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Dry Nights

Most children are potty trained during the day by around age 3. When can you expect your child to stay dry at night too?

"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!

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