Q&A: 3 1/2-year-old reverting to wetting the bed

Kecia (another pretty name) writes:

"I need HELP!!!! (please)

My son is 3 1/2.  He has been potty trained since he turned three.  At about 37 months, he told me that he didn't not need a diaper during the night.  I was reluctant, but decided to give it a try, as his diaper was often dry in the morning. For nearly two months this worked perfectly.  Not one accident!!

He would drink a 6 oz yogurt smoothie during his bedtime stories and I would give him water when he went to bed.  He would sleep for 9+ hours and wake up with a very full bladder (and pee in his potty).

In late August, we were traveling and he wet the bed (two nights in a row).  When we returned home, things improved for a few weeks and then he had several nights of accidents again.  The situation has continued to deteriorate.  In the past month he has had an accident every few nights.

I am so tired of waking in the middle of the night to change his clothing, his bedding, etc.  I want to help him, but I don't know how.  The strange part is he seems to have these accidents without a full bladder.  Some nights his pajamas and pants are only very damp - not soaked. On nights when I limit liquid consumption and have him pee before going to sleep, it seems he is more likely to wet the bed.  This can happen as early as midnight, maybe 3 hours after he last urinated.  I have also tried to wake him during the middle of the night and have him pee, but this doesn't seem to help.  I usually find that he is already wet.  Now when he wakes up in the morning he doesn't even need to use the potty!  What is going on?

He has only had one daytime accident over the past few months.

What do you think?

Do I go back to diapers?  Do I continue to do three loads of bedding every time this happens (comforter, mattress protector, sheets and pajamas)?"

Aha. It's the 3 1/2 thing. Did you by any chance read my review of the book Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy from a few weeks ago? The part of my review that's salient to your problem is here (Isn't it just so classy when I quote myself? Sorry about that.):

Ames and Ilg observed that for kids this age, things seemed to run on a 6-month cycle of equilibrium and disequilibrium. So for awhile children would be fluent and cheerful, coordinated, learning new things all the time, and happy little kids doing things smoothly. Then they'd go through a period of being physically clumsy, stuttering, being in foul moods, and just having things go wrong a lot of the time. According to them, this is normal, so knowing that will help you wait out the periods of disequilibrium, and not get freaked out by things that are developmentally appropriate but seem like regressions (like stuttering).

It sounds to me like that's exactly what happened, that he was in a smooth state of equilibrium when he got out of the diapers at night, but has now moved into the stage of disequilibrium and he just can't control his body like he used to. The pendulum will swing back to smoothness in a few months.

So the question is, what do you do in the meantime? I think I'd ask him what you should do together. Explain to him that it's just normal that he's going through a stage in which his body isn't stopping the pee like he wants it to, and he'll be able to stay dry again in a few months, but not right now. Ask him if he wants to go back into PullUps at night (that would be my vote if I were you, but I think you really need to make this as easy emotionally on him as possible, so giving him a vote will help a ton) or if he can get up and change his own pajama pants in the middle of the night. If he wants to stay out of diapers, you should try to put as much of the clean-up on him as is reasonable (maybe give him a layered bed with towels and protective pads layered so he can just take the top one off after he changes his pajamas, and no comforter).

I'm going to guess that faced with the alternatives he'll chose PullUps for the next few months.

Don't worry that going back into diapers means that you failed and it's forever and you'll send him off to college with a pack of jumbo size PullUps. It's just part of the ickiness of being 3 1/2. And yeah, you could try all the treatments for bed-wetting like the alarms, acupuncture, chiropractic, biofeedback, etc. But all those things are really for bigger kids who are still wetting the bed, not kids his age. Besides, by the time you messed around with all that stuff he'd probably have grown into the next stage of equilibrium anyway.

So just know that there's nothing wrong with him, and this is a laundry problem instead of anything else, so treat it accordingly. You're doing a good job.