How I finally got my five-year-old to stop wetting the bed

It cost me $400, but it solved the problem like nothing else could.
Preschool boy sleeping in bed with blue sheets with a teddy bear

Photo: iStockphoto

“We’re gonna have to burn that mattress,” I said to my husband.

He gave me a look. “Again?”

Our five-year-old was a bed-wetter. He potty-trained pretty easily when he was two-and-a-half, but never seemed ready to follow suit at night. Now, at age five, he was still wearing pull-up diapers to bed. They were often dry in the mornings, but it felt like whenever we decided to go without one, he’d wet the bed. And truth be told, the pull-ups often leaked anyhow.

I wondered if it was because he sleeps so deeply—you could drive a truck through his room and he wouldn’t rouse. Even a soaking wet bed didn’t wake him. Most of the time, it was I who discovered the wetness when I checked on him. So I’d pluck him from bed, lay him on a blanket on the floor, change his clothes and the sheets, and put him back to bed. He’d never even stir.

Our doctor reassured us that it’s not actually unusual for a five-year-old to wet the bed. But we were motivated to solve the problem because it was starting to bother him, which made it bother me. (Plus, we really were going to have to burn the mattress.)

My best friend told me about bedwetting alarms. These devices go off when a child starts to pee, which wakes them up—the idea being that if the kid is repeatedly awoken after a few drops of urine pass, they’ll be conditioned to respond to a full bladder rather than releasing it. This means the kid will either wake up once he is “conditioned” or he’ll hold his pee until morning. The alarm worked for my friend’s son, but I wasn’t sure. For one thing, we had a young baby at home, so I was already getting up with one kid at night. And the alarm was an alarm.

I did some research and found some articles and studies suggesting they work. But these things are not cheap. Some cost $50 to $200; the one my friend recommended (and had the best reviews) was $399. Some health plans cover them, but ours didn’t. But we’d save money on pull-ups. And laundry detergent. And a new mattress. And how much is my child’s self-esteem worth? And my sanity? (Never mind—can’t put a price on that.)

So we decided to take the plunge. The system we got included two pairs of boys’ underwear with invisible sensors built in, a wireless transmitter, an alarm and a DVD-sized vibrating disc meant to go under the child’s pillow as an extra means to wake them just in case the alarm didn’t.

The underwear looked completely normal other than being outfitted with two snaps at the top as a means to attach the wireless transmitter. Plus these fancy undies were obviously equipped with super-duper wetness sensors. The system was a bit overwhelming at first. It looked like a torture device and felt somehow archaic. But I was committed now.

I wasn’t sure how my son would react, but he was actually really excited about it. He loved to snap the sensor on to the undies himself, and given he was a huge fan of PAW Patrol at the time, the system was quickly and fondly named the Pee-Pee Patroller. I’m sure Chase and Ryder would be proud.

So, night one. All set. I braced myself, and…nothing. He didn’t pee that night. Same thing for nights two and three. This was pretty typical—he wasn’t peeing the bed every night. But hilariously, I really wanted him to pee so I could see this system work its magic!

On night four, around 1 a.m., I awoke to the alarm sounding. I hopped out of bed like I’d been hit with a taser and ran to my son’s room. He was up but disoriented, trying to find the button to turn the sound off. I could also hear the vibrator loudly buzzing under his pillow. Holy cow. This thing was not a joke!

I hastened him to the bathroom where he finished his pee. I inspected the underwear—it was barely wet. Amazing! I helped him into the fresh pair of undies, reset the alarm and tucked him snuggly back into bed.

And so it went. Every few nights, the alarm went off. He became adept at finding the silence button and getting himself to the bathroom. He’d come in to get me only for help finding the fresh undies and resetting the Patroller. As the mom of three kids, I was already used to imagining sleep rather than experiencing it, so the night wakings were tolerable. Plus, it was kind of exciting. We were getting somewhere. I knew it.

The system came with a calendar to track activity. Five weeks or so after welcoming the Pee-pee Patroller into our home, my notes told me he’d been dry for 10 nights. 10 nights? Really!? That was the milestone. So that very night, he went to bed in normal underwear alone.

And that was it. It’s been six months and the Pee-Pee Patroller hasn’t come out again. My son is thrilled with himself, as are we. He likes to reminisce sometimes about the fun of the system. “Remember mommy, when I used to wear those underwear with the little blue thing that snapped on?” He chuckles fondly and shakes his head, like a little old man.

The mattress didn’t suffer anymore but we decided to retire it. The tributaries of yellowish markings told us it was time. But the Pee-Pee Patroller? I’ll hang on to that. Damn straight—I’ve still got another kid to potty train.

Read more:
Nighttime dryness: When to ditch the diapers
The challenges of nighttime potty training
Sleep solutions for all ages

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