When my first daughter showed signs of potty readiness at age 2, I was more than ready to help her ditch the diapers. Before long, she was proudly sporting Elmo underwear and staying dry all day long. I was ecstatic. As a potty-training novice, I was certain that it would be a matter of weeks before she was dry at night, too. Of course, reality wasn’t nearly as neat and tidy.
According to Tai Lockspeiser, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colo., nighttime bladder control is a maturational process that can lag behind daytime bladder control by months or years. Twenty percent of kids still have nighttime accidents at 5 years of age, and doctors don’t define bedwetting until children are 6-years-old.
So it’s completely normal, even expected, for kids to take their time with nighttime potty training. But the delay leaves many parents stuck in a waiting game, wondering when daytime potty learning will carry over into nighttime dryness. While parents can’t speed up the developmental process, they can help encourage dry nights with these simple steps.
Set realistic expectations
While 88 percent of kids develop nighttime bladder control by age 6, the timeline varies widely. Boys typically train more slowly than girls, says Lockspeiser. Kids who are exceptionally deep sleepers and those with developmental delays may have more difficulty with wetting as well, she says.
Establish good potty practice
The best way to encourage nighttime dryness is to practice good daytime habits, notes Steve Hodges, M.D., a pediatric urologist at Wake Forest University’s Baptist Medical Center. Children should use the toilet as soon as they feel the urge – holding can strain the bladder and worsen nighttime wetting, he says. And using the toilet before bedtime is a must.
Encourage digestive health
“Constipation is probably the most underappreciated cause of bedwetting,” says Hodges. “It plays a role in 30 percent of the cases I see.” A full bowel puts pressure on the bladder, making nighttime accidents more likely.
Limit fluids two hours before bedtime, particularly caffeinated beverages. “Caffeine is a diuretic, so it promotes urination. Drinking it before bedtime will make it harder for kids to stay dry at night,” says Lockspeiser.
Ensure nighttime toilet access
Nightlights in hallways and bathrooms can help kids find their way easily. If the trek to the toilet is too far or involves stairs that tots can’t navigate on their own, parents can place one of the small portable toilets commonly used for potty-training in their room at night.
Parents’ attitudes are highly important as kids develop nighttime control. “Treat it as a problem-solving exercise – a family science experiment,” says Collins. Above all, make sure that children know that nighttime wetting or soiling is not their fault. Maintain a relaxed, supportive attitude, and you’ll pave the way for a future filled with clean nights and happily dry mornings.