Question: Our 2.5 year old wakes up every morning at 4:30 am. We purchased a toddler alarm clock that lights up when it’s morning. We’ve set it for 5:30 am. When she wakes up we go in and lie down with her to keep her quiet until the light turns green at 5:30, at which point we get her up to start the day. Usually she falls back asleep when we go in and wakes up, again, around 5:15 and just plays with whatever parent is in her room with her until 5:30. She is reasonably well rested and goes to bed at 7:00. But we’re really REALLY tired of getting up at 4:30, any suggestions on how we can improve this?
Answer: Once families get over the [insert: trauma, exhaustion, frustration] hump of getting babies to sleep through the night, the next biggest challenge seems to be how to get your early riser to STAY in bed. This challenge gets elevated to the expert level when we move our babies to their big boy/girl beds.
For kids 2 and older, the toddler alarm clock can be a fantastically effective solution. I really like the street light version. Basically these give your kid a visual cue that it’s still nighttime and thus Mommy & Daddy are asleep and so should they. Think of them as a visual anchor for your child. Some people have had success with what is called a “reverse alarm clock.” This basically means that when the alarm clock comes on, you are allowed to get out of bed. The obvious drawback of the reverse alarm clock is that if your child is still sleeping (a few times each year the fates will smile upon you and this will happen), it wakes them up. Which is why I think the visual toddler alarm clocks are a worthy investment.
So you shell out $40 for a cool new nightlight for your toddler and now the problem is solved. Hazzah! Everybody should be investing in toddler alarm clocks because once word gets out these things are going to be hotter than the iPad!
Why The Toddler Alarm Clock Didn’t Work
Like every parenting challenge, it’s not that simple. So where was the lovely family I was working with going wrong?
- They set the toddler alarm clock too far from the actual wake up time of their toddler.
- They told the toddler that “morning is when the light turns green.” But then they went into her bedroom when it wasn’t.
If you are struggling with an early riser and have a child older than 2 who DOESN’T sleep in your bed/room, I highly recommend a visual alarm clock. Provided you follow my sage advice:
- Set the wakeup time on the clock for ~15 minutes later than your toddler currently wakes up naturally. The family mentioned here should have started with 4:45. A kid who has been waking up at a certain time is not going to happily entertain themselves in their bed for 30-45 minutes while they wait for a stupid light to turn green. They’re going to complain and/or leave. Start small. Wait a week. Then try adding another 15 minutes to the clock. Rinse. Repeat.
- If you tell your toddler/kid that everybody needs to sleep until its wake up time and that the CLOCK WILL LET THEM KNOW WHEN ITS TIME TO GET UP, you need to mean it. If morning is when the light turns green then don’t go in until the light turns green. If they call for you, play dead. Set the rules for your house. Perhaps they need to STAY in bed until the light turns green. Perhaps they can play quietly or look at some picture books in their room. However if you run in there the minute they call for you, then you’ve wasted $40 because you just taught your child that the wake-up clock is simply a fancy night-light and morning time is whenever THEY say it is.
- When the light turns green you go into their room with your happy parent face on. “Honey, you stayed in bed until the light turned green! What a great way for us to start our day!”
- Make the clock something of an exciting gift. Buying one is not punitive, it’s a privilege! When it shows up in the mail, wrap it! Let them pick out where it will go in their room. THEN talk about how we’re going to use it. Highlight the advantages to the child (gets a special cool light JUST for them, Mommy will get the sleep she needs to play barbies all morning long).
- For older kids (3 years and up) you may (although it’s not necessary for most kids) further sweeten the deal with a reward chart. You could do something simple like they get a star sticker every morning that they stay in bed until the light turns green and if they get 7 stars they get an ice cream cone. I would suggest keeping this as a back-up plan in case the thrill of the new nightlight is not sufficient.
[/list]For die-hard early birds the toddler alarm clock may only get your kid to stay in bed until 6:00 am or so although anybody who wakes up at 4:30 am would be delighted just to make it to the crack of dawn. Continue to periodically move the time further out by 10-15 minutes until you hit the time of the morning where your child is consistently waking up JUST prior to the alarm (so that they have to hang out alone for a few minutes but it’s not an excessively long time).