ages of 2-3 you can introduce potty training with some exceptions.  Soon I found out that my son was the exception.  We tried all sorts of tricks and tips but he wasn’t interested at age 2. We waited and re-introduced potty training at age 3.

What we tried:

  • Keeping him on the potty all day watching tv, playing games and giving him tons of water to encourage him to tee-tee.  He would get so excited everytime he peed in the potty.
  • Cool undies for the big boy.
  • Making it fun by putting cheerios in the potty for him to shoot at.
  • Sticker charts and other incentives.
  • We praised him like crazy everytime he told us he had to go potty and peed in the big boy potty.
  • We bought him his own little potty.
  • Taking him to the potty at a schedule time to get him used to peeing at a scheduled time.

I can go on and on and share with you all of the wonderful tips we read and all of the things we tried that just didn’t work with our son.  We reintroduced potty training at age 3 and finally at age 4 he was able to stay dry in the day time (for the most part) and we celebrated! It was such a huge accomplishment for our little man!!!

Then we moved to another country.

Yup, there went all of our hard work, he regressed so we had to start all over again with our training.  Thanks to God it was only a short lived stage and he was able to get himself back to staying dry in the day time.  Once we were settled and months had gone by we reintroduced “Operation Stay Dry at Nite”.  Seriously, it was an operation where both my husband and myself were tag teaming to help him.  Again we tried some of the things mentioned above and below but to no avail he couldn’t stay dry for more than 2 or 3 nights.

From the beginning I shared this with some professionals and friends who said “well if he is doing if for 2 to 3 nights in a row then maybe he is just manipulating you because he stays dry when he is promised a toy but when he is not, he wets his bed.”

That thought was planted in my head and it added to my frustration.  I would get so FRUSTRATED every morning I went into his room and changed his bed sheets (which was pretty much every day) because I thought he is choosing to pee in his bed.  I think some kids may manipulate you but my son was not. Looking back now I wish I would not have heard that advice because I lost all empathy.

Thanks to God, I was able to change my perspective pretty quickly and walk this journey with him instead of thinking “you are choosing to wet the bed.”  What really helped was when I realized that I was not alone in this battle and that their are 1000’s of parents everyday waking up to find that once again their child wet the bed.

Here are some tips we learned and some mistakes we made.  Some of the points are things that did not work for us (it was definitely a trial and error process and a WE thing, both my husband and myself were working hard on this)

How to Cope with Bedwetting

1. I changed my perspective. In our situation, I came to terms with the reality that: he doesn’t have control over his bladder and only God knows when he will be capable of  this task and that he doesn’t want to pee in his bed, as much as I don’t want to have to change his sheets.

2. Evaluate your situation. How old is your child? Are they developmentally ready? What are some of the factors playing in when he/she wets their bed? Did they just watch a scary movie? Did you just have a huge change in your life? Is he/she only 2 or 3? Does this happen everyday or just on occasion? From what I have read, developmentally children are learning to master this skill between 2-4 yrs of age so don’t fret if they are still in this age bracket and have not mastered this skill.  After sharing our bedwetting woes with friends most of them shared that their boys struggled with bed wetting long after they expected, whew, I was relieved to hear this.

3. Educate yourself.  This was so helpful in changing my perspective.  We quickly realized that he did infact suffer from Enuresis.  There are different levels of this condition so consult your pediatrician to find out if in their opinion this is normal for the stage your child is in or if they may be struggling with a type of Enuresis.

4. Decide on pull-ups or just under wear–  Do you want them to wear pull ups or change sheets every morning? We decided on the latter and we had him strip his sheets off the bed every morning and he had to have rinse his underwear off with soap and water by himself. This idea came from the hopes that if it cost him something then maybe he would try harder to wake up. It didn’t work for us so we stopped the rinsing under wear thing. If you choose not to use diapers then buy mattress protectors and stock up on bedsheets you don’t mind washing every day. If you choose pull ups you may have to pay close attention to their skin as it may irritate their bottom or other areas that stay wet. Also, the elastic on the diaper may pinch them or irritate them, this happened with our son when we used the plastic type of undie covers that they put on over their underwear. My son hated those because of the elastic.  A reader below commented on buying cloth training diapers. Such a great idea and it’s easier then washing bedding everyday.

5. If they do suffer from Enuresis decide whether you are going to use medicine or not – We decided that medicine was not an option for us and that we would find other ways to help him. Some parents go this route and it works for them. In my research, parents shared that even with medicine the child was still peeing in their bed so in the end we preferred a natural method. Our son has been dry for over a year now and the last thing we tried was an alarm.  It worked wonderfully. At first I was skeptical especially after reading all the reviews on bed wetting alarms. But we finally decided to buy the $50 gadget and we just hoped and prayed, this would help him.  It worked!

6. Bed time– Get them to bed early so they are not overtired unable to wake themselves up. This is one of the points that kept coming up when I read about Enuresis, that they have a hard time waking themselves up.

7. Praise and encouragement–  Give lots of praise and lots of encouragement everytime there is a dry nite even if you know it probably won’t last.  One of the things my son shared with my husband when he had a whole week of dry nites  “Mommy would tell me every night that she believed in me and I did it!”  It touched my heart even though his dry nites continued to be sporadic. Even when they wet their bed still find ways to be encouraging. If they are older they probably feel lots of shame because they are still wetting their bed.

8. Don’t shame them–  I hate to admit but I did do this in the beginning, out of ignorance.  “You are 6yrs old and you are still wetting your bed. Are your friends still wetting their bed?”  Ughhh, I hate to think that I did that.  Your child is very aware that most likely their friends are fully potty trained. Especially, if they are older they realize this and are embarrased.  Whatever you do don’t embarrass them in front of their friends.

9.  Don’t punish them or spank them instead use positve reinforcement.  Using punishment/spanking as a form of motivation doesn’t work and it can lead to other issues and disconnect with your children.  We had an interesting situation. We had one child who just couldn’t stay dry and another who pretty much potty trained himself.  My child who potty trained himself suddenly started wetting his bed. He would do this in the morning when he was wide awake.  He was wide awake but didn’t want to get up out of bed so he decided it was okay that he pee on himself since brother was doing it.  We evaluated the situation a bit more and decided that our potty trained son was voluntarily wetting his bed and he indeed needed consequences (we implemented a potty chart for him).

10. Talk to them about it– Share with your child your research and ways they can cope with it.  They need to know that they are not babies just because they still wet their bed. Talk to your other children making sure they are not shaming them for wetting their bed. Or as I shared in point 9 the other sibling may start thinking it’s okay to wet their bed just because their other sibling is doing it.

11. Come up with a plan –  Even if it’s Enuresis don’t just wait and hope that it will go away. Since this is something  you will have to deal with on a regular basis come up with a plan so the child knows exactly what is supposed to happen when they wet their bed.  What they need to do and what you will do when they wet the bed.  In our house my son slept through his peed sheets until morning. So he knew that in the morning when he woke up he needs to change his clothes first (they love to go sit in the TV room with wet clothes) and then  he needs to put his wet clothes in the laundry room (not basket otherwise you will have an intoxicating urine smell in a matter of hours.) Then he needs to strip his bed of all the peed sheets.  Once we are up, one of us would help bathe him and that we would wash the wet stuff and help him make his bed.  Even though this is a “condition”, I feel strongly about them helping cleaning up the mess. If we were running late for school in the morning he would use a wash cloth to clean himself up instead of getting a bath.

12. Don’t lose hope–  When you have gone through this routine for 366 days and tried every trick in the book and to no avail your child is still wetting the bed you might start feeling hopeless. From what I have read in most cases children outgrow this.  There is hope!

13. Come to terms with the situation–  Accept that your child has a condition (make sure you have them checked, don’t just assume and label it that) and that most likely he will wet the bed at night until he outgrows this.   That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find ways to encourage them not to and rejoice on the days they don’t wet the bed.  Be prepared and take trash bags and extra towels when you are traveling.

14. What works for one may not work for others– If this one theory worked like a charm for your best friend’s child but then you try it and it doesn’t work, just try something else. Each child is different so you may have to try different theories and tips. Realize that you will need to have different individual expectations for each of your children. As I mentioned one of our boys pretty much potty trained himself at age 2 and our other one struggeld with it for years so we had to have different expectations for each of them. One of them the alarm worked wonders the other incentive charts worked best.

15. Take action.  Come up with a plan that works for your family.  Our plans have changed throughout the years, as we noticed one thing didn’t work but the other did.  These are our various plans(not in any particular order): 1- We figured out when he was peeing on the bed and we would wake him up before he peed. He peed at 12, 3 and 6a.m.  We took turns doing this and set an alarm to wake us up but this lasted for 2 months and then we were exhausted so we stopped.  2- Limited his liquid intake (we live in the mountains and dry area so this quickly effected other areas so we stopped).  3- Don’t let him drink anything after 5p.m.  4- Do all of the first 3 plans and try them together.   5- Keep the light on in his bathroom just in case he stays in bed because he is scared.  6- Dry Nites Incentive chart and a big prize at the end of 4 days of dry nites.

More tips from other moms from a Kid Blogger group that I am a part of:

16. If the child is young keep a small potty in the room.

17. My pediatricians advice that I am following: She said that night training can only happen for kids when they are nuerologically ready. She said for some it can be as late as 7. When they are ready their brain will tell the body to wake up when it has the urge to pee. If not, they will just sleep thru it. She said I could keep her in pull ups until she stayed dry for a month.

18.  Very individual and will happen when the kids are ready.

19. My oldest is such a deep sleeper that we thought he would never stay dry at night! He wore pull-ups at night until just after his 6th birthday. We finally got him off the pull-ups (boy, were those expensive!) by waking him up to go to the bathroom when we went to bed and by limiting drinks in the evening. Now he’s almost 9 and is fine.

20.  I don’t know if this is related or if it was just the deep sleep thing causing the bed-wetting… But last year my son was diagnosed with bladder reflux (urine traveling back up to the kidneys) and he had to have in-patient surgery to correct it.

You will find that some of the mentioned tips and tricks from above may work for you, even though they didn’t work with our children. And what worked for our children may not work for you.  So experiment and remember patience and most of all remember that you are their cheerleader and they need to know you believe in them (even if you have been in this situation for years)!

What are some ways you have helped yourself and or your child get through this bedwetting phase?

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  1. There are some really great tips here. We have just done the day time potty training journey (well we are at the tail end really, still a few accidents). So I am starting to contemplate when to start the staying dry at night operation!

  2. I am very fortunate that we haven’t had any night time problems, but I’m glad to read that you learned to not treat it as a discipline issue. One option for cash strapped parents who have an older bed wetter would be to use woolies or cloth pull-ups created for older kids. They are easier on the skin than disposables and aren’t any harder to wash than sheets!

  3. Wonderful advice – we’re day dry and have been since January – but not attempted night time yet – we really need to get prepared as J is waking up in the night and asking for the potty

  4. Thanks for sharing your exp. My son is having a hard time going potty during the day at 3yr and I have to remind myself one day at a time_ FSPDT

  5. Our toilet training experience was harder than I’d imagined. Realising that this skill is completely unrelated to their intelligence helps. lol. Here’s hoping it’s easier with our son. hmmm lol

  6. We are hoping to start potty training our son soon, so this will come in very handy. My daughters were never big bed wetters, but I have a lot of friends who struggled with it, so I know I could be facing it with my son. I love the advice about keeping perspective. Such a good thing to keep in mind.

  7. This is such a great list of advice and ideas. I love that you talk about changing perspective and noting that a child is aware they may be behind their friends is managing this. Such a sensitive and caring perspective.

  8. This is such a great details post, great tips.. My son is 2 and half and I am finding it hard to train him to go to the bathroom, I had no idea about the struggle with bed wetting! I am surely keeping this bookmarked for reference.

  9. Pingback: When Potty Training is Difficult … part of the “We Get It” parenting series | PlayDrMom

  10. My kid is 11yrs old. The smell knocks me out. She will pee 3 or 4 times a night. Doctors refuse to help. They keep throwing laxatives at us. She can have diarrhea from the prescription for a week. Nothing changes. Often I have to throw her things out. I don’t physically have time, with washing seven other peoples items to keep urine soaked items in our machine. I have to rotate her from a baby mattress to her mattress, in effort to keep her sanitary. I sleep between washes. I’m at my wits end. People cannot think this is normal. Waking her to go doesn’t stop the yellow river. I have a dual fan facing out, in her room, to keep the smell down (during all weather). I use pet products daily. She is not bothered by the smell, feeling wet, or any time clean-up takes. She told our shrink it doesn’t bother her. It has to though. My bathroom can’t recover from all the showers she requires. It stays damp. I’m running out of money. She refuses to wear an overnight. I fantasize about going into a coma. Please let it stop