Coping With Bedwetting: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Bedwetting Causes Stress

Know that bedwetting is often a normal part of growing up. Most children don't stay dry at night until about the age of 3. And it's usually not a concern for parents until around age 6. There are ways to work toward dry nights as a family.

A Bed Wetter Needs Your Support

Reassure your child by being supportive. He isn't wetting the bed on purpose. And bedwetting isn't typically a sign of an emotional or physical problem. Explain that it is normal, very common, and that he won't always wet the bed.

Talk and Share Your Experience

Bedwetting often runs in families. If you or your partner wet the bed as a child, talk with your child about it. It'll help him see that people do outgrow it. And it may help him feel less alone and embarrassed.

What Causes Bedwetting?

Many things can cause bedwetting. It could be slower development of bladder control or heavy sleep. There may be hormonal causes. Stress and anxiety can be a cause. A child who's been dry and suddenly starts wetting the bed may have an infection, or something such as a move may be bothering her. Be sure to speak with your doctor if this is a new problem.

Let Your Child Help Find Solutions

If she's 4 or older, ask for her help. What might help her stop wetting the bed? Brainstorm together. Drinking less in the evening and cutting back on caffeinated drinks may be worth trying. You can also offer options like disposable underwear or waterproof sheets. By keeping it positive and involving her you'll help build her confidence and encourage good bedtime habits.

Praise and Reward for Staying Dry

When your child has a dry night, praise her for it. Some families mark wet days and dry days on a calendar. Stickers or stars can make it fun. If your child stays dry a number of nights in a row, offer a small reward like a fun breakfast or small book. If she wets, be supportive and remind her that by keeping up her efforts results will come.

Provide Simple Reminders

Make using the bathroom just before he gets in bed part of his bedtime routine. Also remind him that it's OK to get up during the night to use the bathroom. Nightlights can help him find his own way back and forth from the bathroom.

Does Waking During the Night Help?

Resist the urge to wake your child repeatedly during the night. If you use this approach, waking once a night should be enough, perhaps right before you go to bed yourself. Keep in mind that if you deprive your child of rest and sleep, you may increase his level of stress. Stress can be a bedwetting trigger.

Involve Your Child in Cleaning Up

When he wets the bed, he can put his PJs in the hamper or help you change the sheets. Make sure he understands it's not a punishment, just part of what has to be done. The idea is to make him more aware of his bedwetting without scolding him or making him feel ashamed.

Clean Up: Removing the Smell of Urine

Accidents happen. And when they do, urine can leave a stubborn odor in clothes and in bed linens. Try adding a half cup to a cup of white vinegar to your wash to remove the smell.

Cleaning a Mattress: Step 1

If you need to clean urine from a mattress, first use towels to blot up as much as you can. Keep blotting, but don't rub, until no more moisture comes to the surface.

Cleaning a Mattress: Step 2

Once you've blotted up as much of the urine as you can, saturate the entire area of urine stain with hydrogen peroxide. Let it stand for 5 minutes, and then use towels again to blot the area dry.

Cleaning a Mattress: Step 3

Once the mattress is dry, sprinkle baking soda over the entire area and let it stand for 24 hours. The next day, vacuum the baking soda away. It should be clean and odor free.

Easing Sleepover Stress

If your child is nervous about sleepovers, remind her of the steps she uses to stay dry at home. Providing her with disposable underwear and extra clothes in case of an accident may help relieve anxiety. A sleeping bag with waterproof lining may also help.

Some medications (desmopressin, imipramine, or desipramine) may be helpful for short-term use on special occasions when your older child wants to stay dry, such as at camp or sleepovers. 

Beforehand, notify the adult host that your child may have some worries about bedwetting. Discuss your child's plans for coping so everyone feels prepared.

Be Patient About Bedwetting

Scolding or losing your temper won't make your child stop wetting the bed. Don't bring up bedwetting in front of others in an attempt to shame her. Embarrassing her in hopes it'll make her stop will increase her stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, remember that bedwetting eventually does stop. Try practicing patience and providing support while you wait.

Dealing With Teasing in the Home

Bedwetting can make your child an easy target for teasing. To help him cope, make your home safe for him. Don't allow anyone in your family to tease about it. Explain to siblings that bedwetting is something their brother doesn't have control over and that he needs everybody's love and support.

Bullying at School About Bedwetting

Avoiding other children or coming home with unexplained injuries are signs your child may be being bullied. Listen to what your child says. Talk with her and let her know that you know it's not her fault. Then talk with people at the school and ask what they've seen. Be proactive and work with the school to find ways to make the teasing stop.

When to Call the Doctor

If your child is still bedwetting at age 7, consider setting up a doctor's visit. While there may be a medical problem, most of the time there isn't. Also, see the doctor if your child suddenly starts wetting the bed after being dry for 6 months or more.

Reviewed by Kathy Empen, MD on September 10, 2014

This tool does not provide medical advice.