Successfully getting your toddler out of diapers and using a toilet all the time is a huge accomplishment (go ahead, give yourself a celebratory pat on the back). It takes a good amount of sweat, tears (mostly from you), vigilance, and determination to help your toddler meet this milestone. So much so, in fact, that when you discover that your toddler continues with wetting the bed overnight, you might wonder where you’ve gone wrong or if your child is going through some sort of potty training regression.
We’re here to tell you that you’ve done a great job and that potty training regression is pretty unlikely. This is all part of the process. Just like night time sleeping vs. naps, night time potty learning and day time potty learning are two different animals.
Many toddlers and young children are unable to stay dry overnight. Their bodies simply are not developmentally ready to hold it for so many hours. This, coupled with the fact that many toddlers and young children are deep sleepers, means possible bedwetting until they are older, closer to 5, 6, or 7.
So is it possible to speed up the process with some fancy nighttime potty training method? Truth is, not really. But there are some things you can do to help your child along the way and make the process a little easier on everyone.
Understanding your child’s development
Most toddlers and young children are deep sleepers. This makes the bladder’s job of telling the brain to “wake up!” really difficult. Their brain is just getting used to alerting them during the day, when they are completely conscious, that they need to get to the potty before they relax their bladder muscles. It takes awhile for the brain to develop a path for those signals during sleep. In other words, night time waking to use the potty is mostly out of your toddler’s control. The good news is that by around age 5, 85-90 percent of children stop having nighttime accidents.
As for the rest of that 10-15 percent, there are a number of factors that can contribute to bedwetting, including genetics (did you or your partner have bedwetting challenges as kids?), a small bladder, or low muscle control. You can teach your child to do pelvic floor exercises (i.e. stop the flow of urine or pretend you are holding it, then relax), which will help to strengthen the muscles. These are the muscles needed both day and night for getting to the potty on time.
Bedwetting usually resolves on its own when your child’s body has developed to the point that it is ready. If you’ve had two weeks worth of accident-free nights, you might be in the clear.
Underwear or diapers?
It goes against what most of us are told during potty training, but for overnight purposes, it can be better to keep your kiddo in diapers or a pull-up, rather than underwear.
If your child is sleeping deeply enough, they probably won’t wake up to notice their bed is wet so the notion that diapers prevent your child from feeling that they are wet doesn’t really apply here. But changing sheets and doing extra laundry is a very real frustration for you, which can take its toll on your relationship with your child.
For everyone’s sake, consider using a diaper or pull-up until they’ve had at least a week’s worth of dry nights.
Your toddler might be confused or even embarrassed about having to wear a diaper or pull up at night. Celebrate their successful potty learning during the day, and help them see that helping their body wake up to use the bathroom at night takes more time, and is less under their control. Help them learn to go directly to the potty right when they wake up in the morning and celebrate the days they wake up dry!
It was a huge accomplishment for your toddler to master using the potty. Give your family a moment to soak up that win before you take on another big accomplishment, like staying dry overnight. Some experts even recommend waiting 6 months after successful potty training has been established to try sleeping without a diaper on. You might consider waiting until they wake up dry for a number of mornings in a row, or begin to wake in the night to use the potty. These are both signs that their body is maturing to the point of successful nighttime dryness.
If you feel your child is ready to try sleeping without a diaper or pull-up, there are some tactics to try to help your child manage nighttime accidents:
- Have your child use the potty once or even twice before bed.
- Consider putting a portable potty chair near your child’s bed to reduce the time it takes to get to a toilet.
- Consider using a protective mattress cover that prevents liquid from soaking into the mattress.
- Place a second protective cover and fitted sheet over the first one for middle of the night changes. Simply take off the wet top sheet and cover and you’re good to go.
- See if you can establish the time of night or early morning that your child is having accidents. If it happens a few hours into slumber, consider waking your child before that time to try and use the potty.
- Be calm when accidents do happen and avoid scolding or showing frustration.
Remember that kids are ready for nighttime dryness at different times. And that bedwetting doesn’t reflect poorly on your parenting or your child. Keep calm and stay positive with your child through this time in their lives.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).