When Your Child Wets the Bed: The Experts Offer Their Advice

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According to most experts, a child’s pattern of wetting the bed is a common phenomenon attributed to a certain easily identifiable set of factors. Nothing to be too worried about. And yet, for many parents, their child’s bedwetting comes with a certain amount of emotional stigma that can lead parents to attach too much meaning or baggage to the fact that their kid is wetting the bed beyond potty training age. When turning to friends or family members or even helpful parenting sites on the Internet, a parent can quickly become overwhelmed by the scads of advice about how to deal with a child who wets the bed.

Barista Kids is here to sort through the advice to let you know the causes and even come up with a few solutions to the problem.

While it is certainly no fun to walk a child through a few months, a year or even a few years of wetting the bed, parents would do well to try not to assign too much self-blame or stigma to themselves or their child. According to Dr. Kristene Doyle, child development therapist and Executive Director of the Albert Ellis Institute in Manhattan, “Bedwetting is a very common occurrence in young children. Between 5 and 7 million children wet their bed, with boys experiencing it twice as often as girls.” This statistic alone should certainly soothe any parents who fear that they are alone in dealing with the situation.

Dr. Joseph Barone, a pediatric urologist at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has conducted extensive research on the subject of toilet training. Dr. Barone states that many bedwetting children fall into the category of kids who “don’t make enough of a hormone, the anti-diuretic hormone, at night. If you don’t have this hormone, you make too much urine for the bladder to handle.”  In these cases, parents and doctors can administer a medicine to these children:  DDAVP. This medicine is an anti-diuretic hormone that, according to Dr. Barone, works for about 70 percent of children with the problem.

According to Dr. Barone, “The most common cause of bedwetting is developmental delay. Kids are just not mature enough to control their bladder.” This is also called Maturational Delay of Nervous System. Dr. Barone states that for these kids bedwetting can often go hand in hand with other developmental delays such as motor skill development or even things such as ADD or ADHD.  In these cases, Dr. Barone advises that, “Some kids just mature at a slower rate than others.  And these kids will eventually outgrow bedwetting.”

Comforting words. But for parents whose children fall into this demographic, waiting  through this period can lead to many bedwetting incidents.

Luckily, there is help so that parents don’t have to just wait it out. Advises Dr. Barone, “What we usually do is use the bedwetting alarm system. It is a moisture sensitive alarm that the kids sleep with at night that is hooked up inside of the underwear and also outside on the pajamas. When the part inside the underwear detects moisture, it rings like an alarm clock.”  This essentially trains the child to wake up, and, over time, trains the child to not wet the bed.  Dr. Barone states that “it is the first line of treatment and it works in about 90 percent of kids and cures kids in 2-3 months.”

Dr. Barone does warn parents not to be taken in by fancy companies trying to tell this device at trumped up prices. He says that the device costs about $100 and can be bought online. He advises parents to use the device with the guidance of a doctor because they will learn how to use it correctly.  “Parents will come in and tell me the alarm didn’t work, and it’s usually because they didn’t use it right.” So, working with a doctor prevents parents from perhaps abandoning the device prematurely.

One lesser-known cause of bedwetting is sleep apnea.  Says Dr. Barone, “If your child is a bed wetter and if he is also a big snorer, the child may have sleep apnea and may need a sleep study. If parents treat the sleep apnea, then in at least in half of the cases, the bedwetting will resolve itself.”

Another recently hypothesized cause? Constipation. The folks over at Babble.com describe how some doctors helped relieve children’s bedwetting by administering laxatives to children. Read more about it here.

With all of this medical information, it should be clear to parents that the occurrence of bedwetting is extremely common.  Still, it can be hard to remain objective and calm when faced with one’s own child in the situation.

Dr. Doyle encourages parents to inhibit their tendency to become embarrassed, “Bedwetting is not a function of bad parenting or their child being lazy or defiant. Rather than blaming the child, parents should adopt a supportive and reassuring stance with their children when they wet their bed.  Blaming the child will only increase anxiety and embarrassment that is often accompanied with bed-wetting. Normalize this for the child, while at the same time having the child be involved in cleaning up the bed.”

For parents who are looking for a little bit of help talking to their kids about this difficult issue, Tammy Gold, owner of Gold Parent Coaching, in Short Hills offers her advice.  A mother herself, she is familiar with the trials and tribulations of helping children through this stage. “Tell your child, ‘you’ve done nothing wrong.  Mommy and daddy did this when they were younger too.’” Her main advice to parents: “the calmer and more relaxed they are, the calmer and more relaxed the child will be.”

And, there is always the alternative medicine approach.  Hypnosis can work for children and bedwetting. One hypnotist has written extensively on bedwetting.

Bottom line: parents can help their kids through this time. Dr. Barone stresses that “bedwetting is not associated with medical illness,” and so really shouldn’t be cause for alarm. And, says Barone, even for “about one percent of patients who don’t stop wetting the bed, those kids who wet the bed into the college years and adulthood, there are other medicines available.”

Let us know your stories. If you have any experiences that could help other parents deal with this difficult phenomenon, weigh in under the comments.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I started wetting my bed at the age of nine after my mother passed away and I had to move in with my aunt & uncle. I remember being totally embarrassed and ashamed sometimes changing the sheets myself so my aunt wouldn’t find a wet bed.
    Adults, back then, weren’t very tolerant of children’s misshaps and I think it just added to the stress and upheaval of my life.
    My father finally took charge and would wake me up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom EVERY night (God bless him! He worked two jobs in NYC), not sure how long he did this but after awhile the wetting stopped. So, in my case it was the trauma of realizing my mother was gone and my comfortable, familiar life had just disappeared.

  2. Any local recommendations for a Dr that specializes in this issue? (New Brunswick is a bit far) I have an 8 year old who is still in pull ups. We tried the moisture alarm but it doesn’t wake him up.

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