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Family Life: How can I help my 11-year-old son to stop wetting the bed?

My 11-year-old son has a delicate problem. He still wets the bed almost every night. He is really embarrassed by it and says he wants to stop, but he just can't seem to manage it.

For years I put it down to him being a heavy sleeper, but I had expected him to grow out of it by now. Never mind the hassle for me with all the washing of pyjamas and sheets, but it sometimes affects him socially because he has had to turn down several sleepovers -- including one last week for his best friend's birthday. Is there anything that I can do because I hate him feeling so self-conscious about it?

Thankfully, yes there are things you can do about it. One of the first might be to reassure your son that he is not alone in wetting the bed. In fact, about three per cent of children will still wet the bed at age 11. That equates to about 1,750 11-year-olds around the country.

Up to the age of four or five bed-wetting is quite common. Indeed, it really only becomes an issue that might need extra help or intervention in older children.

I think you have rightly recognised his discomfort at something he doesn't feel he can control. His self-consciousness is very understandable and, no doubt, the older he gets the more disruptive it could be socially.

In fact, bed-wetting can affect a whole family. I am sure that you are equally frustrated and worn-out at times with the constant extra washing and it can be a real source of tension.

This is unfortunate as there is quite a strong developmental and physical maturity aspect to bed-wetting. In many ways his bed-wetting is unlikely to be his fault.

Generally, boys are twice as likely to wet the bed. There also appears to be a strong genetic component to bed-wetting.

If both of a child's parents wet the bed, there is thought to be a 77pc chance that the child will wet the bed too. If just one parent was a bed-wetter, then a child still has a 44pc chance of being a bed-wetter too.

However, he has only a 15pc chance of becoming a bed-wetter if neither parent had such problems when they were children.

To increase his sense of control it can really help to educate him about his urinary system and how the biology works.

One of the key things for him to realise is that his bladder getting full should send a signal to his brain to empty it.

When we are awake, we translate this urgency to wee into an urgency to get to the toilet. If children are deeply asleep then sometimes they don't react to the trigger of a full bladder by becoming wakeful enough to get up to go to the loo.

This is why some parents choose to wake, or lift, their child, in the hope that by waking them before they wet the bed they will then recognise the signals that they need to go.

Also, by children emptying their bladder in the middle of the night we then hope that their bladders will then remain empty enough through the rest of the night to stay dry.

You don't mention whether you have ever tried a 'pad and bell'-type alarm system. These alarms involve either placing a pad on the bed, or a small pad in your child's underwear, which will cause a buzzing or ringing as soon as any moisture hits it.

The theory behind this is that your child will be woken up by the alarm as soon as they first release any urine and so can then finish the job in the loo.

The intention, similar to lifting, is that your child increases his awareness of that full feeling at night and so learns to, unconsciously, respond to the same sensations while asleep before the wee gets released.

Sometimes, paying attention to that "bursting to go" sensation during the day helps children to train their brains to be more heedful of it at night too. It doesn't always work though!

Making sure to go to the toilet just before bed is important. Restricting drinks in the evening, especially caffeine or acidic ones, can also help.

Since you talk about changing sheets regularly I am assuming that your son doesn't use an older child equivalent of training pants. I think this is a good thing since nappy-like pants for older children can reduce their motivation to resolve the problem. In your situation, however, your son sounds very motivated to sort this out.

There are also medications that are available for chronic bed-wetting. I am not qualified to give any advice about medicines so all I can suggest is that you go and talk to your GP.

Before you do, it is worth keeping a record of the bed-wetting, much as one might keep a diary. Record the number of wet nights; your own sense of the volume of wee (soaked or damp for example); when your son last drank before bed and any other relevant information (like major excitement or anxiety, exhaustion and such like).

This will allow your GP to be fully informed about the nature of the bed-wetting and so to decide whether medication is suitable. A good website to visit for more information is www.bedwetting.ie.

Health & Living