Children Parents Teenagers

Why does my seven-year-old still wet the bed?

April 14, 2015

QANDAKIDS Question:
My son is seven and still wets the bed. It is so severe that he has to wear a night time nappy each night and in the morning it is saturated. He’s getting big though and almost doesn’t fit into them. The next size up are hard to come by and are super expensive. I have tried stopping him from drinking water after dinner but that feels cruel. I also tried getting up every two hours and forcing him to use the toilet. That reduced the amount of saturation but didn’t prevent it. I really need some expert advice.

QANDAKIDS ANSWER:

Bedwetting is upsetting.

In my practice as a child and adolescent psychologist, parents often explain that a cold, damp bed is their main concern, but not the only thing: “Oh my God! I don’t mean to complain. I feel for my son. But, you have no idea how much washing there is! Four, five loads a week’s nothing for us. I know it’s not his fault, but I sometimes feel like I spend my life just washing bed linen.” Fair enough. Even one load of bed-linen washing a week is a pain for anyone.

If your son’s been wet most nights, for most of his life, his problem is called primary nocturnal enuresis. It’s often caused when children haven’t developed the sensitivity to awaken from a deep sleep in response to a full bladder. And, sometimes, for developmental reasons, it happens because children cannot stop their bladders from contracting during sleep.

The problem is usually inherited from a close relative. I commonly hear parents say something like, “Well my brother was only dry at night when he was ten years old.” I seldom hear parents refer to their sisters, and that’s usually because females are less likely to inherit the problem than males.

It might also help you to know that your son’s problem is quite common. That’s why I discuss it in my recently published book on sleep issues in kids, called, BUT I’M NOT TIRED! Up to 15 percent of five year olds, and about 8 percent of eight year olds still wet their beds most nights.

But, don’t despair. You might not have to wait too long for a dry night. Most kids mature out of the problem, although at their own rates.

Even so, seven years of age is usually the cut-off point to have the problem checked out. I suggest, therefore, that you take your son to see his G.P., just to be sure that all you need is patience and a good washing machine.

5 tips for parents of bedwetters.
Besides the use of the nappies, or DryNites:
1. Limit the type of liquid that your child has to drink. Milk is probably the best drink option before bedtime. The body absorbs about three quarters of it as food, rather than as liquid. It’s therefore a better choice than drinks that increase urine output.
2. Limit the amount of liquid that your child drinks before he/she goes to bed.
 If you ensure that your child has enough to drink through the day, a very small amount of liquid should be a sufficient thirst quencher before bedtime. Even if it’s milk, I suggest that you decrease the amount by tiny amounts every night, until there’s very little left in the glass.
3. Include a ‘Toilet Stop’ in the pre-bedtime routine. That is, insist that your child empties his/her bladder before bedtime.
4. Use a waterproof mattress protector.
 The mattress protector might protect you from repeated mattress-washing chores and mattress-shopping excursions.
5. Trial a bedwetting alarm.
 The alarm contains a pad that attaches to either the bed linen or your child’s pajamas. It sounds when it detects moisture, and, as it sounds, it alerts your child to the feeling of a full-bladder. The idea is that the association between the alarm and a full bladder will sensitise your son’s brain to the fact that a full bladder means it’s time to go to the toilet.
But, a word of warning. This could be a slow process. The association between awakening and a full bladder takes time to develop, so parents may need patience before they see any advantages. In addition, a number of parents report that the alarm can be disruptive to the whole family’s sleep.

As frustrating as the endless loads of washing may be, a parent cannot punish an immature bladder. So, comments like, “It’s so annoying!” and punishments are not a good idea. Disparaging remarks can instil an anxiety that perpetuates the bedwetting.

So, what should you do? My best advice is to be patient. As you lift the wet linen off your son’s bed for another wash, be assured that somewhere in the cloth, there’s a silver lining, even if it’s only sometime in the future.

Names, locales, people and incidents have been fictitiously created by the author. Any resemblance to actual people, places or individuals is completely coincidental.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Lee July 16, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Thank you for writing this article! I am a washing-worn-out mother of a 7.5 year old boy who bed wets every night!
    Reading your article has given me sound information and helpful tips and it has also assured me that we are normal! My son and his bed wetting and myself and my washing woes! I look forward to that silver lining !

  • Reply Jennifer July 21, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Lee,
    Hopefully your silver lining comes sooner rather than later. Remember that beyond the age of 7 years, it’s a good idea to consult your G.P. for advice on the problem.
    Take care and thanks for reading the post.
    Jennifer

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