Current Issue

Q:This past August, when our son was a mere 22 months of age, it took him two weeks to learn to use the potty successfully. He was dry even at night. We were thrilled! However, now that the weather has turned cold, he has started wetting the bed every night and even during his afternoon naptimes. We tell him it’s wrong, but he doesn’t seem to care. We even put his little potty in his crib, but he doesn’t use it. Any suggestions you might offer would be greatly appreciated.

A: Congratulations on potty training your son at 22 months! Disposable diaper manufacturers do not want parents to know that. Just as it’s much easier to housetrain a five-month-old puppy as opposed to a one-year-old dog, so it will be far easier to toilet train an intelligent human being at 22 months than it will be if one waits until said human is 36 months. As soon as this column appears, you should go into hiding!

However, I have to tell you that you’re letting your son’s success at staying dry at night go to your heads. It’s premature by at least six months to expect consistent nighttime dryness from a child of your son’s tender age. The fact that he was dry after periods of sleep for two or three months is what I call a temporary side effect of daytime training. It was bound not to last. The other factor operating here is that boys are twice as likely as girls to be bed wetters, though to date, no one seems to know why.

Then there’s the matter of the message you’re sending your son. If I try to put this gently, you may not get the point, so I’ll be blunt: you’re making a huge mistake by telling him that bed-wetting is wrong. Reacting punitively is not going to help matters at all and is very likely to make the problem much worse. You’re also headed toward an escalating parent-child power struggle. Being anxious and punitive about bed-wetting sets a very bad disciplinary precedent.

And there’s a reason for this. Children who wet the bed have no conscious control over the problem. Without exception (that I have ever heard of at least), they are very deep sleepers who don’t “hear” their bladders telling them that they need to get out of bed and use the toilet. So, they just “let it go.” When they wake up wet, they can’t explain it. And this applies just as much to older kids who still wet the bed as it does to younger ones.

I encourage you to back off and wait until spring to do any further potty training—not because the weather will be warmer next spring, but because by then he’ll be old enough to begin having success—maybe. I recommend a waiting period of no less than six months between daytime training and attempts to help a child learn to control his bladder at night.

Let him sleep with no clothes on from the waist down. That increases the likelihood that when he does wet the bed, he’ll wake up. For some unknown reason, that usually (but not always) promotes a quicker resolution to the problem.

Finally, be sure to follow Johnny Mercer’s advice and accentuate the positive. You and your son will all be happier campers!

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at or (817) 295-1751.

Living With Children: Solving Bed-Wetting Problems

From the March 2013 Signs