7-year-old's bed-wetting is getting old

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 22, 2010 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,

My son has been potty trained since he was three, and dry at night since he was four. Between ages 3 & 4, he wore a pull-up to bed just in case, but it was rarely "used." When he finally was dry at night for a solid three months, we dumped the pull ups and called it a day on potty training.

He is about to turn 7, and for three years he has had an accident about once a year - all times on vacation or during an illness. But over the last month, he has wet his bed four times.

I'd hate to put him back into overnight diapers (and he'd hate it, too). But I'm really annoyed at this point. Any advice or another, older column you have done about this topic that you can lead me to?

From: ANONYMOUS, Canton, MA


Dear Anonymous,

You've noted that he's had accidents in the past on vacation or when he's sick. I suspect that something similar is going on now. Check with your pediatrician to see if he has some kind of infection. If you rule that out, I'd look to some kind of emotional upset. Is something going on in your family -- sick grandparent, best friend moving, a parent who's lost or changed jobs? And don't rule out the end of the school year. That can cause anxiety for a lot of children this age who worry that next year may be hard and that they won't be smart enough. Or what about summer camp? Even the anticipation of transition to day camp can cause anxiety in some children.

Meanwhile, what to do? Keep in mind that bed-wetting is very common in 5 & 6-year-olds, including in children who have not had a problem before. I would not put him back in pull-ups; you're right, that will humiliate him. Put a rubber mat under his sheet (tell him it's just until you and he figure out why he's having accidents). Bed-wetting alarms help in some families.Showing him how to change and clean himself in the middle of the night can work with a mature child. In the meantime, try not to take your annoyance out on him (definitely don't punish him), it's not a purposeful behavior and he will most likely outgrow it. Here's the old column you were asking about.

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13 comments so far...
  1. My kids always get anxious towards the end of the school year, as the new school year approaches, and at the beginning of the school year. Although they've both been dry for years, we still get occasional accidents when they're stressed like that. I don't think you need to take any huge, drastic, steps - just try looking for cues to tell you what he may be stressed about and talk to him.

    I agree with putting an extra pad on (or, in a pinch, a towel), and teaching him to strip his bed when he's had an accident, all while reassuring him that it happens sometimes. If you get upset or annoyed with him, you may actually be making the problem worse.

    Posted by akmom June 22, 10 06:32 AM
  1. At exactly 3 years old, my son used the toilet for the first time, and was potty trained day and night! He did not even wet the bed once for the next two years, until he was about to turn five. He started wetting once or twice per week, which turned into several times per week, for the next FOUR YEARS! We used the "Goodnights" pullups. I felt so badly for him. The doctor said there was nothing else wrong physically, and he was happy and healthy, no traumas, etc. He is very intense and intelligent, and picks his nails as a nervous habit, but not for any specific reason, and is a deep sleeper. Last summer, at almost 9 years old, it stopped almost as abruptly as it had started. Just 10 days ago, right before school ended, he wet two nights in a row! That was it. I hope. I don't know if he was nervous/upset about school ending, but it's so strange to stop and start like that. I don't understand why he wouldn't just wake up and go, like he often does. He is almost 10 now and we all thought it was over! Sorry if I'm not much help, just explaining what we went through. Good luck! I hope it doesn't last long for you.

    Posted by mom2boys June 22, 10 08:50 AM
  1. I'm a little dismayed that the LW is "annoyed" rather than concerned. This seems like very unusual behavior (from once per year to several times in a month?). The poor kid probably feels horrible about it. There is likely something else going on here and either the LW doesn't want to face it, or is being a bit too quick to assume it's the kid's fault instead of exploring possible causes.

    Posted by poppy609 June 22, 10 09:57 AM
  1. Is he taking any medication for allergies? Some of them, especially those that come as a "chew-tab" have the unfortunate side effect of "urinary urgency." But some cause it in any form. If he is taking one of those medications you might consider stopping it to see if this problem stops. Good luck.

    Posted by Barb June 22, 10 04:05 PM
  1. Oh, lighten up, poppy609. What parent wouldn't be at least a bit irritated with having to get up in the middle of the night to change wet sheets? Being annoyed at the situation isn't the same as being annoyed with the child.

    The LW is obviously concerned---otherwise s/he wouldn't be writing in to this column, now would s/he? You don't know squat about this family, and saying things like "there is likely something else going on here" and "the LW doesn't want to face it" just sounds absurd coming from a complete stranger.

    I think Barbara has given great advice, which, if you'll notice, is what the LW asked for--not a bunch of thinly veiled accusations and implied criticisms from people who read *way* too much into things.

    Posted by whatever June 22, 10 06:33 PM
  1. Has there been any change in evening liquid intake lately? Popsicles after evening Little League games sometimes causes an issue for us.

    Posted by Patricia June 22, 10 07:09 PM
  1. My oldest son had been dry overnight for at least a full year. Then suddenly about 2 weeks before he started kindergarten he started wetting the bed again. And it wasn't just a few times a week... his overnight pull-ups were usually soaked to the point where his bed was getting soaked as well. We dealt with it in this way for the next year-and-a-half until it just became too much for all of us. He couldn't do sleepovers because of it and we didn't want to ostracize him socially. He had a cub scout overnight scheduled about 7 months in advance and he knew the only way he could participate was to stop. So we used an alarm. I was skeptical at first, but they really do work. It took about 2 months, but he is now consistently dry. He's only had 2 accidents and those have happened when he's been overtired and gone to bed later than normal. Try it. It worked with him and our other 2 boys as well. And don't make a huge deal out of it. They do feel awful that it's happening, and it is far more common to afflict boys. Also, it is often a problem that runs in families. You may find that someone closely related has suffered from it as well. Good luck. But keep in mind, it will resolve itself in time.

    Posted by jozkid June 22, 10 09:17 PM
  1. My 11 year old nephew wets the bed from time to time--he just can't seem to wake up to go. He wears 'good nights' or something like that. We got some at Target in the diaper section, but they look just like blue boxer shorts. You really can't tell they're pullups at first glance. Maybe just having those as a fall back will help alleviate some anxiety. And mom, please don't be annoyed with him--he can't help it! I know it's hard to get up in the middle of the night and take care of things, but please don't be annoyed or angry!

    Posted by chilly June 22, 10 09:28 PM
  1. Sorry, poppy609, but don't dump on the mom. It's common, especially among boys. I have 3 kids but only one boy who is 9 who has had this problem. The pediatrician has ruled out anything physical or emotional. My boy is fine for MONTHS at a time and then it's a few nights in a row. Over these years, I've noticed that it's before he shows symptoms of sickness (wets for two nights, then comes down with strep throat) or after a big growth spurt (doctor says his bladder hasn't caught up). Be strong, it's not their fault and if you handle it the right way, they'll understand it's just their body changing.

    Posted by Amy K. June 22, 10 11:35 PM
  1. If the mom in this case had been to the pediatrician, like you did Amy K., and ruled out any health issues, I might have not been as dismayed by the "annoyed" comment. I can see being annoyed - but my first reaction would be of concern, and I didn't see evidence of that in this letter.

    Too often I've seen parents angry with their kids for something out of the kids' control. Hits a nerve with me.

    Posted by poppy609 June 23, 10 02:34 PM
  1. Poppy, I wonder if your feathers would be all ruffled had I said that I was "getting frustrated," or "at my wits' end," or some other phrase? Having to change sheets, mattress pad, and all four times over a three week period, all in the middle of the night, is VERY annoying! Go ahead and call the DSS on me for admitting a true emotion...parenting isn't all smiles, finger painting, and ice cream cones. Parts of it are very aggravating.

    Thanks, Barbara...and others...it was helpful reading all of this (it just made me feel better).

    Posted by Anon. in Canton June 25, 10 02:20 PM
  1. My nephews went from staying dry overnight to wetting the bed just as puberty hit. One thing my sister did was to layer sheets and waterproof mattress pads, so it was easy to deal with in the middle of the night (remove the top layer, and there's a clean, dry set of sheets underneath). I think my nephews took care of stripping the bed themselves without waking my sister. At least one of them used an alarm also.

    Posted by kj July 2, 10 12:51 PM
  1. Hi. First of all - beautiful blog! Secondly this information was also good and interesting to read, but I don't think everything you have said is completely true. I will need to Google about few things you have mentioned in your article to make sure. But anyway thanks for taking your time to write interesting articles and good luck on writing other articles. P.S sorry for bad English, I'm not English native speaker.

    Posted by Anonymous December 27, 10 10:36 AM
 
13 comments so far...
  1. My kids always get anxious towards the end of the school year, as the new school year approaches, and at the beginning of the school year. Although they've both been dry for years, we still get occasional accidents when they're stressed like that. I don't think you need to take any huge, drastic, steps - just try looking for cues to tell you what he may be stressed about and talk to him.

    I agree with putting an extra pad on (or, in a pinch, a towel), and teaching him to strip his bed when he's had an accident, all while reassuring him that it happens sometimes. If you get upset or annoyed with him, you may actually be making the problem worse.

    Posted by akmom June 22, 10 06:32 AM
  1. At exactly 3 years old, my son used the toilet for the first time, and was potty trained day and night! He did not even wet the bed once for the next two years, until he was about to turn five. He started wetting once or twice per week, which turned into several times per week, for the next FOUR YEARS! We used the "Goodnights" pullups. I felt so badly for him. The doctor said there was nothing else wrong physically, and he was happy and healthy, no traumas, etc. He is very intense and intelligent, and picks his nails as a nervous habit, but not for any specific reason, and is a deep sleeper. Last summer, at almost 9 years old, it stopped almost as abruptly as it had started. Just 10 days ago, right before school ended, he wet two nights in a row! That was it. I hope. I don't know if he was nervous/upset about school ending, but it's so strange to stop and start like that. I don't understand why he wouldn't just wake up and go, like he often does. He is almost 10 now and we all thought it was over! Sorry if I'm not much help, just explaining what we went through. Good luck! I hope it doesn't last long for you.

    Posted by mom2boys June 22, 10 08:50 AM
  1. I'm a little dismayed that the LW is "annoyed" rather than concerned. This seems like very unusual behavior (from once per year to several times in a month?). The poor kid probably feels horrible about it. There is likely something else going on here and either the LW doesn't want to face it, or is being a bit too quick to assume it's the kid's fault instead of exploring possible causes.

    Posted by poppy609 June 22, 10 09:57 AM
  1. Is he taking any medication for allergies? Some of them, especially those that come as a "chew-tab" have the unfortunate side effect of "urinary urgency." But some cause it in any form. If he is taking one of those medications you might consider stopping it to see if this problem stops. Good luck.

    Posted by Barb June 22, 10 04:05 PM
  1. Oh, lighten up, poppy609. What parent wouldn't be at least a bit irritated with having to get up in the middle of the night to change wet sheets? Being annoyed at the situation isn't the same as being annoyed with the child.

    The LW is obviously concerned---otherwise s/he wouldn't be writing in to this column, now would s/he? You don't know squat about this family, and saying things like "there is likely something else going on here" and "the LW doesn't want to face it" just sounds absurd coming from a complete stranger.

    I think Barbara has given great advice, which, if you'll notice, is what the LW asked for--not a bunch of thinly veiled accusations and implied criticisms from people who read *way* too much into things.

    Posted by whatever June 22, 10 06:33 PM
  1. Has there been any change in evening liquid intake lately? Popsicles after evening Little League games sometimes causes an issue for us.

    Posted by Patricia June 22, 10 07:09 PM
  1. My oldest son had been dry overnight for at least a full year. Then suddenly about 2 weeks before he started kindergarten he started wetting the bed again. And it wasn't just a few times a week... his overnight pull-ups were usually soaked to the point where his bed was getting soaked as well. We dealt with it in this way for the next year-and-a-half until it just became too much for all of us. He couldn't do sleepovers because of it and we didn't want to ostracize him socially. He had a cub scout overnight scheduled about 7 months in advance and he knew the only way he could participate was to stop. So we used an alarm. I was skeptical at first, but they really do work. It took about 2 months, but he is now consistently dry. He's only had 2 accidents and those have happened when he's been overtired and gone to bed later than normal. Try it. It worked with him and our other 2 boys as well. And don't make a huge deal out of it. They do feel awful that it's happening, and it is far more common to afflict boys. Also, it is often a problem that runs in families. You may find that someone closely related has suffered from it as well. Good luck. But keep in mind, it will resolve itself in time.

    Posted by jozkid June 22, 10 09:17 PM
  1. My 11 year old nephew wets the bed from time to time--he just can't seem to wake up to go. He wears 'good nights' or something like that. We got some at Target in the diaper section, but they look just like blue boxer shorts. You really can't tell they're pullups at first glance. Maybe just having those as a fall back will help alleviate some anxiety. And mom, please don't be annoyed with him--he can't help it! I know it's hard to get up in the middle of the night and take care of things, but please don't be annoyed or angry!

    Posted by chilly June 22, 10 09:28 PM
  1. Sorry, poppy609, but don't dump on the mom. It's common, especially among boys. I have 3 kids but only one boy who is 9 who has had this problem. The pediatrician has ruled out anything physical or emotional. My boy is fine for MONTHS at a time and then it's a few nights in a row. Over these years, I've noticed that it's before he shows symptoms of sickness (wets for two nights, then comes down with strep throat) or after a big growth spurt (doctor says his bladder hasn't caught up). Be strong, it's not their fault and if you handle it the right way, they'll understand it's just their body changing.

    Posted by Amy K. June 22, 10 11:35 PM
  1. If the mom in this case had been to the pediatrician, like you did Amy K., and ruled out any health issues, I might have not been as dismayed by the "annoyed" comment. I can see being annoyed - but my first reaction would be of concern, and I didn't see evidence of that in this letter.

    Too often I've seen parents angry with their kids for something out of the kids' control. Hits a nerve with me.

    Posted by poppy609 June 23, 10 02:34 PM
  1. Poppy, I wonder if your feathers would be all ruffled had I said that I was "getting frustrated," or "at my wits' end," or some other phrase? Having to change sheets, mattress pad, and all four times over a three week period, all in the middle of the night, is VERY annoying! Go ahead and call the DSS on me for admitting a true emotion...parenting isn't all smiles, finger painting, and ice cream cones. Parts of it are very aggravating.

    Thanks, Barbara...and others...it was helpful reading all of this (it just made me feel better).

    Posted by Anon. in Canton June 25, 10 02:20 PM
  1. My nephews went from staying dry overnight to wetting the bed just as puberty hit. One thing my sister did was to layer sheets and waterproof mattress pads, so it was easy to deal with in the middle of the night (remove the top layer, and there's a clean, dry set of sheets underneath). I think my nephews took care of stripping the bed themselves without waking my sister. At least one of them used an alarm also.

    Posted by kj July 2, 10 12:51 PM
  1. Hi. First of all - beautiful blog! Secondly this information was also good and interesting to read, but I don't think everything you have said is completely true. I will need to Google about few things you have mentioned in your article to make sure. But anyway thanks for taking your time to write interesting articles and good luck on writing other articles. P.S sorry for bad English, I'm not English native speaker.

    Posted by Anonymous December 27, 10 10:36 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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