I consider myself very lucky. I didn’t potty-train my son until he was nearly three years old, on the advice of several friends who had older children and all of whom said I should leave potty training as late as I could. It turned out to be a doddle. He was dry, day and night, in about two days. I considered that I was owed, frankly, since my son hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time, and he had been a very fussy eater when it had come to weaning. So having an easy time of potty-training seemed only fair.
The night time dryness came as a surprise, though. I kept putting him in nappies at night, thinking that this was something that would have to be tackled separately at some later point. But night after night he stayed dry until I was brave enough to leave his nappy off at bedtime. He’s five now, and we’ve had about a dozen ‘accidents’ at night over the last couple of years, mainly when he’s been very tired or has had a lot to drink last thing at night. But I don’t think that’s bad going, really.
Despite the easy ride I had, I had researched potty-training in great detail at the time, assuming that it would be as hard as everything else had been to conquer.
So here’s a summary of the advice that I was given, or read about.
Statistically, some 15 – 20% of children age five and six still wet the bed regularly; that figure drops to 2 – 3% by the time they’re 14 years. So it’s not that common, but it’s a real problem to those children and their parents who fall in those percentages.
Bedwetting is often a family trait – children stop at roughly the same age as their parents did. A child who is bedwetting is not doing it out of laziness or to annoy their parents. They might have a medical condition, from constipation to infection. If it’s always happened, they’ve never been dry at night, it’s known as primary enuresis and it might be down to immature bladder control. If they’ve been dry for a year or so and then started wetting, this is known as secondary enuresis and it can be caused by stress.
If there’s no physical or psychological cause that needs to be addressed, then doctors will say there’s not much they can do to cure it, it’s down to managing it and ‘re-training’ the child. The following methods can be useful:
1. Urinary bed alarms. These are pretty effective in the long-term. They involve moisture sensors that set off an alarm. In theory, it wakes up the child who can then go to the toilet. In practice, it can just mean waking up the parent (if the child is a heavy sleeper) who then has to scramble through to the child’s room in the hope of lifting their child onto the loo before the bed gets soaked. Or so my mother-in-law tells me.
2. Star charts. Basic reward system for each dry night, with a ‘prize’ given for, say, 10 stars (equating to 10 dry nights).
3. Lifting. The parents make sure the child has a wee before bed. Then when the parents go to the toilet, they wake up the child and take him to the toilet (or physically lift him there). This can be helpful to keep the mattress dry but doesn’t do much to teach the child to stay dry themselves. It’s useful for waiting for the bladder to mature.
4. Bladder training. This involves getting your child to wait longer and longer during the day to have a wee, perhaps using an egg timer, building up to waiting 45 minutes before they go to the loo. The idea is they gain control of their bladder and can do so at night too.
5. Stopping too many drinks at night. This can be seen by the child as a punishment, and think about it from their point of view: would you like to be deprived of a drink when you were thirsty?
Invest in good-quality waterproof sheets. ‘Kelly’ sheets are best, as they have a plastic back (that stays closest to the mattress) and fabric top (that stays just under the fitted sheet), which gets rid of that horrible plastic feeling of the bed that you normally get with waterproof sheets (it also stops the child sweating so much). For ease, maybe put on two layers per night, so if there’s an accident one layer can be peeled off without much fuss.
There are medicines available, which work so long as they’re being taken but don’t have any lasting effect.