It’s 5am and you wake up to the sound of breathing inches from your face. After the initial panic, you realize it’s just your preschooler. You wonder if there is any way to keep your child from waking you so early.
In the split second before your child has a chance to demand cereal and cartoons, your dread sets in. It’s another super-early and exhausting morning in your household.
If this sounds like your typical days, I have a solution for you. You can keep your child from waking you so early.
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Kids Need Sleep
I’ve heard so many moms express that they feel selfish wanting more sleep. Let’s be clear here: Our culture treats sleep as a luxury but it is an essential component to health for both parents and children.
Maybe parents can get more sleep by going to bed earlier. That’s certainly worth a try if you’re not getting the 8 hours you need. But let’s also consider that your early-waking child might not be get the hours of sleep he or she needs.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these are the necessary sleep amounts for children for good health:
- Infants (4 – 12 months): 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
- Toddlers (1 – 2 years): 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
- Preschoolers (3 – 5 years): 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
- School-age (6 – 12 years): 9 to 12 hours
- Teenagers (13 – 18 years): 8 to 10 hours
The Right Supplies will Help Your Child Sleep
You’re going to need to make sure your child is set up with the right items to get more sleep.
Room Darkening Shades
Make sure your child’s room is dark enough in the mornings. It might be a good time to invest in room darkening shades. We like the Eclipse Black Out Shades and have them in both children’s room.
Okay to Wake Clock
You need a way to silently signal to your child that it is okay to wake you up. Using a beeping alarm clock might be too disruptive on the off-chance your child actually starts to sleep in. You can always dream about the day your child will sleep in.
You can use either an Okay to Wake clock or a light timer hooked up to a bedroom table lamp. The premise is the same with either product: you set the timer to alert your child when it is okay to wake you up.
I prefer the Okay to Wake clock because it’s durable. We have busy, high-energy children who routinely break things. They are not gentle on our stuff..
Nonetheless, our first Okay to Wake clock was purchased in January 2014 and is still going strong in March 2020 (date of posting). This is astonishing in our home. It’s been dropped on the ground repeatedly and tossed in luggage for trips and still works as well as it always has.
The Okay to Wake clock is also super easy to set and change the wake up times and allows you to delay wake up time gradually. It can also be used for nap times or rest times and you have the option of making it silent or also using an alarm feature.
Choose the Right Wake up Time
This is what I think most parents I’ve talked to overlook and then struggle with.
If your child is waking at 5am every day, you need to choose the just right wake time. You can’t expect your child to sleep until 7am or 8am when you first implement this routine.
At first, you want to add 3 to 5 minutes to the current wake time based on your child’s level of frustration tolerance and then slowly build success from there. You want to make it achievable for your child to follow the routine – this is a “just right” level of challenge for your child.
Let’s say your child is waking you at 5am. Here’s what you’ll want to do:
- Day 1: Set the clock for 5am.
- Day 2: Set the clock for 5:03.
- Day 3: Set the clock for 5:06.
- Day 4: Set the clock for 5:10.
- Day 5: Set the clock for 5:15.
Usually by this point, I can increase the intervals to 5 to 10 minutes daily, but you need to use your best judgement about your child.
The is why the Okay to Wake clock is superior in my opinion. While the light timer is cheaper if you already have a bedroom table lamp for your child, the drawback is that you can only change it in 30 minute intervals. Thus, it’s a lot harder to gradually delay the wake up time.
Decide on Wake up Time Rules
Once you have your supplies and you’ve chosen an achievable wake up time, consider what you want your goals are. Your goals will drive the rules you create from your child.
- You can get more sleep.
- Your child gets more sleep.
- Your child must stay in bed the whole time.
- Your child may read in bed with a flashlight.
- You child may quietly play with a special set of toys in his or her room.
In our family, our children must stay in their beds until the Okay to Wake clock turns green. Then they can come out of their rooms and find us or wake us.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to properly secure all the furniture in your child’s room (and ideally in your house) if your child is playing independently in their room while you sleep. Similarly, if you allow a flashlight, make sure the battery compartment is secured and your child can not open it.
Also, I highly discourage allowing your child to quietly play on the tablet. I’ve heard a bunch of parents say their child started waking earlier and earlier in order to get more screen time. Use your best judgment for your family.
Reward Your Child for Staying in Bed
Here’s the deal with rewards in a nutshell: in the short term they work, in the long term, they don’t.
Ultimately, you want your child to develop inner motivation (intrinsic motivation) to do the right thing. But children’s brains don’t really develop the empathy to think, “Huh, my parents need more sleep so I shouldn’t wake them up” until they are 7 or 8 years old.
When you are trying to break a bad habit, reinforcing the desired behavior makes it more likely that you will continue the positive habit. And that’s why rewards (extrinsic motivation) can be useful in the short term.
Thus, positive reinforcement is important at the beginning when you want your child to stay in bed.
Some children (mine!) need an immediate positive reinforcement in order to stay in their beds. They don’t respond to the delayed gratification of a sticker chart. So every morning, after they stay in their beds until the Okay to Wake clock turns green, they get an immediate positive reinforcement.
Possible positive reinforcement include:
- Screen time
- Special breakfast
- Special time or activity with a parent
- Playing with special toys
We have a favorite PBS Kids show at 7am. Our children get to watch this show when they stay in their beds until their Okay to Wake Clock lights up. We’ve communicated with our children that when they stay in their beds until the clock lights up, they get to watch the show.
When you consider your reinforcement, you have to be prepared to enforce the natural consequence. So when our children are out of their beds before the Okay to Wake clock lights up, there is no screen time and my husband and I brace ourselves for potential meltdowns.
If your child can handle a more delayed reinforcement, using a sticker chart is a great option. We have used a sticker chart for activities like bowling or inexpensive toys with great success. I’ve included sticker charts in the printable file for you.
Free Printables to Teach Your Child to Stay in Bed
I made free printables to teach your child to stay in bed. When you download the printables and open the file, you’ll notice there are printables with boys and girls. Just select the pages you need in your print dialog box so you only end up with the pages you need. Similarly, there are also sticker charts for both of boys and girls, too.
You’ll want to show your child the printable to explain the new routine.
- First, your child will go to bed and go sleep.
- When your child wakes up, he or she needs to wait until the clock lights up.
- Then, your child can get out of bed.
Of course, if your rules are that your child can read books or play quietly, you’ll need to explain that part to your child, too.
Troubleshooting how to Keep Your Child from Waking You Too Early
- If your child is potty training
What if your child needs to go potty in the early morning? Check out our post about night time potty training. You can use the printable in that post to teach your child to wake up, go potty, and get back into bed until it is wake up time.
- If your child is anxious
The truth is if your child is having genuine fears or anxiety, no amount of sticker charts will solve that. You’re going to need to repeatedly figure out what your child is worried about. Use curiosity, not shame. Gather information, don’t try to solve the problem.
- If your child was following this routine, and won’t anymore
You’re going to need to put on your detective hat. Is the reward no longer working? Are you expecting your child to sleep too late for their internal clock? Have you recently traveled?
Try solving those problems and revisit the routine chart and sticker chart.
You can teach your child to sleep longer in the mornings with a few simple steps. You’re an exhausted parent so get your child a wake up device, get the printable, teach the routine, and get some more sleep.
Download the printable here.