Compassion is the Key to 5-year Old Bed Wetting

We all have expectations as parents. One thing we don’t usually expect is for our school age child to still be wetting the bed on a regular basis. So when it happens over and over again, we can forget that they are little people trying hard to learn and we can end up being negative and shaming – which can prolong the bed wetting episodes.

I recently worked with a dad who was frustrated with his 5-year old’s constant bed-wetting.

So we tried a new approach.

“My 5-year old son, Will, still wets the bed at least half of the nights. Each time it happens, he’ll walk into my room in the morning in different pajamas than he wore to bed with his chin tucked and a sad look on his face.  I asked the pediatrician who politely brushed me off, saying that it’s not uncommon and that I shouldn’t worry about it. I try to get Will to use the bathroom every night before bed, I have him help me change the sheets and I don’t get upset about it but I’m just not sure what else I should be doing.”

This is an issue with two levels of solutions: the physical and the mental.

The Physical Aspects

Ensure you are following these steps:

1. No liquids after dinner.
A belly full of water can equal a bed full of regret. Cut off all liquids after dinner, and if a bedtime drink is requested – make it small – 1 -2 swallows is plenty.

2. Use the bathroom right before bed.
Be certain that he goes to the bathroom before bed (make it into a game if it helps).

3. Sleepwalk to the bathroom.
Wake him up right before YOU go to bed.  Keep the lights low, speak quietly, and guide him into the bathroom, even if you have to carry him and help him sit.

The Mental Aspects

Kids are emotional little creatures. They pick up on meaning and subtext that we don’t even realize we’re giving off. With that said:
1. Show no irritation or intensity when he doesn’t make it through; sounds like he’s already bummed about it.

2. Have him set up an incentive to celebrate when he stays dry through the night. When he does stay dry, be happy with him.

3. Be kind and matter-of-fact about him helping put the sheets and pajamas in the washer.

4. Come up with something sweet and reassuring.

Here’s the part that can make potty-training an exercise in developing important life-long skills: have him come up with something sweet and reassuring to say to himself on the days he’s not successful staying dry.  Ask him what a good coach would say to encourage a player.  Some possibilities:

  • “No worries, better luck next time.”
  • “It’s ok, I don’t have to be perfect.”
  • “My body might not be quite ready but it’ll get there soon.”
  • “Lucky for me, people in our family are lovable even when they wet the bed.”

5. Envision the Positive
Each night before he goes to bed, have him say out loud: 1) what his reward will be for staying dry and, 2) what sweet thing he’ll say to himself if he wakes up wet.  Even better?  Have him get in bed and pretend that he is waking up wet.  Have him go through each detail of opening his eyes, checking his pajamas, smiling and saying his kind statement.  Then do the same drill with him pretending that he is waking up dry and enjoying his incentive.

If you do this, not only will you some day have a son who won’t need Pull-Ups but you’ll also have a son who can be compassionate and gentle with himself and others even when things aren’t perfect!


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Kerry Stutzman MSW, LMFT

My passion is helping my clients develop close, connected families and healthy relationships. For the past 20 years I have been helping people discover the best version of themselves.  Learn more

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My specialty is couples therapy with parents. I also have expertise in parenting, betrayal recovery, and addiction.  Learn more

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I specialize in working with parents and caregivers with children from cradle to college, with special focus from birth – 10 years old. Learn more

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