After hours and hours of searching the goog and talking to moms who’ve been there done that, I’ve determined that there are really only three main ways to potty train a child at night (or during naps). They are:
- Naturally. Without intervention, wait for your child to start waking up dry on their own.
- Diaper Free. While your child is still peeing at night and continuing to wake up wet, stop putting them in a diaper and allow them to have accidents.
- Bedwetting Alarm. This is a little device that goes in the underwear and either sounds an alarm or vibrates when moisture hits it. Here is an example.
Natural Night Training Method (Without Intervention)
Night training naturally really sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Apparently a good number of kids will naturally start waking up dry a few weeks after being totally day trained. If this was your experience, thank your lucky stars and then just shut up when someone throws out a question about night time potty training. No one wants to hear how easy it was for you when they’re still dealing with a routine bedwetter.
That said, it is my opinion that the natural option is certainly worth a try. I figure you might as well separate day training and night training – do the day training first and then wait a couple months to see if the child starts waking up dry on their own.
Beyond that, I think the natural method is misguided. Proponents argue that unlike day training, there is no way to actually train a child to stay dry at night. Instead, they advise you throw money at pull ups until your child eventually stops wetting the bed on their own. It may be true that the large majority of children will in fact stop wetting the bed at some point without intervention, but that could take multiple years. No matter, they do in fact make pull ups for 5 year olds.
The Diaper-Free Method
The second option is to hang your hat on historical precedence and trust that your child is no developmentally different from the children who, for centuries, were both day and night trained prior to age three.
How do you do that? Just like with day training, you essentially remove the diaper, communicate your expectations of dryness, and let them have accidents.
What if they have accidents?
They will have accidents. How to handle those accident would depend on the child. My first would wake up at some point after she peed and be very upset. For her we set a towel and a change of pajamas next to her bed and at night when she woke crying, we would help her change her pajamas and lay the towel down over the pee. If you are training an older child (3+) they can probably do this themselves, but at 25 months my daughter was not able to.
My second couldn’t have cared less about laying in a pool of cold, wet pee. This was actually a big disadvantage and training him took much longer. Still, the procedure was the same: we put him to bed diaper free and let the accidents happen.
Can they still be in a crib?
I know a few people who have potty trained their children while still in a crib, but we waited until our kids were in a bed so they could get out and go pee in the night if necessary. We set a potty next to their bed so they are able to go unassisted.
Should I offer incentives for staying dry?
Sure! We used a sticker chart for our first and m&ms for our second. Note that incentives only really work if they are peeing when they are awake. An incentive is not going to prevent a child from peeing while dead asleep. Still, both our kids reached a point in the potty training process where they were staying dry while sleeping but then would pee in bed when they woke up in the morning. Incentives worked there.
Should I discipline for wetting the bed?
If they are peeing while they are asleep, of course not. If, however, they are peeing while they are awake (which both of mine started doing at some point in their training) and incentives don’t work, you might try logical consequences. I definitely would not spank or use any form of punishment that exposed your frustration (remember, the key to success in all forms of potty training is staying calm) but I don’t see the harm in a logical consequence like having to rinse off the pee in a cool shower or complete the chore of collecting the sheets and wiping the mattress cover. A bedwetting alarm can also be a logical consequence. I did not have success with logical consequences, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t work for your child.
How do you know if they are peeing while awake or asleep?
Go in at 5am and check whether or not they are dry. If they stayed dry from 7pm-5am but are wet when you get them up at 7am, in all likelihood they are peeing once they wake up. You can also use a bedwetting alarm.
Any other tips?
*Buy a vinyl mattress cover – they wipe clean easily and then it’s just the sheet to wash.
*Try out a Dream Pee: take your child to the bathroom at night before YOU go to bed.
*Put the child to bed with no underwear and pants that pull down and up easily so they can use the bathroom on their own at night.
*Put a potty in their room so they don’t have to come out and wake you up to go.
How long will it take?
John Rosemond says in his book Toilet Training Without Tantrums that it can a couple of months for this method to work. He also notes that boys tend to take longer than girls (pg 112). My personal experiences have been about 2 weeks for my daughter and almost 3 months for my son. Three months you say?! Yes, but as I mentioned, he wasn’t the type to wake up or care that he had wet the bed, so the only inconvenience was an extra sheet to throw in the wash. On the upside, we had diaper free and totally trained children at 25 and 28 months. That’s worth the sheet washing, in my opinion.
I should also add that prior to my successful night training experience with my first, we unsuccessfully tried night training at 19 months – right before I had my second child. She had been day trained for three months at that point. After two weeks with no progress, I realized I was far too pregnant to be changing sheets on a bunk bed every morning and decided to try again a few months later. My point? It’s the parent, not the child, who has to be ready for potty training.
Bedwetting Alarm Method
The third option is to use a bedwetting alarm. This is the way my mom trained me and my sister, and it continues to be a highly effective (but totally underrated) option for many people. Just read all the positive amazon reviews!
At one point in training of both children we did use the alarm with varying degrees of success. For my daughter it was highly effective, but not in the traditional sense. After two weeks of night training, I had a suspicion she had started to pee while awake, so we told her she was going to have to wear the alarm. She was terrified of it going off, so once we put it on her, she never had another accident. We used it with my son as well, but with much different results. Initially the alarm was ineffective because it didn’t wake him up (he is a VERY deep sleeper). After a few nights he caught onto the fact that we came in when the alarm went off and he started licking his finger and touching the sensor to sound the alarm as a way to delay bedtime (boys!). That was the end of the alarm for him.
Based on the Amazon reviews, I get the idea most people use the alarm for older children (4+) but I tend to think that’s just the age some mothers throw the towel in on the “natural” method.
Whatever the method:
As with day training, the keys to successful night training are patience, low expectations, and perseverance. You can read my post about that here.
Now start planning what you’re going to spend all that freed up diaper money on.