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Bedwetting in Kids: Tips, Triggers and Treatments

Blog Bedwetting in Kids: Tips, Triggers and Treatments

Bedwetting may be caused by a number of issues, most commonly that your child is a deep sleeper who has just not yet learned how to wake up when his brain signals that his bladder is full.

Waking up night after night to soiled sheets, wet clothes and another pile of laundry is exhausting and frustrating for both parents and children. But it’s not unusual—and it’s not forever. “Bedwetting is a relatively common issue,” explains Michael McKenna, M.D., a pediatrician at Indiana University Health. About 20 percent of 5-year-olds, 10 percent of 7-year-olds and 5 percent of 10-year-olds still wet the bed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Bedwetting may be caused by a number of issues, most commonly that your child is a deep sleeper who has just not yet learned how to wake up when his brain signals that his bladder is full. Other issues can include constipation (when the bowels are full they put pressure on the bladder), or a response to stress or emotional issues that may be occurring at home. There may also be an underlying medical problem. Bedwetting tends to be more common among boys, and there’s also a family history, so if one parent had a similar problem as a child, his or her child may have the same issue. 

The good news: “Learning how to sleep through the night without having an accident is a normal development skill that everyone learns eventually,” adds Dr. McKenna. To help your child get there sooner, try following these simple strategies.

  • Stay positive. “There should never be a negative consequence associated with bedwetting,” says Dr. McKenna. That means no yelling, screaming or punishments involved. Negative feedback can create fear and harmful feelings that can actually make the problem worse.
  • Have your child help. If your child is a little older, she can help strip the bed down, remake it and put the clothes in the washer—provided this isn’t looked at as a form of punishment. “It can be helpful to have your child learn that when something goes wrong, you have to take steps to fix it,” notes Dr. McKenna.
  • Schedule in toilet times. Often, kids are too busy running around to think about stopping to use the bathroom. Having your children go every couple of hours (even if they think they don’t need to) during the day can help them distinguish between an empty and full bladder and get them to pay more attention to their bodies’ needs.  
  • Cut off fluids before bedtime. A couple of hours before your child is due to turn in, limit the amount of fluids she drinks. Some beverages (like colas) are actually diuretics, which can encourage the body to pee even more.
  • Break up the sleep cycle. If your child is a particularly deep sleeper, it can help to gently wake him up a couple of hours after he goes to bed. “Often children will have an accident around the same time each night. If you disrupt this cycle that can help get them out of the habit,” explains Dr. McKenna. This might even be a good time to encourage your child to get up and use the bathroom, then go back to bed.
  • Ask for help. If bedwetting continues, talk to your pediatrician about what strategies he or she may recommend. In extreme cases, some doctors do rely on certain medications, although these are considered only a temporary fix and not a solution. Some parents also turn to bedwetting alarms, which sense urine and send an alarm so your child can wake up to use the bathroom. However, these products can be expensive and have varying degrees of success, warns Dr. McKenna.

-- By Alyssa Shaffer

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