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When Your Toddler Wakes Up Too Early

Early rising children can be a challenge.

The term "sleeping in” has a whole new definition to me now that I’m a parent. Gone are the days of waking up late Saturday morning, grabbing a leisurely breakfast and relaxing.

Recently, I was talking to a few moms at the park who were struggling with early—and I mean 5:30 a.m. early—wake-ups with their toddlers. One child had recently transitioned to a big-kid bed and was waking with the sunrise and coming into mom and dad’s room way too early. 

I was in this exact same situation when my oldest graduated from his crib. With every early wake-up, we escorted him back to his bed while explaining, "Yes, it's light out, but no, it's not morning." I was fed up and exhausted.

I tried star charts and rewards, but my son still did not understand that it was just too early to get up.

So, I did some research and found my miracle product. Since my son was not old enough to tell time, I didn’t think that a clock in his room could solve the problem. I did, however, find a sleep training clock from One Step Ahead. It sells for about $40.

It’s a silent clock that just changes pictures from “sleeping” to “awake to play.” You program bedtime and wake-up times. But unlike an alarm, if your child wants to sleep longer than this, it will not wake him or her up. But, when your child does wake and looks at the clock, it will be clear whether or not it's morning.

When I first purchased it, I thought this was just another gimmick. But I was very surprised at how excited my son got about his first clock. We made a big deal about setting it up. We talked about how when the bunny is sleeping, he has to be in his room or bed and quiet. It even has a setting for nap-time.

On the very first night we had success. He did not wake me up until the bunny was awake. We still use it now that he’s now 4 1/2 years old. Although, occasionally, he’ll tell us that the “bunny took a long time to wake up,” which is his way of saying he was awake before the clock changed.

Other than when he’s sick or had a bad dream, there have been very few instances where he hasn’t waited for the proper time to start his day.

Now, a word of caution, you have to set this for a reasonable time for your child. For my son, it’s 7:30 a.m. Trying to set it for 9 a.m. probably isn’t going to work. I’m not trying to get him to sleep in, I’m just trying to avoid being woken up at 6 a.m.  

Keep in mind that you may need to begin this in increments. If you want your child to sleep until 7:30 and they are currently waking at 5 a.m., you might have to increase the time in 20 minutes intervals over several weeks. Otherwise, you may never have success with this clock.

The more you make your child rely on this clock, the more successful you will be with this technique. If you allow them to get up before the clock says it’s time, they will never understand the rule.

We’ve been successfully using this system for two years now.

Of course, there are many more options on the market. In fact, Amazon has several different brands to choose from at various prices.

I’ve been told that one day I’ll have to pry my boys out of bed, that they'll stay up too late and want to sleep in until noon. But for now, I'll take a few extra minutes of sleep before we start our day.

BK July 12, 2011 at 02:10 PM
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!
Tim July 12, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Yep, we've been using something very similar for about two years now. He still ignores it 75% of the time, but 25% is better then 0%!
Robyn Alvarez July 12, 2011 at 06:02 PM
We just use a digital clock. Sofia isn't allowed to come upstairs to wake us up until it says 7:00. At first, we covered up the minutes with black electrical tape but as she got older, she wanted to see the minutes. She still can't quite tell time, but we can tell her, on a night when she's been up late, that she needs to sleep until 8:00, or even 9:00. One morning, after my husband jokingly said she should sleep until 10:00, she came out at 9:45 and said it was too hard to sleep that long. So she takes it seriously!

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