Kids don’t wet the bed because they want to wet, and don’t stop wetting the bed because they want to stop.
Josh wrote in about his 12 year old daughter – they’ve tried everything, specialists and medications, and she still wets the bed every night:
We have done everything. Waking her, withholding fluids, buzzer. She has taken the highest dosage of desmopressin allowed, to no avail. She has been to an endocrinologist and tested thoroughly, seen her pediatrician many times, had abdominal X-rays and ultrasounds, and been examined for psychological issues. Nothing. The next step our doctor suggests is a urologist. She currently wears a diaper to bed, and we are very straightforward and sympathetic with her. Only positive reinforcement, but she is frustrated with herself at this point.
Josh, about 3% of 12 year olds still wet the bed, at least sometimes (though most of those are boys). It’s not crazy-uncommon for your daughter to be doing this, but I know she wants to stop. Trouble is: bedwetting happens when you’re asleep, and what you want or don’t want doesn’t really matter. Positive reinforcement won’t hurt, but it probably won’t help much, either. What might hurt is encouraging her to “try harder” – this is something that isn’t about trying or practice or rewards. It’s about neurologic maturity.
What supposed to happen: past a certain age, even while we’re asleep we can still pay attention to signals from our bladders. When it’s full, or getting full, we tighten up our pelvic muscles to hold in the urine, without waking up. A good trick, that is, and babies can’t do it, and young children can’t do it. People who are heavier sleepers find it harder to do this, too – and that makes sense. Sleeping like a rock means it’s more likely that you’ll wake up like a, well, wet rock. And there’s not much you can do to “lighten” someone’s sleep cycle.
What *might* work – and I know Josh’s daughter has already tried some of these, but just for completeness:
Drinking more in the morning I know, the usual advice is to drink less at night – but it turns out that’s really difficult to do. If you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty, and not drinking when you’re thirsty is nigh impossible. Instead: stay well hydrated the rest of the day, especially the morning, so you don’t feel like drinking in the evening.
Don’t hold urine during the day I know, some people suggest “bladder stretching” by day to hold more at night. But the problem isn’t a small bladder – it’s that the sleeping child doesn’t notice that their bladder is full. It turns out that holding by day gets the brain “used to” the feeling of a full bladder. It dampens (sorry) the nerve signals, so you don’t get as strong a feeling of a full bladder. This is exactly what you do not want. Frequent, relaxed daytime emptying can help a child stay dry at night.
Treat constipation Constipation leads to holding which leads to less awareness of a full bladder; it also inadvertently strengthens muscles you don’t want strengthened, making it difficult to empty the bladder. At 12, if bedwetting is an issue, I suggest treating constipation even if you don’t think your child is constipated. Just try it. It might work.
Consider medication Two meds have wide use to help with bedwetting: desmopressin and imipramine. Either or both are worth a try, especially if the child is concerned about this.
Don’t make this about trying or not trying I said this before, but let me repeat it: kids don’t wet the bed because they want to wet, and don’t stop wetting the bed because they want to stop. Josh mentioned looking into psychological contributors, which may be a good idea, but don’t create a bigger problem by blaming or by implying that kids can solve this problem by trying harder. That’s not fair and won’t be helpful.
See a urologist At some point, I think it’s a good idea – to rule out very rare anatomical issues, and make sure all medical contributors have been addressed.
And, finally: Focus on the positive. I agree, Josh’s daughter has every right to be upset about this and to want it to stop. And it will stop. I’d pursue some (or all) of the ideas above, while at the same time keeping the conversation positive, non-blamey, and focused on things she does well.