How to Help Your Child Stop Bedwetting
Bedwetting is a situation that nobody enjoys. Children are embarrassed, parents can get annoyed, siblings may get frustrated if they get woken up. Unfortunately, bedwetting can be a common problem that is consistent and lasts for a long time, causing everyone to struggle more. The good news is that there are things you, as a parent, can do to help your child stop bedwetting! Here, I will go through some of the best tips we teach parents.
First, it's important to have an understanding of the bedwetting situation. It happens more frequently than you may think. Nighttime bedwetting is common in most toddlers, but even about 5-10% of 5-year-olds wet the bed, and the problem can persist long enough that even about 5% of 10-year-olds still struggle with it occasionally! (These numbers are based on a presentation I attended in class; article references weren't given, but the professor is familiar with this area).
Bed wetting is more common in boys than it is in girls, and it can be inherited (suggesting there is a biological piece to the puzzle). Something to understand about bedwetting is that your child is almost certainly not doing it on purpose (even though you may think it when you're tired and need to help them clean up)! Different things like stress can increase prevalence of bedwetting though, so punishing your child or making him/her feel bad will, if anything, probably make the situation worse.
So, what options are there to help?
Well, technically yes, there are medications that can help with bedwetting. Unfortunately, bedwetting often starts again once a child stops taking the medication, and it's not ideal to have your child on regular medications when there are more successful alternatives! (Though medication can certainly be useful in cases when nothing else has worked; I just don't recommend using it as a first choice. Talk to your pediatrician about medication options if you have questions.)
Sometimes parents will learn to work around the bedwetting in order to problem-solve the situation. For example, it's common for parents to restrict water for their child before bed, limit caffeinated beverages, or maybe to wake their child up in the night to use the bathroom instead of wetting the bed. These can be effective to some extent, but it's certainly not ideal to still be waking up in the middle of the night constantly. (But by all means, limit the caffeinated beverages so your kids can get better quality sleep!)
Plus, there is an even more effective method.
Research has suggested that the use of a bedwetting alarm can be the most effective method to help reduce instances of bedwetting. The main reason for the benefit of a bedwetting alarm is that it allows your child to be behaviorally "trained" to wake up naturally when he/she needs to use the restroom.
So what is a bedwetting alarm? And what do I mean when I say behaviorally "trained"?
Bedwetting alarms are basically what they sound like: an alarm that goes off when a child has wet the bed. But the actual product is much nicer than you may think at first! Bedwetting alarms work by having a sensor attached to the underwear of your child so they can detect any wetness. A separate unit is then usually clipped to your child's shirt. If the sensor detects moisture (and it will if there is any; they are incredibly sensitive), the unit attached to their shirt wakes them up in some way (with sounds, vibrations, or something else depending on the unit).
The benefit to this system is that your child wakes up the moment they are wetting the bed. As a result, their brain naturally starts to link the situation (wetting the bed) with an unpleasant outcome (the alarm going off). The alarm also requires a parent to come disable it, so it helps to make sure the child doesn't simply turn it off and fall back asleep without remembering what happened.
"But when my child wakes up after wetting the bed, that also isn't pleasant! Why don't they learn to not bedwet because of that?"
If you're wondering this, it's a good question to ask! Your child almost certainly feels bad after wetting the bed, and although they've learned it has an unwanted outcome, their brain hasn't quite learned the lesson yet. That's because of how the brain is wired to associate two things together. (When I say brain here, I'm talking about their purely biological brain, not their thinking brain/mind that already knows there is a link between the bedwetting and the outcome).
When one thing follows another, our brains sometimes naturally link the two together. However, the time between the two things must be very short for this to happen, and it needs to happen fairly consistently. When your child naturally wakes up after wetting the bed, they probably had wet the bed a while ago, and the timing may not remain consistent. The bedwetting alarm, by always going off as the bedwetting is occurring, allow the brain to make the connection between the bedwetting and the bad outcome more easily.
And again, the important thing here is that your child's brain needs to be taught the connection. Your child already knows that he/she shouldn't wet the bed, and probably wants to stop wetting the bed even more than you want them to! No punishment or attempting to force them to stop will change the situation (unless by chance).
The alarm goes off, your child wakes up and comes to get you. You turn the alarm off and disconnect it. Now what?
After a bedwetting incident, it's important to be calm and understanding of your child's situation. They probably feel guilty, even though it's not their fault! So comfort them first to show that you are not upset.
Then, work with your child to help clean up. They can take the dirtied sheets off the bed, put them in a laundry basket, and help put clean sheets on (hopefully over a mattress protector). Having this routine helps to maintain the consistency of the outcome, making it more likely that they'll begin to wet the bed less frequently. It also gives them comfort because they know what to expect, reducing some of their anxiety.
Follow these steps, and there's a good chance you'll see your child begin to wet the bed less frequently!
When working with your child to help reduce his/her bedwetting, you should be aware of a few key points:
- It takes time, most likely several weeks, before your child will be able to stay dry consistently through the night. Improvement will be noticeably throughout that time, though.
- Setbacks are common, and it's okay if your child starts to wet the bed again! Try your best to be understanding, and continue with the above routine to help them stay dry throughout the night again.
- Bedwetting usually isn't a sign of a medical problem, but sometimes medical problems can lead to bedwetting. If you're at all worried that your child's bedwetting may have a medical cause, talk to your pediatrician.
- If you're unsure of what to do, consider talking to a clinical child psychologist who is familiar with behavioral modification. A therapist can work with you to problem solve, come up with a routine that works for you, teach you how to use the alarm, and potentially get the cost of the alarm covered.
And that's it! Hopefully this post has been helpful and informative for some parents.
Have you had experience with a bedwetting child? What did and didn't work for you? Let me know in the comments!