If your child has been wetting the bed for months or years, you may both be wondering if he'll ever experience dry nights again. Some parents are confused and discouraged when their child is dry for a few days or weeks, only to find that the pattern of bedwetting eventually returns. When are consistently dry nights really within reach, and when is the light at the end of the tunnel only a mirage?
Christy Castle's 5-year-old daughter, Maddy, has been struggling with bedwetting since she was potty trained at age 2. Sometimes she'll be dry for two weeks before having accidents again.
"Maddy's had two accidents in the past week," says Castle, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. "Her last dry period was 12 days. This is an average dry period for her."
According to Dr. Marc Cendron, a urologist at Children's Hospital Boston, Maddy's pattern of dry nights followed by the return of nighttime accidents is normal. "Some kids outgrow bedwetting quickly; others may do it in fits and starts, so there is no real meaning to the lessening of the frequency in wet nights," Dr. Cendron says.
Because children's dry and wet nights may come and go until wetting stops entirely, it's important to keep a positive attitude and keep your child's spirits up. Encouraging your child with positive reinforcement is a good way to try to recognize a period of dry nights.
In the past, Castle has praised Maddy's dry periods with reward charts. "We hung a calendar in the bathroom and each morning she would wake up dry she was allowed to put a sticker on that day," she says. "Once she received three stickers in a row, she got a prize. If that worked for a while, then we bumped it up to five stickers in a row and then seven."
Dr. D. Preston Smith, pediatric urologist and founder of PottyMD.com, agrees that Castle is on the right track. "Encouragement is key," he says. "Children do not desire to be wet. Simply discussing bedwetting and keeping a record [of dry nights] are usually positive reinforcements that you as the parent are interested and willing to help with the wetting."
Though it may be hard to deal with accidents after experiencing success, Dr. Smith says to stay positive. "Intermittent setbacks should be expected," he says. "Setbacks should provide encouragement to both parents and the child to continue working on the problem – as long as the child and parents are motivated."
Even as you and your child start to see improvement, expect accidents when major events and stress pop up in your lives. "Some kids will be dry for a few months, and then, in the face of a stressful event (divorce, family death, school stress), may start wetting again," Dr. Cendron says.
When Castle's daughter started a dance class or preschool, for example, Maddy would usually experience a few wet nights. "We have more accidents when there is anticipation of a new change in the family," Castle says.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Like Castle, Michelle Broadhurst of Bethalto, Ill., also has a daughter struggling with bedwetting. But luckily, Broadhurst has seen significant lessening in the frequency of her 9-year-old's nighttime accidents during the past few months. "We haven't been able to get to where she completely does not wet the bed, but it has decreased," she says. "I would say that she wets the bed once a week but sometimes still twice."
Broadhurst takes every opportunity to support her daughter through this difficult phase. "I do let her know how proud I am of her by giving her an extra hug," she says.
Bedwetting can be traumatic and stressful for the whole family, no matter how old your child is and no matter how long she's been wetting the bed. Be confident that most children do outgrow bedwetting and this won't last forever. Castle, for one, takes comfort in her doctor's advisement that Maddy should be totally dry within two or three years.
Until then, remember how powerful your support is to your child. Patience and a positive attitude mean the world to him.
What to Watch For
So what are some signs that your child may be outgrowing bedwetting? Dr. D. Preston Smith, pediatric urologist and founder of PottyMD.com, tells parents that a child may be on the road to triumph over bedwetting when:
- He develops completely dry nights.
- The number of dry nights per week increases.
- He awakens during the night to use the restroom.
- Any daytime urine problems completely disappear.
- The trend of increased dry nights is sustained.