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Big Kid Bedwetting

Big Kid Bedwetting

By Amalah

My dearest Amalah,

I have been a faithful reader since Noah was a wee turtle, blah, blah, love you, can’t wait to be pregnant and spend hours pouring over the pregnancy archives.

I have a question regarding my sweet, soon to be stepson who turned 8 in September and has gone through some major life changes and moves this year. You see, he recently moved halfway across the country with his 6 year old brother to come live with his father, (my fiancé) and I. Their mother (who has a list of her own issues) was jobless, broke and about to be evicted, came to her senses and changed the custody agreement.  Despite this HUGE change, the kids are thriving in their new home with us. Both are bright, affectionate, thoughtful kids who I love dearly. Doing well in school, making friends, and even physically growing.

The main issue, which really isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things, is bedwetting. I’ve looked in the archives and only saw this issue for toddlers.

Formerly, both children were in Pull-ups every night at their mothers. I’ll admit, I just thought she was damn lazy.

After coming to our house, we implemented a reward chart for being dry, I bought some books, namely “Getting to Dry” and did a bazillion google searches. Two months later, the six year old is consistently dry and we’ve discontinued pull-ups for him.  However, the eight year old is dry MAYBE twice a week. Wakes up wet even after restricting fluids after 6 pm and a final bathroom break before bed.

I understand trauma and stress exacerbate the issue. We do our best to have open communication with him and let him know it’s not his fault. I firmly believe he has NO CONTROL. He admits to being ashamed and wants it to end. He also feels bad that his LITTLE brother had no problem accruing stars and rewards.

Everything I read says to buy a wetting alarm. I just don’t know if it’s worth the $100. Of course, as I type that I realize we’re spending plenty of money on The Goodnite Pull-ups anyway. But I don’t know if the alarm really works.

It breaks my heart that this kid has to wear a diaper to bed. I can see the shame in his eyes, despite telling him it’s no big deal, we’ll work on it.

On a couple of side notes, his mother claims she wet the bed til she was 18. In my opinion, that’s not a reason for us not to address the problem.

Also, we have a doctors appointment later this month where I pray we won’t be shrugged off and told, “he’ll grow out of it.”

Thank you for all your great advice, and commenters included. I know we can do this!

Wet in Washington DC

NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD SMACKDOWN COMMENTERS TO COME TO THE AID OF OUR BRETHREN. Or…sistren. (Which is actually a word. That I just Googled. In a separate tab from the other five or six Google searches I just ran on bedwetting. Because that’s the kind of high-quality advice joint I’m running here.)

So I cannot offer up any personal guidance or words of wisdom on the specific issue of extended bedwetting. Except to say that from what I DO know on the subject, it sounds like you are doing everything right, especially attitude-wise. It is absolutely not his fault, and really not that big of a deal — something like close to 10% of 8-year-olds (especially boys, and ESPECIALLY boys with a family history of bedwetting, because the delay does get passed along) have problems staying dry at night.

I’m sure the comment section will be able to offer better insight on whether the wetting alarm is worth the money, since I know nothing about such things. (Is this…it? For $50? Or perhaps a cheaper version of whatever you were looking at for $100?) Like you pointed out, those overnight pull-ups are a huge expense and waste in and of themselves, so I guess I personally would be tempted to think, what the hell, worth a try, and shell out the money.

(I assume you’ve tried setting a regular alarm for about an hour after he falls asleep? To wake him up for yet one more final-final bathroom trip before he’s really down for the night? It’s not as sophisticated as sensors inside underpants or anything, but I’ve read that the one-hour-wake-up mark can really increase a child’s chances of staying dry. When my kids were in that transitional period right after we discontinued diapers/training pants at night, I would usually check/rouse them right around the time I was going to bed and prompt them to use the potty again, just to be sure the tank was good and empty.)

I would also look into washable/reusable pants. Not just because I’m a cloth diaper insane-o person, but because 1) they will be cheaper in the long run, if the problem persists, and 2) they resemble actual, non-diaper UNDERWEAR so, so much more than pull-ups and might help your sweet little boy with the shame/embarrassment of wearing something so…diaper-like and babyish. Because oh, my heart just broke reading about seeing shame in his eyes no no no it’s okay, little dude! IT’S OKAY THE INTERNET LOVES YOU. The tradeoff is that cloth pants will be bulkier than a disposable — especially if he’s a heavy wetter and requires an extra absorbent insert/pad. Plus you’ll need to buy enough pairs to allow for washing and drying time. (Five or six, I’d say.) There’s a nice number of brands that come in larger sizes for big kids: Dri-NightsMother-Ease, Nicky Bedwetter Pants, etc.

Of course, if you look at the upfront cost of a weeks’ worth of pants, the price on the wetting alarm will probably start looking much more reasonable, so you will have to figure out how much money you can afford to throw at the problem. I think it’s a great sign that his younger brother was able to gain control using the reward system, so hopefully that’s an indication that the older kiddo WON’T have to deal with the problem for as long as his mother did. And absolutely, all the major upset/changes/stress of the past year haven’t been exactly working in y’all’s favor. So I’m with you on this one: Yes, it’s actually a normal, totally-not-his-fault thing, especially given the family history, but far from a lost cause, let’s-just-wait-and-do-nothing-but-diapers-every-night situation. He may very well continue to have wetting problems until adolescence, which is why my brain can’t quite shake the idea that he’ll appreciate wearing something as close to actual underwear as possible in the meantime. But he might NOT struggle for that long, so the alarm/extra waking approach might be worth trying — so long as you don’t think it will simply frustrate or upset him even more if it doesn’t work.

Okay, commenters: Your turn. What worked, what didn’t, what pointers can you offer to help the OP keep both her sanity and her little guy’s spirits up?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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