Mornings for some of you begin as early as 4 AM. Waking up too early can mean a tired family and earlier naps, throwing off bedtime rituals later. Waking up too late does the opposite, pushing nap time to later in the day and sometimes prolonging bedtime. And believe it or not, a later bedtime doesn’t mean your child will wake later. Don’t worry! You can get your early rising toddler to sleep later.
If too much light is coming into the toddler’s room, buy room-darkening blinds — also good for napping. If an external noise-garbage trucks, songbirds, or a dad with a long commute who has turned on the shower-is waking him, you might want to try a white noise machine or a fan.
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple.
If your child is awake at 6:00 or 6:30 a.m., cheerful, refreshed, and ready to start his day — even if you aren’t — you’ll probably have to live with it. That’s a common and biologically appropriate wake-up time for a baby or small child.
Remember to adapt the meal and nap schedule to suit his early hours.
Important points about the early rising toddler
Toddlers who wake up cheerful at 6:00 or 6:30 are just “morning people.” But kids who are a total grump by 7:00, are a different story.
You need to intervene and coach him to sleep later. The longer you endure early risings, the harder it is to change the pattern. Better you address it now, even if it takes a few weeks to see results. Once they’re older, it can take months.
Make sure your early rising toddler is getting enough daytime sleep — nap deprivation can cause poor night sleep and early awakenings. Younger toddlers (12 to 18 months) generally take two daytime naps, while older toddlers take one afternoon nap.
When your early bird stirs, go to his room immediately.
You want to try to get him back to sleep ASAP, not let him scream himself awake. Give him his lovey and try to soothe him back to sleep without picking him up. (Follow the Sleep Lady Shuffle guidelines outlined in Good Night Sleep Tight).
Even if he doesn’t doze off again — and not all toddlers will at first — do not turn on the lights or get him out of his crib until 6:00 a.m. no matter how much he protests. Getting him up earlier, while it is still dark, sends a confusing message and is another example of intermittent reinforcement.
He can’t understand why he can get up in the dark at 5:45 a.m. but not at 2:15 a.m. Also, many parents have learned the hard way that if they let him get up at 5:45 a.m., the next thing they know it’s 5:30, 5:15, etc.
Stay in Your Child’s Room
At this age, I usually recommend that the parent stay in the room for this early-morning routine.
If, however, you feel your presence is encouraging him to be more awake, as often occurs with older children, you can try leaving his room after a bit of reassurance and see if he falls asleep again on his own.
Check on him every ten to fifteen minutes.
If you stay in the room, keep the interaction minimal. Try sitting in a chair with your eyes closed. When the clock finally strikes 6:00 a.m. and he’s not falling asleep, leave the room for a minute or two.
He may cry, but try not to let it bother you — you will be right back in a minute.
When you come back in, make a big deal out of “good morning” time. Do your dramatic wake-up.
The morning routine is the flip side of the bedtime-routine coin. Your goal is to help him distinguish between day and night, to know when it really is time to get up.
Your message must be clear: “I’m getting you out of the crib because it’s morning time, not because you were crying.”
Treat Early Rising Like Night Wakings
If your early riser is over 2 or 2.5 years old and sleeps in a bed, then you will have to return your child to their bed and treat this like a night wakening.
Continue with your Shuffle position until the clock strikes 6:00 a.m. Consider using an alarm clock radio or a light with an appliance timer to help signal to your child when it is wake up time.
If you sometimes let your child get out of bed and start the day before the music comes on then he or she will not take the alarm clock seriously!
Four most common causes of early rising
1. Bedtime is too late
2. Nap deprivation
3. Staying up too long between the end of his afternoon nap and going to bed — try not to let the interval exceed four hours
4. Going to bed when he’s past that “drowsy but awake” mark. If he’s too drowsy, he won’t know how to get himself back to sleep when he’s more alert — including at 5:00a.m.
More Tips for your Early Rising Toddler
- Skipping naps and putting your child to bed later will cause early rising. It seems counter intuitive, but it is true!
- You can’t assume your child needs less sleep than the average until they are taking decent naps and sleeping through the night for several weeks.
- Room darkening shades are critical!
- Early rising takes several weeks of utter consistency to change so stick with it!
If your child is new to early rising since daylight saving time ended, use the nap to get to the new bedtime. In other words make sure the nap is after 12 p.m., and is long enough so that the wakeful window after the nap is not longer than 4 hours (max 5 for a toddler/preschooler who is well rested).
Patience, consistency, and understanding of both your child and his needs are critical for this process to be successful. Be firm and be loving and good mornings will be right around the corner! I wish you both many happy mornings together!
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