This article has been medically reviewed by Howard Orel, MD. Board-certified and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Orel runs an active general pediatric practice, Advocare Marlton Pediatrics. He also serves as CEO of Advocare — one of the largest independent medical groups in the country.
Thanks to all the (completely understandable) positive reinforcement involved with potty training, once a child or toddler has made it to the point of dry nights in big-kid underwear, it may come with a sense of pride and accomplishment (as it should!). But the downside to that is what happens when inevitable bedwetting incidents take place later. After being applauded — sometimes literally — for going pee-pee on the potty, when a child does the opposite of that (going in their bed while they sleep), they may feel guilty or ashamed. But having a nighttime accident isn’t unusual for a kid in elementary school or even the beginning of middle school. That doesn’t mean that, at a certain magical age, they stop altogether. In fact, bedwetting is something older kids (sorry, tweens) and even the occasional high schooler may experience. In those cases, they’ll want to put an end to it ASAP. Here’s how to stop bedwetting in older kids.
What causes bedwetting in older children?
First, let’s look at the numbers. According to Jennifer Kirk, a nurse practitioner in the Division of Urology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), it’s estimated that between 15 to 20 percent of kids between the ages of five and seven experience at least occasional bedwetting. There’s a steady decrease in bedwetting as a child gets older, getting down to approximately two percent of 16-year-olds. By that time, kids are busy with their developing social lives. They’re planning sleepovers and class trips and truly do not want to deal with the social repercussions of having an accident in front of their peers. This, understandably, can impact their self-confidence.
Even though the percentage of older kids who deal with bedwetting is relatively low (at two percent of 16-year-olds), it still represents a lot of people. The most common causes of bedwetting in older children, Kirk explains, may include:
- A genetic pattern inherited from a parent, aunt, or uncle
- Deep sleeping to the point that the signals of a full bladder don’t wake them
- An unusually small bladder
- A decreased amount of vasopressin, a hormone produced in the brain that reduces urine production while a person sleeps
- Stress and changes in the family (even positive ones)
While it’s typically not the case, bedwetting can be a sign of more serious issues. These include:
- Urinary tract infections
- Sleep apnea (though it’s not typically explored as a possibility unless the child snores)
How should you stop bedwetting in older kids?
If you’re dealing with an older child who wets the bed, you’re probably wondering how to stop bedwetting at age 14 and among other young teens. Here are a few tried-and-true recommendations:
- Come up with a day-long drinking strategy. Increase your child’s fluid intake earlier in the day, and have them drink water steadily throughout the day (if their school allows it). This way, they won’t get to the point of being excessively thirsty and taking in a lot of liquids at one time. Reduce the amount they’re drinking as it gets closer to bedtime.
- Put bathroom breaks on the agenda. Hey, as a mama, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to make sure things get done, right? That may include getting your child to hit the bathroom every two to three hours and always right before bed. And make going to the bathroom at night less scary for your little one by placing nightlights in their bedrooms and the hallway.
- Consider what your kiddo is consuming. Whether or not you realize it, chocolate milk and hot cocoa contain caffeine. So, in general, it’s best to avoid these at night if you want your child to go to sleep. But also, caffeine is a bladder irritant. Other potential culprits in this category could include citrus juices, artificial flavorings, dyes (especially red), and sweeteners.
- Have the poop talk. What does this have to do with bedwetting? Well, the rectum is located directly behind the bladder. If your child is dealing with constipation, it can appear to be a bladder problem — especially at night. Of course, older kids aren’t exactly prone to sharing this sort of information with Mom, so you may have to directly ask if they’re feeling backed up (and offer some solutions for how to make yourself poop).
- Don’t be a sleep disrupter. Spoiler alert: Jostling your child awake in the middle of the night to go potty isn’t going to stop the bedwetting. But it will, however, stop them from having a restful sleep.
- Switch up the bedtime routine. Remember how we talked about deep sleepers earlier? If you’ve pinpointed this as a possible reason for your child’s bedwetting, it could be a result of them not getting enough sleep. Try having them go to bed earlier to see if that helps.
- Reach out for help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician for additional options, including bedwetting alarms and the use of medications in certain situations.
What are some psychological causes of bedwetting?
Bedwetting is not only caused by drinking too much water before bed. Sometimes there are serious psychological causes behind these occurrences caused by traumatic events or stress. A stressful event like going to a new school or a death of a loved one can also cause it. If this is the case, the bedwetting should decrease over time as the child learns to deal with these changes or cope with their emotions.