Bedwetting, or “nocturnal enuresis”, is surprisingly common.

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 20% of 5 year olds are bedwetters, as are 10% of 6 year olds. Thankfully, most children grow out of it in time.

What many parents don’t know is that bedwetting has a hereditary component, so a child may well stop wetting the bed at more or less the same age a parent did when they were young.

Bed wetting in young children

Under the ages of 7 or 8, bedwetting is usually not a cause for alarm. If your child has always wet the bed, there’s a strong chance the behaviour results from delays in developing urinary and bladder control, and will resolve eventually.

To help your child overcome bedwetting, gently encourage bladder control with small rewards for each dry night. What also works for some parents is to wake the child up a few hours after bedtime and again a few hours after that for a bathroom break. This has the added benefit of showing the child that you support them and can build their feelings of competence around the issue.

“Bed alarms” are a possibility and wake the child when the sensor encounters moisture. Limit the intake of liquids a few hours before bed. Also try specially designed disposable training pants – encourage your child to pick them out for themselves – or plastic bed protectors while your child gains more bladder control.

Bed wetting in older children

“Secondary” bedwetting means a bedwetting problem that develops after a long “dry” period, usually more than 6 months. This is usually because of an underlying physical or psychological problem, and needs to be carefully addressed.

Emotional problems

Big changes such as starting school or the birth of a sibling can be very stressful for a young child and result in bedwetting. In some cases, children wet the bed when they are being sexually or physically abused.

As a parent, your understanding and acceptance are crucial. At this age, children may be very sensitive to regressing in tasks they believed they had mastered, and can feel ashamed, angry, guilty or humiliated. Don’t be punitive or imply that the child is doing it on purpose, as this can actually make the problem more difficult to solve.

Physical problems

Persistent bedwetting after a dry period could indicate a urinary infection. A check up can rule out incontinence caused by a bladder or urinary tract infection.

Having to urinate frequently can also be a sign of diabetes, as the excess sugar in the body needs to be expelled more frequently. Although not common, other neurological problems can also cause a loss of bladder control at night. A chat with your GP can clear up whether the bedwetting is a symptom of a medical condition.

Remember that your child will pick up on your own embarrassment – try not to feel like you’ve done something wrong if your child wets the bed, and try not to respond angrily or with disgust. While there are medications available, these should only be used as a very last resort. As with all developmental challenges, your child needs your faith in them and your support while they learn about themselves and the world around them.

If you would like to speak with a professional counsellor about bedwetting, you can click here to look for an Australian therapist that can help.