Sleepaway camp is a childhood ritual that every child should be able to enjoy. But for children who wet the bed, sleeping away from home can be a scary prospect. Kids who suffer from this condition are often worried that other campers will discover their secret, or that camp staff won’t be supportive. But the truth is, most camps are well-prepared to help kids with this common issue and the staff are committed to making sure every child has a great experience.
There are an estimated 5 million children in the U.S. who wet the bed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Bedwetting beyond the average age of toilet training is called nocturnal enuresis. Experts say that causes of bedwetting are multifactorial; scientists have even identified a gene associated with this condition. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are an estimated 5 million children in the U.S. who wet the bed. Indeed, some kids won’t be dry at night until they are into their teens. The good news is that with some planning and preparation, kids who wet the bed can enjoy sleepaway camp just like their peers.
Get a doctor’s advice: There are medications that can help children stay dry. If your child’s doctor recommends trying medication, do a trial run at home before camp to make sure the drug works. Medications don’t help all kids.
Call ahead: Call the camp before your child’s session to discuss the problem and to ask about procedures the camp may already have in place. You will most likely find that camps are well prepared for bedwetting. If the camp doesn’t have a plan, create one together.
“Camp staff are really well trained, not only in keeping kids safe, but in building self-esteem,” says Alex Flannagan, assistant camp director for Camp Huston. “All it takes is one direct phone call to the camp director. They will either already have a plan in place or you can make a plan together.”
Find the right gear: There are a variety of disposable nighttime pants on the market. For smaller children, there are Pull-Ups, which can be pulled on and off like underwear. For bigger kids, a product called GoodNites offers disposable bedtime pants for kids who weigh up to 125 pounds. Pull-Ups or GoodNites are best for heavy wetters.
GoodNites also makes disposable absorbent mats which are placed on the fitted sheet. These have adhesive tabs to keep the mat in place during sleep. GoodNites Bed Mats are good as a “backup” for kids who sometimes leak out of nighttime pants.
Another product by GoodNites: Tru-Fit underwear. These are cloth underwear that have a pocket inside. You place a disposable pad inside the pocket to catch the urine. The pad gets thrown away and the underwear can be machine-washed. These work for kids who wet rarely and don’t flood the bed when they do wet. (Although the above products are listed by brand name, there are many equivalent generic products on the market as well.)
With any of these products, try them at home before camp to figure out what works best for your child.
Choose the right pajamas: Choose sleepwear wisely so that the bulk of disposable bedtime pants aren’t visible under the clothing. Pair loose sweat or pajama pants with an oversized shirt that hangs low to cover the bum area.
Pack plenty: Pack extra PJ pants in case the staff isn’t able to launder clothing for campers. While discussing laundry, ask if the sleeping bag can be washed if necessary. Some camps will do this for you. Ask about sending an extra sleeping bag. This can be placed on the bunk while the wet bag is in the wash, so other kids won’t notice your kiddo’s sleeping bag missing from their bed. Consider packing a package of wet wipes for your child to clean up with after taking off the disposable pants in the morning.
Get your kid on board: Discuss the plan with your child and make sure they are comfortable. Reiterate that they are not the only kid with this condition and that camp staff is there to help.
Even if you have made a plan with the camp director, it is a good idea to directly speak with the camp counselors who will oversee your kid. Pull them aside for a quick private conversation to make sure they are aware of the situation, just in case. This is also a good time to show your camper which staff are available for help.
Change in and out of Pull-Ups with ninja-like stealth: No kid wants their whole cabin to know they are wearing bedwetting garments! Kids can keep private things private by changing into bedtime pants in a bathroom stall. At bedtime, the child can go into a stall and put on the disposable pants under PJs. In the morning, change in the stall again. Parents could even pack plastic bags for the child to wrap the disposable pants in before tossing in the garbage so that kids don’t see the soaked pants in the trash can.
Some counselors will wake bedwetters up a few minutes earlier than the rest of their cabin, so the child can get to the bathroom first and clean up unobserved.
Another option is to hide disposable underpants inside the sleeping bag. (You can easily fit a week’s worth in the foot of a sleeping bag!) Pack the bag with the bedwetting pants before leaving home. After the child climbs into their sleeping bag at bedtime, they can shimmy into the disposable underwear inside, so no one is the wiser. In the morning, take it off in the same way, leaving it inside the bag for a counselor to dispose of later.
If your child is a heavy wetter who often leaks out of bedwetting pants, add a disposable bed mat. Before camp, adhere the mat inside the sleeping bag, then roll up as usual for bringing to camp. Pack extras in case they need replacing, and make sure you have a plan for your child or the counselor to take away the wet mat and replace it with a new one.
With planning and preparation, there is no reason for kids to miss out on the experience of sleepaway camp. It can be done!