It’s one of those things they don’t explicitly state in the parenting manual. ‘Toilet trained’ doesn’t necessarily mean dry nights.
It came as a rude shock to me when Son #1 was 18 months old.
As I battled my toddler yet again at nappy change time I commented, ‘Oh, I’ll be looking forward to ditching the nappies altogether this summer when he’s toilet trained!’
‘Yeah, except for the night time ones,’ my friend (with older kids) flippantly replied.
‘Well that’ll take a lot longer. You knew that, right?’
Um, yes. Sure.
I went home and looked it up. The Raising Children website says:
Even if your child uses the toilet or potty during the day, it’s not time to throw away the nappies just yet. Often, children are 3-4 years old before they’re dry at night. Some children still wet the bed at six or seven years, or even older.
Given that research has shown that around the world a fairly consistent 10-15% of children aged 4-13 are bed wetters it’s unlikely that there’s much we can do to speed up the process. Though it is tempting to try.
I looked into it a little and discovered that methods have changed over the past few hundred years.
Bed wetters back on the farm
If you believe the historians, back when we all lived on farms (think a few hundred years ago), bed wetting wasn’t an issue at all. People took it in their stride, changed the bedding straw and moved on. Life was a whole lot more smelly back then anyway what with farm animals, no running water and little soap.
Voodoo bedwetting cures
Magical, spiritual and voodoo cures for bed wetters have been tried (and largely failed) since around 1500BC.
Through the centuries there have been advocates for:
- smacking the child to unblock the subconscious
- feeding the bladders and/or penises of animals to the child
- frightening the child into obedience, including squashing a live mouse in their hand, firing a gun over their head or watching an old person die (cos that’s not likely to make them wet their pants AT ALL).
Bed wetting cures in the city
When we all started to move off farms and into cities a few hundred years ago bed wetting became more of an issue. Stinky beds and wet clothing are harder to ignore in cramped houses with little clean water and no space to dry the washing.
It’s also a problem when you want to send the kids to a flash boarding school or place parentless children in a orphanage if they refuse to take them simply because they can’t control their wee at night.
Medical science (minus the ethics)
A century or two ago doctors were getting a better reputation for curing things. People were becoming used to the idea that taking medicine might be more effective than eating the bladders of small animals. The parents of the 10-15% of children who were bed wetters became a great market to sell possible medical cures to.
Unfortunately they hadn’t quite got round to the notion of ethics committees.
During this period some of the more frightening cures for bed wetters included:
- painful injections
- electric shock therapy
- elaborate contraptions attached to sleeping children to prevent wee coming out during the night (I won’t elaborate – use your imagination, yes, they were that bad).
There are reports of an otherwise ‘normal’ child being diagnosed with ‘medical perversity’ and committed to a psychiatric hospital in France for refusing to have his injections.
Cruel & unusual punishment
It was common for children who wet the bed to be seen as ‘naughty’ and in need of discipline. Humiliation and shame were frequently used to try to make these kids dry at night.
One source tells of a boarding school where beds were checked each morning before the children were allowed to get up. Anyone found with damp sheets was caned.
In 1875 at an orphanage in France children were allowed a wool mattress and woollen blanket to keep them warm at night in the winter.
Unless they were a bed wetter.
Then they had to sleep in a separate room, in a box filled with straw and no blanket. The straw was replaced monthly and they were not given new clothes. These poor kids were made to walk around all day in smelly, damp clothes and sleep on putrid straw at night.
Because that’s gonna cure your bed wetting like nothing else.
I suppose they saved on washing bills.
Wee wee feng shui
If you think we’re all wise and rational these days, don’t get too cocky. In 1992 a practitioner of ‘geobiology surgery’ published the opinion that bed wetting could be cured simply by moving the child’s bed to a better position in the bedroom.
Wee wee feng shui, anyone?
Back to the land of rational toilet training
Of course there are things you should look out for in case there is a medical problem (and the Raising Children website has a great checklist of things to watch out for) but as even the ads say: most kids will become dry in their own time.
In the mean time, there’s disposable nappies.
And no electric shock therapy. Please.
Source reference: Pascale Quincy-Lefebvre, ‘To punish, treat or pardon: French society and the enuretic child in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,’ History of the Family 6 (2001) 329-343.