How to Help Kids Stop Wetting the Bed
But despite how common bed-wetting is, even parents tend to keep the problem under the covers. Once these big kids are past what is normally the diaper stage (by around age 4), bathroom issues are no longer prime-time conversation among mom friends. For one thing, you may feel like you've flunked Parental Potty Training 101. Plus, who wants to hear others' criticism ("You're too easy on her! Take away those Pull-Ups!") or naive advice ("Just have her pee before bedtime")? News flash: For most bed-wetters, neither of those things works.
Parents often don't volunteer bed-wetting information at the pediatrician's office, either. They may not want to embarrass their child or they consider it a "home problem." And, unfortunately, doctors rarely ask about bed-wetting, says Dr. Bennett. "Most docs just assume you'll tell them if it's a problem," he says. Which isn't really that big of a surprise.
Helping Kids Cope
Because bed-wetting is primarily neurological, punishing or shaming a child won't help and can actually make the treatment process take longer. Instead, a good place to start is to simply explain to your child what's happening to his body, says Lawrence Balter, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City.
You can say something like this, suggests Balter: "When you sleep, your brain can't control your bladder. It's not something you do on purpose or because you're babyish. Eventually, as you get a little older, you won't wet the bed."
Of course, knowing that bed-wetting is developmentally common or tied to a stressful experience doesn't make the day-to-day reality any easier. Because of her "problem," for instance, Bethany is extremely private about her hygiene. When she sleeps over at a relative's house, she secretly slips on her own diaper at night. In the morning, she often wakes early to change, wash up, and throw away her diaper before anyone would notice. "I feel like it wears on her self-esteem to know she can't control her own body," says her mom.
The Stephenson* family of Elkton, MD, can totally sympathize. Like Bethany, Gunnar Stephenson was 7 when the pee hit the fan, so to speak. At the grocery store, Gunnar suddenly noticed that the disposable pull-up underwear he wore at night was sold in the baby aisle. "He demanded to know if his Pull-Ups were just diapers for older kids. What could I say? He's a smart kid," says his mother, Kathryn Stephenson. "After that, he refused to wear them anymore, even though he was still wetting the bed."
Around the same time, Gunnar started getting sleepover invitations. He desperately wanted to join in the fun but couldn't take the chance of soaking a sleeping bag in front of his friends. After almost two years of bedtime arguments over wet sheets, Stephenson talked to their pediatrician. The doctor referred the boy (by then, age 9) to a pediatric enuresis program at the Nemours/Alfred I. dupont Hospital for Children, in Wilmington, DE.
Because bed-wetting is primarily a neurological problem, punishing or shaming a child won't help and can actually make the treatment process take longer.
Major metropolitan areas usually have children's facilities with urology-related programs. That's a good thing. "Most pediatricians don't have the specific expertise [or the time] to tackle ongoing nocturnal enuresis," says Ginger Thomas, R.N., a nurse in Seattle Children's Hospital's pediatric urology department. Even better: Kids generally need only one appointment, with a follow-up session a few months later. So even families who don't live near a children's hospital sometimes make a special trip, she says.
Getting Kids Dry
The first step is pretty simple: Doctors have patients follow basic techniques like eliminating caffeine from their diets and limiting fluids at night. Those things help, for sure, but the general consensus is that a bed alarm is the number one way to keep kids dry. An alarm usually costs $100 or less and is readily available online and at some medical-supply stores. The best ones include both an audible tone and a vibrating sensor.