by Stacy Mosel, L.M.S.W.
Bedwetting is a concern that millions of families struggle with every night. Medical professionals refer to bedwetting as “enuresis” when it occurs in children who are old enough to be able to control their bladder – which means children aged 7 or older. Although physicians aren’t totally sure why bedwetting occurs, it appears to be the result of a few different factors.
Why Does Bedwetting Occur?
Some of the reasons your child might wet the bed:
● Genetic factors
● Stress or anxiety
● Difficulties with waking up to use the toilet
● Physical factors (i.e., hormonal issues, a small bladder, etc.)
● Attention and hyperactivity disorders
The Link Between Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Bedwetting
Physician Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital says that enuresis is three times more likely to occur in children who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than in children who do not have symptoms of attention disorders. Children with attention disorders may be a bit slower in developing certain bodily processes that are involved in bladder control. But don’t worry – over time, most children with attention disorders catch up and stop wetting the bed at some point.
Anxiety: A Common Cause of Bedwetting in Older Children
One clinical study examined the relationship between bedwetting and anxiety disorders in a group of children 7 to 17 years of age. When compared to a healthy control group, the researchers found that children who wet the bed had a substantially higher frequency of anxiety disorders, including “generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, school phobia, social anxiety, and separation anxiety.” Furthermore, the researchers also found that most children who wet the bed have “significant signs of stress.”
Tips for Supporting Your Child
Regardless of the reasons behind it, it’s crucial to support your child as much as possible, no matter how frustrated you both might feel about the bedwetting. Realize that most children are embarrassed and upset when they wet the bed, and if your child is already struggling with anxiety or symptoms of attention disorders, it’s important to remain calm and show your love and support.
You might not always be able to prevent it but taking certain steps to support your child may help reduce the likelihood of bedwetting. Some of the things you can do include:
● Incorporate relaxation and mindfulness into your child’s daily routine. Mindfulness means noticing and accepting what is happening at the moment without judgment or trying to change things. Studies have shown that mindfulness and relaxation can help reduce stress and anxiety and help your child better manage their emotions.
● Refrain from giving your child too much to drink before bed. Dr. Harstad advises avoiding beverages for 2 hours before bedtime and encouraging your child to use the toilet right before going to bed.
● Use a bedwetting alarm. This is an option that you can discuss with your child’s doctor. A bedwetting alarm is a special sensor placed into your child’s pajamas that provides a signal (by making a sound or buzzing) as soon as urination is detected. Some companies also make special underwear that incorporates the sensor. The buzz or sound should wake your child up so that they can go to the toilet.
● Use Brillia to help manage your child’s symptoms of anxiety or attention disorders. Brillia targets and neutralizes a specific protein released by the brain during times of stress or anxiety, so your child can stay calmer, less stressed and more able to focus.
● Practice bladder training by asking your child to try to hold their urine for gradually longer periods of time during the day.
● Cover your child’s mattress with a mattress protector to make it easier to clean up in the middle of the night.
● Make your child’s bedroom an anxiety-free space. Consider using relaxing essential oils, decorating in soothing colors and keeping things neat and organized.
● Remind your child that it is OK to use the bathroom at night. You might also consider placing nightlights along the path from your child’s bedroom to the bathroom to help them feel more secure and safe when it’s dark.
● Consult your child’s physician, especially if bedwetting is accompanied by other troublesome symptoms such as painful urination or unusual thirst.
Things to Remember When the Going Gets Rough
While it can certainly be frustrating, it’s important to remember that your child can’t control their bedwetting and they’re not doing it on purpose. Over time, bedwetting does resolve, so try to stay as positive and encouraging as possible. Educating yourself as much as possible on the facts about anxiety and attention disorders can help you understand your child’s struggles and allows you to provide the best support possible.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast, and musician. She received a Bachelor's degree in Music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1999 and a Master of Social Work from New York University in 2002. She has had extensive training in child and family therapy and the identification and treatment of mental health disorders.
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4. WebMD. (2018). Bedwetting Alarms.
5. Mayo Clinic. Bed-wetting.