Our son just turned five, and still needs to wear pull-ups at night. He learned how to use the toilet during the daytime when he was just over two, without much trouble nor too many accidents. We have tried offering rewards for dry pull-ups in the morning; it only works for a day. Putting a bucket in his room right by the nightlight makes no difference. Nor does all our talk and reasoning. We tried putting him in underwear; it simply resulted in one or more accidents each night. If we try to wake him up to take him to the bathroom he just doesn’t wake up well, cries terribly, and most often simply refuses to even try to pee. What can we do?
Your description of what happens when you try to wake your son up is the clue to what the problem is : he is a heavy sleeper. When he’s asleep he isn’t able to pay attention to his bladder signals. This condition is very common, especially in boys. No amount of good intentions on your part or his will make a difference : when he is asleep, he is asleep, and because of his size, his bladder isn’t big enough to hold his urine all night. Give up on the rewards and the talking; they will do no good. Neither will the more punitive measures which some parents use, such as making the child wash his sheets or humiliating him verbally. All these methods will only make your son feel like a failure.
The main reason we parents want a child to be trained at the age of five is our own embarrassment at having a child who wets his bed. As long as pull-ups work, there’s no need for your son to be trained yet. His body isn’t ready for it. Let him use the pull-ups, and reduce his fluid intake in the evening so he doesn’t flood the diapers. If you wait a few years, either your son will learn on his own to hold his urine for a longer period, as his bladder grows larger, or he will become motivated on his own to get himself trained because he wants to sleep over at friends’ houses, or to go away to camp.
Once your son’s nighttime wetness is a problem for him (rather than just for you), then there is a method that will work. It’s called a Wetalarm. Department stores such as Sears carry these little alarms. You attach the contraption to the child’s training pants, and it sets off an annoying alarm sound when it detects the very first drop of urine. The child learns in a few days to wake up when his bladder is full, to avoid the alarm sound, just as we wake up before our alarm clock goes off in the morning. After a few nights of disturbed sleep, with the sound of the alarm and a grumpy kid waking up, your son will learn to wake himself, and you will no longer need the alarm.