"Nighttime control can lag behind daytime control by a few months to a few years," says David Joseph, M.D., chief of pediatric urology at Children's Hospital in Birmingham, AL. A preschooler's bladder may still be too small to contain a night's worth of urine. Plus, it takes time to learn to recognize that almost-full feeling -- and either wake up or instinctively hold it -- especially if he's a heavy sleeper.
Boys are likely to stay in diapers a little longer than girls, and some researchers suspect there's a family connection: If you or your spouse didn't stay dry all night until age 5 or 6, your child may not either.
Nighttime dryness will happen naturally as your child learns to key in to his body's signals, but there are ways to (gently) help:
- Limit drinks after dinner, and keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum all day (they irritate the bladder and make the kidneys produce more liquid).
- Get him in the habit of using the bathroom right before bed.
- Let him know it's okay to get up to go. If you've stressed that he should stay put at night, he may be hesitant to break that rule.
- Consider stationing a portable potty (and a nightlight) in his room. A child who's afraid of the dark or reluctant to trek down the hall to the bathroom is more likely to use a toilet that's nearby.
- Don't bother to wake him before you turn in -- it won't teach him to get up on his own.
- Never push him, shame him, or make him sleep in a soggy bed. "Kids don't wet on purpose, and pressing them too hard to stop can have the opposite effect: daytime accidents and lowered self-esteem," says Dr. Joseph.
- Offer simple reinforcement -- a sticker, say, and words of praise -- when he makes it through the night.
- Expect accidents. Retire the diapers once he's able to stay dry five nights in a row (it's fine to bring them back out if his streak doesn't last), but don't take the plastic cover off his mattress for another year or two.
- Keep the faith. If your child's still wetting the bed at age 6 or 7, discuss it with your pediatrician. But remember: Just as your little one won't go to college sucking on his pacifier, he won't be soaking the sheets then either!