How can I help my child stop bedwetting?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Though common, bed-wetting (medical term: enuresis) tends to go away for most kids by age four or five. Of kids who wet the bed longer than that (boys more often than girls), as many as 10 percent may do so all the way through adolescence, especially if a family member was also a bed-wetter. If your child has always been a bed-wetter but is approaching the age of overnights, there are some simple strategies you can use. First, check with your doctor to make sure your child does not have a bladder infection or some other cause. Second, don't lose your cool! Punishing the bed-wetter does not help. Third, with an older child, matter-of-factly have him help strip the bed and change the sheets, dividing and conquering the labor, without making a big deal of it. And for sleepovers, there are great medications such as the antidiuretic desmopressin (DDAVP), which reduces urine production by the kidneys. DDAVP comes in pill form as well as nasal spray. These meds are expensive, so most families don't use them nightly, unless the laundry bill outweighs the pill cost. Other strategies:

  • No fluids after dinner, or only sips until seven o'clock.
  • Get him up to tinkle before you hit the hay. Even if he is already asleep, stand him by the potty, aim, and let it flow. You may have to help him aim, depending on how soundly he sleeps.
  • Try a Potty Pager or other wireless silent alarm, which, upon sensing moisture, wakes up the sleeping child by vibrating. These devices work great and usually come with a money-back guarantee. (Sorry, you don't get the bonus ginsu knives.)
  • Reward with cool underwear when he stays dry so many nights in a row.
Armin Brott
To help stop your child's bedwetting, limit your child’s liquid intake after dinner and require a trip to the bathroom immediately before going to bed. Avoid anything with caffeine in it, which acts as a diuretic. Sometimes these simple solutions do the trick.  

There are several treatments available to help your child's bedwetting. Your child can sometimes develop greater bladder control by waiting a little longer to urinate during the day. Knowing he really can hold it in if he has to can be a big confidence booster. There are also a variety of alarms that vibrate when they sense moisture, waking the child and building a conditioned response to the full bladder. Talk to your pediatrician to see if one or more of these approaches is appropriate to your child’s situation and age. Again, remember that even without any interventions, your child is almost certain to grow out of it before long.
I know it’s hard, but bedwetting is common and fairly normal for a lot of kids this age, especially boys. There seems to be a genetic component, as well. It’s important not to get into shaming him or trying to control the wetting; you have to leave it up to him. He should wear big-kid size pull-ups and be responsible (or at least help with) changing sheets when necessary, but the motivation to be dry has to come from him. Leave him in the nighttime pull-ups until he’s dry consistently, so there’s no pressure or worry about it.

In later childhood, by about age 7, bedwetters may start to worry about what others think of them, and feel upset that they can’t control their bodies at night. Reassure these kids that you will help them to do what it takes to eventually gain nighttime control; help them restrict fluids after 6pm, make sure they empty their bladder right before bed, and limit nighttime sweets, which can have a dehydrating effect. Getting a little extra sleep at night, even as little as 30 minutes more, can help for some. You can also keep trying to awaken him a couple of hours after going to bed to have him empty his bladder. But this should only be done with the child’s cooperation and agreement. Let them know that you have faith in their bodies, and their ability to gain nighttime dryness when they are ready. And try to eliminate sources of shaming or ridicule. He’s doing the best he can, and shame only worsens the problem.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.