You know the drill. You’re conked out in your bed after a long day, when suddenly your child is tugging on your sleeve. “I had an accident.” Out of bed you climb, eyes still half closed as you stumble around trying to find clean sheets and pajamas and get your kiddo and yourself back into bed while there’s still some sleep to be salvaged. On the outside, you try to stay calm – though some of your annoyance is probably breaking through – but on the inside, you’re screaming, “What the heck is going on with this kid? I thought we were potty trained!”
It’s completely normal to be frustrated by bedwetting – and many parents worry about it as kids get older. While this may be cold comfort (especially in the middle of the night), for the most part, wetting the bed is developmentally typical. To help you get through it, HelloJoey’s “Potty Training, From the Top” takes a look at when you can expect bedwetting to stop, why it happens in the first place, and what experts say you can do to help your child along the way.
Is it normal for my older child to still wet the bed?
Bedwetting is actually typical for kids up until the age of about seven. That might seem surprising, but Dr. Tovah Klein explains that all kids develop at different rates – and some simply don’t get overnight bladder control until a little later. This can be particularly common among deep sleepers because they don’t awaken when their bodies send them the signals that they need to get up and use the bathroom. You can learn more about bedwetting and how it affects sleep in HelloJoey’s “Pillow Fights: Striving for Successful Sleep.”
If wetting the bed becomes a problem for your family, you can talk with your child’s doctor about potential solutions. This is helpful if your child is still wetting the bed after age seven – particularly if there are other symptoms like painful urination, unusual thirst, pink or red urine, hard stools, or snoring. If your child was dry for a few solid months and suddenly starts bedwetting again, that’s another red flag that something may be wrong, so touch base with a physician. They’ll be able to rule out any underlying medical issues.
What causes bedwetting?
If you’re spending your mornings – or your middle-of-the-nights – pulling wet sheets off of your child’s bed, you’ve probably wondered more than a few times what exactly causes bedwetting and why on earth your kid is still wetting the bed when they’re potty trained. If it happens randomly once or twice, it could be a sign of stress or that your child is getting an illness. If it’s a regular occurrence, there are actually a few different reasons your kid could still be having bedtime accidents when they’re a little older.
First, bedwetting tends to run in families. If either you or your child’s other parent wet the bed, your kid has a 40% chance of following in your footsteps. If both of you were bedwetters, that chance goes up to 70%. The good news is that your child will probably outgrow bedwetting around the same time that you or your co-parent did, so you can look forward to the issue resolving around that age and handle the issue with empathy in the meantime. After all, you’ve dealt with it yourself, so you know how embarrassing and frustrating it can be.
There are also some disorders that may make your child more likely to wet the bed. Pediatric urologist Dr. Israel Franco, who works with Yale Medicine, mentions what’s sometimes called “syndrome mix” and includes diagnoses like:
These disorders affect the brain’s prefrontal cortex or the anterior cingulate cortex – both of which are central to toilet training. Kids who receive these diagnoses have much higher rates of difficulty with potty training. If your child has one of these disorders, it may explain why you’re having issues with bedwetting.
How can I help my child stop wetting the bed?
Of course, every kid is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to stop bedwetting immediately. However, there are a few strategies you can try that may help your child make it through the night clean and dry.
Have dinner earlier. Dr. Franco suggests eating dinner at least three hours before bedtime. “You need that time to process what you ate and drank so it gets out of you.”
Add a final bathroom trip to your bedtime routine. As Dr. Tovah explained, it takes some kids longer to develop bladder control throughout the night. A trip to the bathroom right before they get in bed can ensure they start with an empty bladder.
Take your child potty again before you go to bed. “Most kids wet the bed between one and two hours after they go to sleep,” says Dr. Franco. “Go in there and wake your kid up and take them to the bathroom an hour or two after they've been to sleep.”
Use a bedwetting alarm. Available for anywhere between $20 and $2,000, these devices have sensors that detect wetness and then give off a sound or vibration that wakes both you and your kid. If you use it consistently, the success rate is between 50 and 70%.
Handling bedwetting can be frustrating – but there are steps you can take to minimize the midnight fuss. Practically speaking, start using adult-sized mattress pads or waterproof liners that are easy to change. Then, try to shift your expectations. Your child is having accidents, which means they’re not wetting the bed on purpose. Keep that in mind when they wake you or you find their wet pajamas and sheets the next day. Plan for exactly how you’ll handle those wake-ups and cleanups, and hang in there. This won’t last forever.
Dr. Franco also mentions that regardless of how annoying it is for you, bedwetting is only a problem if it upsets your child. There are exceptions for kids with special needs, and if your child is over seven, you should check with your doctor. Otherwise, he says it’s fine to wait it out. “If the child doesn't care – guess what? They're not going to stop. If the parent is interested and the child's not interested, it's not going to happen.” While some older kids are embarrassed by bedwetting, not everyone cares. If your child seems okay with it, wait until they come to you for help before you head to your doctor.