How to Help Kids Stop Wetting the Bed
INVITING FRIENDS OVER TO PLAY AT HER LONG ISLAND, NY, HOME IS ONE OF Bethany Spencer's* favorite things to do. But when two girls visited on a recent Saturday, Bethany, 7, was uncharacteristically out of sorts. It started when she hid a headband inside her house and challenged her friends to find it. When her pals started searching close to Bethany's room, her mom saw her tense up. "Don't look in those two drawers under my bed," Bethany anxiously ordered. "It's not in there. Nothing's in there."
Actually, Bethany was hiding a big secret under her bed: her nighttime diapers. Bethany's mom, Aileen Spencer, audibly sucks in her breath as she recalls the hide-and-seek game. "I saw then how much the bed-wetting was upsetting her," says Spencer. "It made me feel awful that at this young age, my daughter already has an embarrassing secret. Kids shouldn't have to worry about secrets."
Nocturnal enuresis, the medical term for nighttime bed-wetting, is actually more common among school-age kids than you might think. While many children are able to hold their urine all night by age 5, up to one in eight first- and second-graders are still dealing with this embarrassing condition, says Howard Bennett, M.D., author of Waking Up Dry. The percentage drops steadily as children get older (thank goodness), but 1 in 20 10-year-olds still wets at night and an unfortunate 1 to 2 percent struggle with the problem until age 15.
For most kids, the problem is neurological. The child's brain isn't sending signals to his bladder to hold his urine while he's sleeping. "It reflexively empties while he's asleep, just as it did when he was a baby," says Dr. Bennett. Genetics plays a role, too. About three out of four children who suffer have a sibling, parent, aunt, uncle, or cousin who also wet the bed during childhood. Occasionally, sudden-onset wetting can be psychological, triggered by upheaval, like a move, a new baby, or a divorce.
As many as 1 in 8 first- and second-graders still wake up wet in the night.
*Families' names have been changed.