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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

Published January 9, 2012. Last updated December 14, 2017.
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 [email protected].

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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  • Julie

    January 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    We had some friends with this issue, and they did the restricting fluids/potty before bed routine also.  They also would get the little boy up just before the parents went to bed.  He would groggily walk down the hall, do his business, and crawl back in bed without hardly realizing he was awake.  It took some of the pressure off his bladder, and it helped a lot.  I don’t think it was a complete cure, but it helped!

  • Suzy Q

    January 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    I have no experience with this and so have no advice.  I just wanted to say that you sound like a really awesome stepmom!  How nice it is that you were able to open your heart and your home to these boys and give them the love and security it sounds like they desperately needed.  And your fiance is lucky to have found you, too.

  • April

    January 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    So… I totally wet the bed until I was 14 and I remember the shame that you mention. It was horrible, horrible, horrible. My #1 reason for not wanting kids for a long long time. It was WAY WORSE when people tried to help figure it out and better when my mom just threw her hands up and shrugged and did more laundry. One day it just stopped. Alarms didn’t help, nothing helped. Then two years after it stopped I visited my grandma who did all the things you mentioned – I couldn’t have liquids after 5, etc and it magically started up again. For just the week I was visiting her. It was horrible. I would say give the kid a break. The doctor’s office visit is a good start – my brother had medication that helped him stop, I think he was 8 or 10. Definitely push for the doc to hear you and if they don’t help get a second (and third and fourth) opinion. See a specialist. But yeah, nothing is worse than the shame. Get something to help deal with it like the cloth pants – I remember the worst being people hearing a diaper crinkle at a sleepover I was attempting to attend and being all WHAT IS THAT?! and making fun of me. So terrible.

  • EmJay

    January 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm

     My son who just turn 8 has the same issue.  I obviously don’t have any solutions, but look forward to reading responses. 

  • Jeannie

    January 9, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I unfortunately don’t have solutions, but I do know that it IS normal. Maybe not common, but totally normal. One of my girlfriends has two boys, 7 and 4, and they both still wear pull ups at night — her MIL said that all three of her boys had issues until their teens. It unfortunately is totally out of their control, it’s just a physiological thing. And it sucks.

    I think the doctor’s appointment is a good idea, especially if you have a nice understanding doctor who can also reassure your son that it’s not his fault, that he doesn’t need to feel ashamed, and that it will get better. And maybe he / she will have some good suggestions, too.

    Best of luck!

  • robocop

    January 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    My brother wet the bed into his late teens (actually I think even into college). My parents tried absolutely everything to help him stop. Alarms, getting him up in the middle of the night fluid restriction, urologist and psychiatrists. Nothing helped. He even wore adult diapers after he grew out of pull-ups. Anyway, he’s married now and I assume he doesn’t wet the bed he shares with his wife. So there’s an end in sight.

  • Jennifer C

    January 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    YES! We just did with my almost-7yo – I thought we’d never get out of the pullups, even though is little sister never actually used them – was dry at night age 3.5 on. What worked was growing older (yup) and us waking him up EVERY SINGLE NIGHT at 11 pm before we went to bed, CARRYING him to the potty (he wouldn’t walk, and we had several weeks of painful wakeups where he’d completely resist). We did it until he was dry in the pullups, then we switched to no pullups but putting two layers of sheets on (waterproof pad – sheet – waterproof pad – sheet) and it probably took 6 months. But now he’s dry every night – though we still get him up, and he does pee, but without protesting. We also talked a lot about how his brain was growing, it was trying to make the nerve connections between his bladder and brain, and the more he thought about it as a neurological thing he’s working on, the less shame. So hang in there!!

  • Catherine

    January 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I know the poster did not mention any problems with constipation, but I just wanted to highlight that if he is not having regular daily bowel movements, it could be part of the issue. Constipation can have a serious impact on bedwetting …. overly full colon putting pressure on the bladder. The doctor can help you figure out how best to handle medication (such as over the counter milk of magnesia) to help treat constipation. Best of luck!!!

  • a.k.

    January 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    My sister had this issue well into puberty. After visits with psychologists, specialists, etc., it was determined that her brain went into such a deep sleep that even if her bladder said “FULL,” her brain was not receiving the signals. The sheet-attached-to-an-alarm seemed to help a good bit, at least in terms of getting to her right when her bladder released, waking her up enough to get her to the bathroom, etc. – but I’m not sure it ever fully resolved itself. And even now as an adult, if she gets drunk at night there’s still a chance she will wet the bed. A lifetime of restricted liquids before bedtime is not ideal, but prevention seems to really make a difference for her.

    Good luck with your son.

  • Kate

    January 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I’m with April on this. I wet the bed until I was 8 and my brother did until he was 9. There’s a history of it in our family so… I guess that makes it hereditary? The alarm does not work, I remember a brief period of having to use it as a kid (it goes off when it gets wet, so.. that’s too late!). I hate to say this, but… he’ll grow out of it. It’s totally a developmental thing… whatever needs to develop so that he wakes out of a deep sleep when his bladder is full just hasn’t developed yet. (yes, I’m so technical and sciency!) It will, though, really. My advice is to work on your stepson’s feelings of shame (not that you’re causing them or anything, but he obviously feels it). Just keep him in the pullups (or cloth trainers) and praise him if he’s dry, but don’t make a big deal out of things if he wakes up wet. Just, “no big deal, buddy, we can shoot to be dry tonight.” I don’t remember ever having any hang ups about this as a kid (except for sleepovers, that did suck) and I think it’s because my parents were pretty relaxed about it. One day it will stop, just like that. Promise!

  • Rachel

    January 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I too wet the bed until Middle School, and my youngest daughter, who is 9, has the same problem. We felt that the alarm was making the issue in to A Big Thing, so we’ve never gone that route. Because of my own issues, we’ve made a BIG deal about how it’s genetic, it’s NOT something her body can yet control, and more of her friends have the same problem than she realizes, which is absolutely true. When I’ve mentioned our issues before a sleepover, 3 of the moms have said that they have the same problem with their daughters. I also emphasize that we don’t blame/look down on diabetics or epileptics because their bodies work differently, so anyone who would look down on her or make fun of her is not worth our time. RAWR.

    The thing that works best for us is just what Amy mentioned: we sort of limit liquid from dinner on, and we wake my daughter up around 1.5-2 hours after she last uses the bathroom/when she goes to bed. We have her get out of bed by herself, so that she’s semi awake, and go use the bathroom one last time. This has worked about 99% of the time, and eliminates the need for Pull-ups. We just put a waterproof pad under her sheet in her bed.

    For sleepovers, besides asking the parents to take her to the bathroom, we’ve attempted the medication Desmopressin. It was prescribed by our doctor, and can be taken before bed to suppress the urine overnight. She can take between 1-3 pills, depending on how well it works. Unfortunately, it’s been only semi-successful on sleepovers, even when she takes 3 pills (maybe due to the fact she’s 5 feet tall and weighs 75lbs-could be more effective in a smaller system; also, who DOESN’T drink their weight in water/punch/soda at a sleepover???). When we have her take it multiple nights in a row for a vacation or something, it has been successful.

    *** HOWEVER, you have to be careful about throwing their body out of balance with too much liquid and then suppressing the urine, and the doctor does not recommend more than a week at a time on the medication. Still, it’s a possible solution for a sleepover if your step-son finds it to be effective. ***

  • Lesley

    January 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I was going to say something along the lines of what SuzyQ said.

    I don’t have much to offer, but I too wet the bed until I was a big kid, and my older sister did until she was a teenager. She has always been a much heavier sleeper than I am, so maybe this is why your older stepson is still wetting when his younger brother has stopped. I can see how it would be shameful and frustrating, especially when he is not able to receive awards when he doesn’t have any control over it in the first place. It sounds like you are doing all the right things, but one other thing to add is that my mom used to wake me up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, so you might try that…especially if there is any way his body would respond to the habit of waking up at a certain time of night and he might eventually be able to start doing that on his own. And, it would give him the confidence of consistently waking up dry, which it sounds like would help.

  • Beth

    January 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I’m not sure if this puts into a “shameful” thing or if it would help with “training”… I clearly remember that as a kid my parents would do “get up & go” as a training thing. And I can say that i was roughly 6 when they did this…If in the night I had an accident, they would have me help change the sheets and then i was required to lay in the bed for a little bit with all the blankets just like i was trying to sleep and then get back up and go to the bathroom and just act like i was using it. They’d make me repeat this several times (10 seems to be the number that i remember doing) in the night. I think it helped train my head/bladder to get the cues to go. I don’t remember them making a big deal out of it or yelling at me about it. Just saying this is what we’re doing.

  • Monica

    January 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Would you consider chiropractic care? I was. A chronic bedwetter well into late elementary/jr high. (I still remember stripping my bed in the night and going back to sleep on the floor.) My mother took me to a chiropractor and through basic spine alignment and electrode accupunture (no needles and it doesn’t hurt) I stopped almost immediately. This is after trying EVERYTHING. It’s still a miracle no one made fun of me. NO ONE. I was always going on sleepovers and had friends to my house too. I still love those girls for never taunting me about it.

    I don’t think I received treatment for long. I know it was expensive for my parents, but I will forever be thankful that they tried it with me.

  • SarraJK

    January 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    My son wet the bed. Really, really wet. He peed through a night time pullup with a doubler every night. He was (and is) a very deep sleeper.

    We tried sticker charts and waking him up and all sorts of stuff, but nothing really worked. He wasn’t happy about being wet every morning either, and he was a little embarrassed about it.

    When he was about 5 and a half, we decided to try an alarm. I got an alarm with a pad insert, and it broke after the second wet night (I didn’t do very good research before I bought). So I bought a replacement alarm with a clip that snaps onto the clothes and it worked great. He had two or three more wet nights after that. He wore the alarm until he was dry for 10 weeks. He’s been dry for over a year now.

    He still sleeps deeply but somehow manages to get himself up in the middle of the night to use the restroom when he needs to.

    It is a lot of money, but the savings on pullups and dealing with wet sheets and blankets every night was worth it.

  • Hilary

    January 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Bedwetting has a strong genetic component, and in the absence of physical problems (in which you would probably notice he had accidents during the day, too), he WILL just grow out of it.  But, that doesn’t mean it should be shrugged off.  In the meantime, just continue what you’re doing so far with positive attitudes and liquid restriction, and then add on the suggestion that Amy and others said- waking him up for an extra bathroom trip.  I’d also add that bathroom trips should be scheduled and frequent during the day- going to the bathroom about every two hours can help strengthen and sensitize his urge to urinate, which is the underlying, underdeveloped mechanism behind his bedwetting.  The alarm has the potential to work; it helps some kids but not others.  One thing to remember for all of these techniques is that they take time to work- even the alarm can take 3 months to work fully in an ideal scenario.

    Hitting the issue from two different angles is helpful.  On one hand, you have approaches that reduce the amount of urine in the bladder to decrease the odds of wetting (fluid restriction, peeing right before bed, avoiding caffeine, and prescription medications all fall under this category).  On the other hand, you can try to address the root problem by strengthening the urge signal pathways in the brain (by using a moisture alarm and doing scheduled bathroom brakes during the day).  You could get better results from using both angles than just one alone.

    Best of luck to you and your son.  You sound like a kind and compassionate stepmom!

  • Kathy

    January 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    My 11yo still wets the bed occasionally and our solution so far has been to… not make a big deal of it. His only ‘requirements’ are to let me know he’s had an accident, change his sheets with my help, and take a shower. That’s it. No big deal.

  • annemarie

    January 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    My friend told me that her mom took her sister to the chiropractor for bedwetting issues at this age – the neurological signals were getting lost en route. Just another suggestion!

  • Jen

    January 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I know several people whose kids have had this problem. A bedwetting alarm of some type is a worthy investment. Other tips, to go along with the alarm:
    Make sure he is drinking plenty of water during the day- even at school- so he isn’t dehydrated and thus drinking a ton in the evening. Send him with a water bottle and a note for the teacher that he needs to drink water throughout the day.
    Restrict liquids in the evening.
    Double voiding at bedtime- have him pee, then brush teeth, etc, then pee again before going to sleep.

  • JCF

    January 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I was recently researching magnesium deficiency because of various symptoms i am having, and I happened to notice that one symptom of mag deficiency is bed wetting. The body can apparently absorb magnesium better topically rather than orally, so of you decide to go this route, look for a spray.

  • karen

    January 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    What a sweet stepmom you are! Nobody has addressed the reward system yet, so to build his confidence, is there a system you can devise that will enable him to get rewards too like his brother? Perhaps stars come from an extra trip to the restroom, from helping to change the sheets, or when you notice that he took the whole thing in stride (an attitude reward??). That way he isn’t competing head on with little bro and is earning points for things he has control over? Clearly if it was up to him, he wouldn’t be wetting the bed anymore.

  • Kai

    January 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    For me I had to sleep with a night light. The slightly brighter room helped me to sleep lighter so my brain was more easily able to rouse me to get up if I needed to go.
    My parents had also told me that if I was every awake enough to see the night light, I needed to get out of bed and try to go to the bathroom until my body made all the connections it needed to.
    Also kudos to the OP for being so understanding and fingers crossed for a resolution for their family. 

  • camille

    January 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    I briefly skimmed the comments, but like others seemed to have said, this is not a rewards chart type issue. My little ones are still little, but I just purchased these for nighttime use. Using 3-4 of the pads have worked for nighttime for my daughter (who is in the process of nighttime training). The seller is awesome to deal with (i.e. perhaps can help out if these sizes don’t work) and it might help your son’s confidence to have nighttime undies that are less diaper-like while he/you figure this out. If these don’t work, perhaps some thing similar (i.e. less diaper and more undie).

  • Amy

    January 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Thought I’d chime with another the alarm worked. My brother had this problem at 7 or 8, he was just a very sound sleeper. It took several weeks. Don’t know what brand the alarm was as this was 30 plus years ago. He didn’t wear it, it went under the sheet.

  • OP

    January 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I’m the OP and wanted to give a big THANK YOU to Amy and commenters. All of you, thanks so much. 
    We have woken him at about 11pm before we turn in, but not consistently. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
    I will def look into the washable pants and bed pads. He DOES have a small bladder and pees at least every two hours. (we’ve learned to sit on the aisle at the movies bc add Sprite to the equation and GAAAHHH!) No constipation issues either. 
    So, we’ll start doing the nighttime wake up to pee again. He’s such a good kid, and deserves an A for effort! 

  • Amy

    January 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Uh, “a friend” of mine wet the bed until she was 14. The only thing that helped was medication: This was 15 years ago, so I don’t know if that’s the standard course of action anymore, but it helped my friend. 

  • Lila

    January 9, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    I would definitely try the chiropractor, especially given his mom’s history. A chiropractor friend of mine actually treated 18 year old twin girls who still wet the bed, and was able to quickly solve the problem for both of them.

  • Heather

    January 9, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    I was a bedwetter until about age 8 or so. My parents then took me to the doc to get medication. It helped so much and helped my self esteem as well. I know alot of people will say to wait it out before meds, but the self esteem is a big issue. Ask the doc about your medication option.

  • Rachel

    January 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    The alarm can help when the child is a deep sleeper. It teaches your brain to wake up when it’s time, which is something that a pullup will never do. It’s expensive, but not really when you compare it to shame, so I say it’s worth a try.

    I worry that the stars and rewards (the lack of them) could be discouraging.

    And for some reason it seems like even when the problem is eventually solved at home, it can still happen at sleepovers or when a child is away from routine.

    I totally agree that waking him up around eleven sounds like a good idea.

    Good for you for trying to address this issue instead of passively waiting.

  • Tiffany

    January 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    My brother wet the bed until he was 9. Eventually, a doctor realized that his foreskin was tickling him, causing the urge to urinate. He was re-circumsized and the bed wetting stopped.

  • lolismum

    January 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    If it is something beyond his control, I would drop the chart/reward system. The most important thing is to stop making it into a big deal, so that at least his self esteem can recover. He probably does not want this talked about so much. Give him control. Buy waterproof mattress pads and sheets, put layers of it on his bed. In a casual way, teach him to strip them and put them in a laundry bin. Keep underwear and extra PJs and wet wipes next to his bed. Tell him, hey it’s no big deal, but it’s uncomfortable to sleep in a wet bed. So if you are wet, strip the sheet and the pad, change, go back to sleep. No problem.  Run the laundry in the morning without comment.

  • Jennifer

    January 9, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    The boy I used to babysit for was around 7 and he took a pill before bed to help control it. He took them himself, keeping them next to his pull ups. He knew he couldn’t control it but the pills were helping, so he wasn’t ashamed, even when the babysitter knew his secret.

  • Meg

    January 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Please, please get rid of the chart. It’s awesome that it’s working for the younger brother but to the 8 year old it probably seems like a giant, embarrassing notification to the whole world that he wets his bed. Also, making sure these things are talked about behind closed doors instead of like, at the dinner table or with ALL three adults (you, mom, and dad) together would probably help him feel less tense about it.

    I was also going to recommend cloth instead of night time pull ups as well, even if the only benefit is that they aren’t so diaper-y. Some kids find that the extra time it takes to absorb the urine into the fabric (vs the gels in diapers) helps them become aware of wetness faster.

    Also, BED LASAGNA. Layers of waterproof pads separated by layers of sheets. Extra comforters/blankets nearby. If he wets a layer, he pulls it off and doesn’t have to struggle with resheeting the bed in the middle of the night.

    Also (again) tell him lots and LOTS of kids go through this and make sure he knows he’s not alone or weird. 

  • Mary

    January 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    My oldest trained himself to stay dry at night at age four. The next one wet at night until he was seven. And the third soaked the bed heavily every freaking night until she was nine. The alarms don’t work, by the time they go off they’ve already wet and then they’re still asleep and crying and you’re up for the night. My son didn’t care about the pullups, so he just wore them and he finally grew out of it. My daughter wanted to go to camp and sleepovers, so we asked the doctor for help. She prescribed something that she inhaled every night before bed. It took about four nights and then she started stayed dry. She didn’t take it long, maybe two weeks. She had one backslide, maybe six months later, we gave her the medicine for another two weeks and she’s been dry ever since. I am not a big fan of giving kids medicine, but this stuff worked wonders for her.

  • Meghan

    January 10, 2012 at 2:36 am

    I’d also like to recommend an appointment with a chiropractor. My chiropractor actually went into his profession because he was a bed wetter all the way into high school, and after years of being carted all over to specialists to try and figure out WTF was going on, a few chiropractic adjustments that resolved the issue for him.

    When the nerves (running through the spine) are compressed, they can’t relay the information to the brain properly. If the nerves responsible for sensing fullness in the bladder are compressed, the message won’t be relayed.

    It’s worth checking out, even if your insurance doesn’t cover chiropractic care, (or you don’t have insurance, like me.) Most treatments are relatively affordable.

  • Sass

    January 10, 2012 at 2:49 am

    De-lurking for the first time! I don’t have any useful advice to offer on the physiological problem here, but I wanted to chime in and echo some of the commenters who talked about his shame issues. I have pretty severe ADHD-I that went undiagnosed until I was 17, and the realization that I had a neurological difference rather than a huge, shameful character flaw did so much for my confidence. If he is old enough to understand the idea of neurology vs. the conscious mind, or if he is at all interested in science/medicine (as I think a lot of kids that age are), this may help him to feel a little less ashamed of himself. I also think that he will really benefit from being given him the tools he needs to feel like this is a situation he can eventually control on his own, so that he won’t feel so babyish. 

  • Jen

    January 10, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I wish I could help. For me, the diaper was the thing that actually fixed the problem. I was in Pull Ups but they didn’t hold enough, and after months of having to change the sheets my mom put me in an adult diaper (while reassuring me that this was just a precaution, that it wasn’t my fault, etc) and that night it magically stopped. I have no idea why. I still do it sometimes (like maybe once a year at most) as an adult but I assume all adults do if they are sleepy enough and happen to have dreams that involve water. I’m not suggesting an adult diaper for your stepson though since it looks like he already feels embarrassed and that probably would make it worse.

  • Ami

    January 10, 2012 at 10:39 am

    First, I wanted to say that your commenters are an awesome group of very thoughtful people. My just-turned-8yo son has this problem, although about two weeks before his birthday he stopped wetting every night, so we moved him to underwear. My husband, who usually stays up later than me, takes him to the bathroom at midnight or so, and if one of us gets up to use the restroom in the middle of the night we’ll often take him too, to be sure. But sometimes, none of that works and he still has accidents. These comments are helpful; our doc has said “he’ll grow out of it” and said the alarms work but not always permanently b/c if they aren’t physiologically ready, once the alarm goes away they just slip back into it. In any case, I’m thrilled to hear the chiro success stories and will try that for sure. I also had never heard the constipation connection before, but it makes sense (and he was on miralax for awhile b/c he had too much diarrhea from being constipated…which I know sounds wierd but trust me, it makes sense — it was just what would get around the constipated blockage…)
    Anyway, thanks Amy for posting, thanks commenters for helping all aspects, and OP, you do sound like a GREAT stepmom.

  • Em

    January 10, 2012 at 10:47 am

    The book DRY ALL NIGHT made all the difference for my family. It’s written for older kids (your stepson’s age, or older), and is very compassionate, non-judgmental, matter-of-fact–great book. I think it’s out of print but is definitely worth seeking out from Alibris or ABE Books. It puts the kid in charge of the issue but with no blame, no shaming, and lots of reminders (to kids and parents alike) that, Hey, NO BIG DEAL; LOTS of kids struggle with this. And it works! (For us it did, anyway.)

  • MLB

    January 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    It’s normal, and as my son’s doctor put it, you have to figure out how you want to manage the bedwetting since you can’t make it stop. If you don’t feel your concerns are being addressed you can consult a pediatric urologist too. There are medication solutions that work, but alarms don’t. And I’ve tried the reusable underwear that Amy recommends and it doesn’t work well for us at night. Good luck – this is something he has no control over. It’s maturational for a lot of kids, especially boys.

  • Jenna

    January 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I would second the suggestion about asking about Imipramine at the doctor’s appointment. My husband struggled with this from childhood until his early 20s. He tried all techniques and had all physiological things checked. It was just a brain thing, rather than a bladder thing, for him.

  • liz

    January 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    It occurs to me that if he’s going every two hours during the day, you may want to wake him more frequently at night. Once at 11:00, and then maybe once at 4:00 AM?

    I know that’s a pain in the tush for you and your partner, but it sounds like he just can’t hold it through a full night’s sleep.

    Perhaps you can get him to a place where he’s waking himself up at appointed hours to pee without your involvement, but with the help of an alarm clock or something.

  • Samantha

    January 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    So both my brothers wet the bed until they were ten. I never did. My mom eventually took the it’s no big deal attitude, got a mattress pad, and did a bunch of laundry and it stopped on its own. She took them both to the doc of course, and they checked out fine. They were both really self conscious about it, but once it wasn’t made into a *thing* they were both fine. They used pull ups for big kids during sleepovers, but most of their friends had the same problem, so there wasn’t any shaming.

  • MD

    January 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I am a pediatrician, and have a son who is 11 years old and is a bedwetter. It’s actually more accurate to say that he doesn’t have control of his bladder at all while sleeping. He wears pull ups to bed every night, and wakes up dry maybe only once a month, IF that.
    Nocturnal enuresis is a very common situation – notice that I didn’t say common problem. Barring a physical issue, it isn’t a problem unless you decide it should be, and it sounds like you’re doing everything right (fluid restriction, extra bathroom trips) to help him feel better about what he is dealing with. Encouraging him to feel like he has some control over the situation can help psychologically, up until the point where he isn’t having success and thinks it’s his fault. It simply isn’t. It’s simple anatomy and growth/development; everyone’s bladder matures at a different rate. Of course, saying that, you do need to consult your own pediatrician to rule out any functional disorders with his bladder. A urinalysis should be performed as well. Otherwise, it’s simply a maturational delay. Basically, this means that he will outgrow it.
    Genetics do play a strong role here; often the child has a parent who was also a bed wetter (in our case, my husband well into his teens).
    There is pharmacological help (meds) that you can try if it’s a serious enough issue to cause an upset in your household. Desmopressin and imipramine are drugs often used in pediatrics with modest success, but really it isn’t a solution – just a temporary fix. Discontinuation of the medication results in the condition recurring almost immediately.
    Alarms, as some mentioned, have the highest level of success if used consistently and correctly. These can be costly and you’ll need to consider if it is worth the extra effort and money.
    All of this being said, rule out a physical issue with your pediatrician, decide if you want to medicate, or if it’s not really a HUGE problem for you, and you can live with pull ups and some extra laundry from time to time, he will outgrow it.

  • hayley

    January 11, 2012 at 2:42 am

    We bought and used a bedwetting alarm on our 8 year old son and it worked within a couple of weeks. He has now been dry almost a year with only 1 wet night since then. He had had maybe one dry night in his life before that. So I would definetly go get one of those. Ultimately $100 is not a huge amount of money and its a one off. You can use them from age 6. Just FYI we tried all the other things but as i said before not even one dry night before this.

  • Trista

    January 11, 2012 at 9:56 am

    If he breaths heavily or snores at night or has many “throat” type sicknesses, have him seen by an ENT. Sometimes children with enlarged tonsils have sleep apnea….sleep apnea in children has MANY side effects, one of which is bed wetting. This is especially true if he was a child that had night terrors or woke up crying for no reason a lot as a toddler.

    Just a thought. Good Luck!!

  • Kristina

    January 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    The NYT ran a beautiful essay by a woman about her childhood/teen issue with wetting the bed. Trying to find it…

    I’d second the advice of it being a hereditary, medical condition that he will outgrown. And to also can the rewards system so he doesn’t associate it with “being bad” when it’s out of his control.

    I respectfully disagree with the suggestion of taking him to a chiropractor, but obviously that’s your call. Just don’t expect it to “fix” this.

  • Sasha

    January 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Please please PLEASE make sure the doctor checks him for diabetes during his appointment. I know that you didn’t mention any other symptoms, and there is an established family history of bed wetting, but it can also be a sign of diabetes in children.

  • Stephanie

    January 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    I didn’t have time to read all of the comments, so forgive me if I’m just reiterating what 30 others have already said, but GET THE ALARM! Totally worth the money. We finally caved and got one for my son when he was six. In a matter of oh, a week or so, he was totally dry. For good. Not a single accident since. In four years. Seriously, the alarm works.
    Good luck.

  • Heidi

    January 11, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    May I just ask this: WHICH alarm are people talking about? We are just beginning to talk about options with my almost-7-year-old, who still wears pull-ups at night and has had maybe a half dozen dry nights in his life. He has a number of other challenges, and toilet training itself was sheer hell. so this has not been high on the priority list. However, it’s about time at least to think about it, especially as he’s shown some desire to break the pull-up habit. 

  • Debra

    January 11, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    We had this problem in our house, it turns out the cause was a small hernia. We had the hernia fixed and the problem went away. Just something to ask about. 

    • Jolie Adler

      July 8, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      Can you please explain more. What kind of hernia and how can I know if my daughter has one.

  • DMD

    January 12, 2012 at 4:12 am

    I am a fairly new mom (my son is 16 months old) so I don’t have advice but I have a question for the OP and all the moms who have written in about sticker charts. If big kid bedwetting is, as most of you say, more of a psychological, neurological, or hereditary issue, then why use a reward system? I just imagine it would make the shame/embarrassment that much worse to have to see a chart of your “failures” every day. Am I off base? Does this work for big kids? I’m so curious – trying to be prepared for my kiddo’s journey 🙂 Thanks!

  • Mom of 3 wetters

    January 15, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Bedwetting runs in the family. We currently have 2 bedwetters, ages 8 and 6, and both wear cloth bedwetting pants to bed. We’ve found these to be the most comfortable way to deal with the bedwetting. Of course they’ve seen the ped. All checks came back ok. Some instances require time and patience. We wait until the bladder catches up to the rest of the body. In the meantime a good parental attitude expressed to the bedwetter(s) and making them comfortable with it is the best help we’ve found. The bedwetting seesm to stop around the age of 10.

  • HeatherJ

    January 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    My son wet the bed regularly until he was in 1st or 2nd grade. He had problems with chronic constipation from the time he was potty trained. Our pediatrician (and the specialist he referred us to) told us that once we resolved the constipation, he would stay dry at night. Because his colon was full of poop he couldn’t fully empty the urine before bed. My son had one dose of Miralax Stool softener every day for several months. It seemed to taste best in either orange juice or chocolate milk, but can be added to any liquid. He was old enough to understand why he needed the medicine, and was very cooperative. Once he was pooping regularly (2-3 times a week) he stayed dry at night. We never made a big deal about the bed wetting as we knew it wasn’t something he could control. However, he started to feel bad about it, especially because his younger sister could stay dry at night.

  • linda

    February 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    My daughter is 14 and has been wetting the bed for the last year after she too went thru puberty.she wets usually 5 out of 7 nights,but sometimes it goes on for two weeks stady then its 3 or 4 nights then 5 or 6 nights.i put a cloth diaper and rubberpants on her every night at bed time and they keep her bed dry.she doent mind the diaper and rubber pants and has both pastels and babyprints.she is being confirmed this may[roman catholic] and has to wear the white poofy dress with a veil,gloves lace anklets and white mary janes.she has been told that she has to wear one of her diapers and rubber pants under the dress for the day.

    • Mary

      April 18, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      To linda,my daughter is 15 and much like your daughter.she suffred emotional last year over a couple of sudden deaths in the family and went into a state of depression and started wetting the bed.I too put her into cloth diapers and rubber pants at at night and they work for her.

    • terry

      March 8, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      To linda,my daughter is 14 also and in 8th grade and will be recieving her sacrement of confirmation in may.she is a bed wetter also and and i told her she has to wear one of her bedwetting cloth diapers and rubber pants under her white confirmation dress.

  • Sheryl

    June 5, 2013 at 7:53 am

    My brother and I were both bedwetters and we wore, horror of horrors, the old fashioned cloth diapers and plastic pants to bed everynight until we stopped bedwetting around age 9 or 10. We were not punished or shamed for bedwetting, it was just the way things were done and they worked.
    Today we use the Super Undies Bedwetter Pants on our bedwetter and they work just fine. HTH.

  • allison

    September 7, 2013 at 1:32 am

    To linda and mary-my 16 year old daughter is a bedwetter also and after trying everything in the book,i put her back into diapers.Pampers now makes their Baby Dri disposables in size 8 for kids up to 120 pounds so i put one of those on her every night at bed time and cover it with a pair of rubber pants.she also has cloth diapers i use on her every once in a while to give her a break from the pampers.last easter sunday she wore one of the cloth diapers and rubber pants under her white tights with her easter dress for the day.

  • Matt

    December 12, 2013 at 5:56 am

    I know this post was from a very long time ago, but it’s like to add a little input. Bedwetting alarms can help the kids begin to be drier, keep i n mind that they detect wetness and sounds an alarm. It does nothing to train a kid at night.

    Another thing that I had realized is that his productivity in school dropped and began to receive lower grades. His moods began to be angry. The only positive thing out of this was less chores and less money spent. After ditching the alarm things began to improve once again.

  • Karen

    March 3, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    I have to say bed wetting is very common after reading all of the comments as I was a bed wetter past my 14th birthday then the bed wetting seemed to just stop.  I too know this is an older post but I wanted to comment for others looking for help with bed wetting and deciding what to do.  In much research genetics play a big part of bed wetting.  If you have a bed wetter, you can trace back and I would venture to bet that one of your parents or aunt/uncle wet the bed.  Most of the time its due to immature bladder and the sensory is not there communicating brain to bladder to wake up to empty thus a wet bed happens.

    I have to agree with a couple other posts on here that diapering is a very good way to deal with bed wetting.  Lets face it, kids just don’t wet the bed just to wet the bed so why make a child stay uncomfortable or take drugs or use an expensive alarm that may or may not work.  I started wetting the bed around 4-ish and the pull-up diapers were not around so I was put into regular disposable diapers at night and the diapering continued until I was around 10 ish when the pampers got too small.  My parents asked me if I wanted to continue with diapers or do something else.  I absolutely hated waking up in a wet bed and wet pajamas so I wanted to continue with a diaper and my parents ended up getting me youth/adult diapers that were like the pampers diapers but one more tape tab.  I started to put my own diapers on and this continued until I could keep the diapers dry for two weeks which was just past my 14th birthday. 

    I don’t know why but there are so many anti-diaper people out there and they think because you put a diaper on someone that you are giving them permission to pee in the diaper and it pro-longs the bed wetting.  That is a bunch of hog-wash.  Non- bed wetters don’t understand, you don’t wake up and decide to pee in your bed.  That is the part they don’t understand, we don’t wake up.  Bladder gets full and releases causing a wet bed as we continue to sleep through it.  As soon as I was able to keep the diapers dry, the came off.  

    I wore diapers for a long time just at night and I turned out just fine.  I am married with two kids a 4 yr old and a 6 yr old.  Both are still in pampers diapers at night due to bed wetting and I know this for my family as my father was a bed wetter until age 12 and he was put into cloth diapers and plastic diaper pants until he was dry at night.  You as a parent have to make a decision on how you want to handle bed wetting.  Communicating with the bed wetter letting he/she know that diapers are not just for babies.  Diapers are used for anyone that has accidents and need assistance in controlling a wetting issue.  I myself being a former bed wetter and diaper wearer for a longer than normal period am an advocate for diaper usage whether it is regular tape on diapers or the pull-up diapers.  My belief is why make the bed wetter suffer by laying in a cold wet nasty bed.  Even if they wake up, they have been sleeping in the mess for a period of time. They make diapers for all sizes that are very absorbent these days that when you put the math to it are very inexpensive.  Communication is a big key.  Put a diaper on and let the bed wetter have a full nights restful sleep and stop worrying about what others think and lets get over the using diaper stigma on older kids/persons.  

  • K

    March 15, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    I still wet at 15. I have worn full overnight diapers but we just discovered re-usable Star Training Pants for older boys and teens. They look like a big version of Gerber trainers but are sized for the older boy. In the 14-16 size, they hold about 12-16 oz. Of course, you need plastic pants but they are so much more comfortable than trying to fit into disposable pull-ups like Goodnites.

  • Mom2Boys

    March 27, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Our eight-year old has the same issue. He was dry at night for about a year at approx. age 4, but has wet off and on ever since.
    We’ve had him checked by the doctor and one additional piece of advice he gave seems to have helped some. That is, to have the child drink MORE liquids than normal early in the day. In our case, that means sending a full water bottle to school w/DS. The doctor explained that sometimes, the issue or part of it can be a smaller bladder, and that having more liquids consistently earlier in the day helps expand its capacity. It does seem to have reduced the nights he wets the bed. Two other things that have helped — getting him to bed early enough that he doesn’t get overtired (yes, this is not always popular with him!) and giving him children’s allergy medicine (doctor recommendation after noticing signs of allergies, which also affect sleep).

  • T.O.

    June 8, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    I was looking for some things on the Internet and happend to see this page and thought I might be able to help. I’m a bed wetter myself and have been for some reason since last year. I don’t wet the bed frequently but probably at least once a week. I am a 14 year old boy and when I wear athletic compression shorts and crew socks under my pajamas, or some times sports wear, I don’t seam to wet the bed as frequently. In case you don’t know compression shorts are a type of underwear you wear during sports under your uniform or gear that are made of polyester and spandex. I guess it just helps me because I wear them during the day in the locker room and during hockey so it makes me feel more like I would in the day time but comfortable at the same time(FYI, compression shorts are not absorbent in any way at all so if you wet the bed it will go right through them, but at the same time you will probably wake up from it since they are not absorbent and have time to make it to the bathroom). I hope this helps you out because it really helps me.

  • leanne

    July 25, 2015 at 9:12 am

    We have an adopted daughter whos 14.We got her back in January when she was 13 and because she was having wetting accidents in the orphange,we put her into cloth diapers and rubberpants right away and she wears them 24/7.We had her checked out by a doctor and he said there is nothing wrong with her,that she still feels like she is an ‘outsider’ and nervous.she turned 14 in may and started to settle down some,but she is still having both daytime accidents and wetting the bed so she is still in the cloth diapers and rubberpants and we are trying to train her,but so far no luck.

  • James

    August 28, 2015 at 7:57 am

    I wet the bed till I was 15 every night without fail and I was a very very heavy wetter. My mom did not believe in letting a older child wear diapers. All I had was a plastic sheet on my bed. I so wanted to wear a diaper I hated waking up soaking wet every morning freezing cold or waking up a 3 or 4 in the morning and having to go back to sleep in a wet bed. I even asked my mom if I could wear diapers the night we were watching the movie about Michael Landon and she said wont you be embarrassed. Well anyways I finally just stopped at age 15.

  • Anon

    October 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    I’m way older and I still have bladder problems. I don’t wet the bed anymore but I did so into my late teens. What helped some is a bathroom schedule. Waking me in just before my mom went to bed and in the middle of the night. Develop a schedule so even when u stop he will continue on his own. Try rewarding him on what he can do so he can get confidence in himself instead of feeling down because his brother can and he can’t. Get his bladder checked out to see if his bladder is emptied completely when he does go before to bed because in my case it only emptied half way which is one of the reasons I wet the bed for so long. And there a disorder called sensory overload disorder which could be his reason for wetting he doesn’t know he has to pee. Keep being encouraging, let him know he’s not the only one and show him success stories of people just like him so he knows there’s a hope in stopping all together. Oh and those plastic bed protector is a good investment so u don’t have to keep buying those pull ups. Wipe it down wash bed sheets good as new. Also if it continues show him how to clean after himself and let u know in private so it’s not a big display in front of the little brother