Nighttime Toilet Training Before Age Five: It’s Possible!

When my son still hadn’t potty trained through the night at age four, I wrote a post about trying to keep him dry through the night. (Most of which totally didn’t work at the time.) Many readers commented that bladder control for boys doesn’t developmentally happen until they’re older—possibly around age six.

Giving up altogether seemed rather strange to me. My post on The History of Potty Training in America, shared that potty training ages in this country have gone up across the board—partly because of the ease of disposables. If everyone waits to even attempt night training until their children are older, there are years of waste (and expense) that could be avoided with some effort.

The only two choices for parents certainly aren’t the following:
A. Torture your child with extreme night training regimens.
B. Just wait. It will happen eventually. In the meantime, buy lots of pull-ups.

In our case, the successful solution was to cut off beverages at 5:30pm and give him a chocolate treat each morning. It’s successful about 95% of the time and my four and a half-year-old son feels really excited to wear underwear to bed.

I’m not saying that all kids can night train at five (or sooner), but it seems worth knowing that some of our efforts may help kids get there a bit earlier.

Have you had success or struggle with night training? The best tips always come from readers so please share your experiences from the trenches of early parenthood!

Comments

  1. My daughter is 7 months old so I don’t have any tips on night training. However, I’ve found for myself that I need to stop drinking liquids after supper/before bedtime if I don’t want to be getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Makes sense that that would help a child too! 🙂

  2. My oldest son has an enormous bladder, which is what I am attributing to the ease that we night-trained. He did both day and night at the same time between 2.5 and 3, with few accidents.

    My second boy is still wearing pull-ups to bed at night. We have tried underpants, we have tried cloth pull-ups, but he always developed infections. We tried rewards, we tried cutting off drinks. Nothing has worked so far. I am hoping when baby girl starts to do better about using the toilet, he will want to work on the night time more. But, maybe he really isn’t developmentally ready?

  3. Well, this may fall under “extreme measures” for some, and may be undesirable to do with an older child, but we co-slept with our son, and at 11 months read a book called Diaper Free, in which I learned that the pee usually happens before midnight or after 5 am. So we put a soaker pad under him (in our bed), and I spent three sleepy nights waiting to be awakened by wiggly legs that needed to pee. After the first two nights, I woke up quick enough to catch the first signal. I carried him to the toilet (he doesn’t wake up fully), and then straight back to bed. He’s had phases of sleeping through the night without peeing (up to 13 hrs), and other phases of needing a pee. I assume his bladder and sleep will both mature, as well as his ability to get up and take himself, and eventually to choose how much to drink before bed. But he’s been dry since 11 mos.

  4. I like the idea of using positive reinforcement.

    I do find it interesting that we hear “wait it out” as an approach, when we know that in other cultures–even our own, in the past–kids don’t take so long to train. When we were researching our book, we learned that 95% of British children are out of diapers by 23 months. (I think that was it–I just remember it was younger than the American average.)

  5. I do not know how but my son night trained when he potty trained. I think it may be bc I was putting a night time diaper on him and he refused it saying “it was for babies.”

    Well he has never wet the bed.

  6. I resisted the urge to offer rewards in any form for potty training for the first month or two. My son was only about 10 months when we started (he is now 22 months) and we did well for a while. Then we moved and my husband’s new job has taken him out of state for a week at a time several times and when he is gone, potty training would go down the tubes. Accidents all over the place! Then I decided to try giving one mini m&m per sucessful potty trip and he is doing great. We have had maybe two accidents in the last week and one was in the car on a long trip – for some reason he doesn’t tell me int he car that he need to go. BUT my point is that I can see us using a morning treat in the future to help with nighttime. I think it is fine, as long as you back off if you realize that it isn’t working because your child is not able to stay dry. But it works for you and that’s great!
    I did buy a pack of pull-ups because we are driving 8 hours to a baby shower (and back) in a few weeks and i am pregnant and feeling like crud so it makes sense to give myself this small break. I am hoping they will work out and he won’t sense the change, but I’m planning to bring lots of undies and pants so we can switch back if it seems like it isn’t working. I’d love to hear what yall have done while travelling since I assume you didn’t cave and buy pull ups 🙂

  7. Our two daughters we tried exactly the same methods with polar opposite results. I think that you’ll never know what’s going to work until you’ve stuck it out a while.

  8. My sister realized that her son was actually peeing in his bed as he woke up or immediately after waking up, so an incentive system worked really well for him (since it wasn’t a physiological issue).

  9. My almost 7 year old is still wearing “pull-ups” and I have been told by the pediatrician that nighttime wetting isn’t within the child’s control like daytime wetting is – it’s a physiological development that happens at different times for different kids. From the time he was about 3 I kept thinking, I’m not going to buy those expensive cloth pull-ups because any day now he’s going to stop wetting – it happened about 2/3 of the time then and still happens about 1/3 of the time now. I finally just bought a pack of flatfold diapers and some plastic pants at Target for a whopping $12. I fold up the diaper (which he thinks is just a rag – we don’t use the word diaper) and put them in his underwear, then we put the plastic pants over and he’s good to go. He’s very concerned about the polar bears, the oceans, and the landfills (we take him to OMSI and the aquarium a lot!) so he was totally on board for the change and the plastic pants are surprisingly comfy as well as leak-free. They hold the leaks way better than pull-ups or good-nites or any of the others ever did. I wish I’d done it a lot sooner.

  10. Also, I wanted to add that although later potty-training might be a new development, bed-wetting is not modern. But it was a source of shame and not talked about. I know in my family it was understood that we should keep it to ourselves. I also think that the reports of potty-training at very young ages might be exaggerated because the parents are the ones who are trained, not the kids. Finally, although there are lots of things that can be done to get your kids to comply, potty-train, sleep, sit still, be quiet, etc., it’s not necessarily better. Many methods used in the past may provide seemingly well-behaved children, but also result in long-term psychological damage. In fact, there’s been some interesting studies recently showing that sometimes less well-behaved children are more successful later on. And Joy, I am not talking about your incentive program – I know you are a very careful mom and I think it’s great the chocolate is working. I wish it had worked for Ian because we tried EVERYTHING. I think it just ruffles my feathers when I hear people start to suggest that early potty-training should be more the norm and what’s wrong with parents if their kids don’t. It really is such an individual thing and it’s possible that those who make it a huge priority could be sacrificing in other places.

  11. Good point Eileen! I think it’s really easy to get our egos involved when it comes to meeting developmental milestones. It’s not that I think toilet training is a reflection of good or bad parenting. It most certainly isn’t!

    But before I had kids, I assumed that you simply couldn’t potty train a child before age 2 or 3. And a lot of the people that responded to my night training post seemed to think that staying dry through the night had to wait until six or seven years old as well. Each child is different, certainly, but it’s o.k. to start trying earlier.

    Honestly, it never would have occurred to me to infant potty train our daughter if my husband hadn’t just decided to plop her on the toilet one day while she was turning red in the face. That was when she was about seven months old and now she’s nearly potty trained at 21 months old. With my son, we didn’t even start trying until he was over two years old, but I think I could have saved a great deal of diaper laundry if I would have experimented with toilet training a bit earlier.

    So–no guilt if people want to wait, but I just want to let people know that you aren’t going to damage your child by trying a bit earlier as long as you’re sensitive to his or her responsiveness and involvement. It’s not worth forcing it!

  12. Jennifer, what you are doing sounds a lot like elimination communication (EC) or infant potty training, at least from what I’ve read (I’m not a parent yet). The idea is that babies do not actually wet their diapers while asleep. They actually wake up first, then go pee, then either start crying or go back to sleep. So if you co-sleep, and you can wake up when your baby starts stirring, you can take him/her to the potty and save yourself a diaper. Obviously this would be difficult if baby is in a crib in a separate room. So Eileen, not everyone agrees with your doctor’s view that children aren’t physiologically equipped to avoid nighttime wetting. Again, I am not a parent yet (but will be soon), so don’t take offense to my ignorant views. I am just amazed that some people have been successful with EC, and I am blessed that I will have the time to give it a try. If I was working outside the home, I doubt EC would ever work for me.

  13. “The idea is that babies do not actually wet their diapers while asleep.” I had never heard that before. Perhaps that’s true for some babies, but not ours!

    My son is four and a half and only just got potty trained during the day a few months ago (and believe me, we started trying much earlier but met with kicking, screaming protest). Although he generally doesn’t nap any more, recently when he was sick he took a couple of naps in my lap and I can attest to the fact that he did not wake up or so much as stir when he peed.

    He’s been diagnosed with PDD-NOS (the “other” category of the autism spectrum) so that may play a role in all this; I’ve heard that children on the spectrum typically toilet-train later. I have learned that he will do things when he’s ready for them and there’s not much else we can do except provide an encouraging environment without too much pressure.

  14. It takes time, effort and patience I feel they will only do it when they are ready, many parents make the mistake of trying to do it too early and rushing it

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