What can make everyday life easier?

Photo of grandfather and grandson after going fishing
Steven Mason / Photodisc / Thinkstock

If a child wets the bed, parents often ask themselves what they might have done wrong. But bedwetting isn’t usually anyone’s “fault.” Knowing that can be comforting, for the child too. Staying relaxed about it and taking practical measures can help make it easier to cope with these nighttime accidents.

Treatment is a good idea if the bedwetting is causing problems for the family or has become an emotional burden. And there are various things you can do to make dealing with bedwetting easier for everyone involved.

For instance, a nightlight and/or an easy-to-reach light switch in the hallway or bathroom can help the child reach the toilet quickly. Keeping a potty next to the bed might be an option if the child has difficulty making it in time. If the child’s room isn’t near enough to the toilet, it might be worth considering switching rooms, if possible. There are also special diaper pants for older children. Some children like to wear them, others don’t.

What should you do if the bed gets wet?

If you’re well prepared, it doesn’t take long to make the bed again and everyone can get back to sleep quickly. For instance, you can

  • protect the child’s mattress with waterproof covers or sheets. There are also washable protective covers for duvets and pillows.
  • lay out clean pajamas, fresh bedding and sheets – or a second set of bedding ready to put on the bed.
  • make sure you have enough time in the morning to do the washing and have the child shower.

Depending on how old the child is, they can also help to make the bed, or learn to do it themselves.

Covers, bedding and clothing sometimes still smell even after being washed. Rinsing them with warm water that has been mixed with baking soda or a few drops of eucalyptus oil can help get rid of the odor. Commercial baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) is available in pharmacies and drug stores.

Hygiene and cleanliness

Children who smell of urine may well be avoided at their kindergarten or school, or by their friends. For this and other reasons, it’s important that the child has a shower the morning after wetting the bed, so that he or she doesn’t smell. Airing out the room can help get rid of the smell, and scented oils or sprays might also be a good idea.

Morning hygiene routines – such as taking a shower and putting on lotion – can lower the chances of a rash, too. The child may get a rash if their skin has been in contact with urine for several hours. Rashes can be treated with ointments or creams that have zinc oxide or dexpanthenol in them, for instance. These can be prescribed by a doctor. Children who wear a diaper or special absorbent pants at night are more likely to develop rashes because their skin is exposed to urine for longer. Having eczema or other skin conditions also increases the likelihood of developing rashes.

Talking to children about bedwetting

The speed at which bladder control develops is influenced by genes, so bedwetting problems can repeat through different generations of the same family. The child might find it helpful to know that other people in the family had the same problem. That way, he or she will realize that bedwetting is nothing unusual and that people grow out of it sooner or later. It can also help to know that other children of the same age probably have the same problem, even if they never talk about it.

It is important for children to realize that there’s nothing wrong with them just because it’s taking a bit longer for them to stop having accidents at night. They may be just as developed, or even further than other children, in other areas. Knowing this can boost their self-esteem and make it easier for them to deal with the problem.

What emotional effects might bedwetting have?

The role that emotional triggers might play in bedwetting has long been discussed. But worries and emotional problems are more likely to be a result of bedwetting, and not the cause: Children who wet their bed often feel ashamed or guilty and have low self-esteem. Most of them are very embarrassed about their bladder control problem. If friends or schoolmates find out about it, that makes it even worse.

Emotional problems are more likely to be a cause of bedwetting in cases where a child who used to be dry at night starts wetting their bed again. This is called secondary enuresis.

Many parents and families try to be patient about bedwetting problems. They help their child as best they can and wait until he or she “grows out of it.” But it’s not always easy for parents to stay calm or cheerful in the middle of the night. They may become impatient and annoyed, particularly if their child doesn’t seem to want to stop wetting the bed. But sensing that your parents are annoyed or exhausted is often difficult for a child to take.

The child’s self-esteem might also be affected if you keep trying out treatments that end up not working. It is important to be there for the child and make sure that he or she isn’t teased by siblings. The child’s self-esteem usually improves when the bedwetting stops.

Getting over feelings of embarrassment

Sometimes parents also feel embarrassed about their child wetting the bed, or feel ashamed of their child. They worry about what others might think or say about their child.

Many children probably feel the same way: They compare themselves with other children their age and worry about people finding out and making fun of them. For this reason, many children who wet the bed drink less or avoid situations that could be embarrassing, like going on class trips or sleeping at friends’ houses. Some children also refuse to have friends stay over at their house because they worry that their friends might notice things that could reveal their problem, like waterproof bed sheets or a urine smell.

But if the child would like to, it’s worth trying to let him or her stay overnight with understanding friends. Some children stay dry more easily if they sleep somewhere else. This may be because their sleep is lighter when they aren’t in their own bed. Having a change of clothes ready and wearing inconspicuous protective underwear can limit awkwardness if an accident does happen after all.

Some parents are afraid to talk about bedwetting with anyone outside of the family, such as with other mothers and fathers they know. But sharing your concerns with others can be a big help.

Caldwell PH, Deshpande AV, Von Gontard A. Management of nocturnal enuresis. BMJ 2013; 347: f6259.

Cederblad M, Neveus T, Ahman A, Osterlund Efraimsson E, Sarkadi A. "Nobody Asked Us if We Needed Help": Swedish parents experiences of enuresis. J Pediatr Urol 2014; 10(1): 74-79.

McKillop A, MacKay B, Scobie N. A programme for children with nocturnal enuresis. Nurs Stand 2003; 17(43): 33-38.

Sanders C. Choosing continence products for children. Nurs Stand 2002; 16(32): 39-43.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas. We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on April 5, 2018
Next planned update: 2021

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.