Rise & Shine: Helping Your Snoozer Wake Up and Other Sleep Challenges


Is there anything that stresses parents more than sleep problems? As if sleep challenges were not bad enough, now you have an overtired brain that is struggling to come up with solutions! Lucky for you, my own kids are sleeping well at the moment. Here are a few questions I frequently hear from parents, along with some tips to ease your sleeping woes.

When can children be responsible for getting themselves up I the morning?

The answer to this one really depends on the skills you have been helping your child to build as they grow. We often look at the end goal without taking in to account all of the learning that needs to happen along the way.

I think it is reasonable to expect a 5 or 6 year old to be able to get up on their own if you have been laying the groundwork along the way.

One of our greatest early parenting feats was teaching our two year old the number seven on the clock. We had an analog clock in her room and put a star sticker on the seven. We talked for weeks about the big hand, little hand and identifying the number seven everywhere we went. Before we knew it, she would wait until seven to wake us every morning. Now there are some great clocks that change colors at wake up time making it even easier to help children slowly take responsibility for their morning routine. This is an example of laying groundwork.

I find myself nagging my kids to get ready in the mornings. What strategies would work better? Rewards? Consequences?

This is where the groundwork we lay really becomes critical. Starting when they are babies, we can introduce bedtime routines. This helps babies learn to cue in to what is coming next. As they approach 2 or 3, it’s time to actively involve them in creating a bedtime and morning routine.

Here is what that might look like: Ask your child what all the things are that we need to do to get ready for bed. Take a picture of all of the steps in your bedtime routine. Little ones love to do this. You can “play” bedtime at another time of day and walk through the steps taking pictures along the way. Make a sign with all the pictures and with the step written underneath. Older kids will get a kick out of this too. Ask them to be a reporter writing a story about bedtime. They can even take the pictures themselves. Other options are drawing the pictures, cutting them out of magazines or using clipart on the computer. Whichever way you do it, make it fun. Same steps should be used for creating a morning routine.

Setting a routine is not the only part of building up to taking responsibility for getting ready in the morning. We need to be encouraging our children from as young as possible to do the things they can for themselves. Often we want our child to get dressed but we haven’t spent the time coaching and encouraging them on how to get their clothes on and off, where the laundry goes, and all the other little pieces along the way. When we start young, we can build these skills one at a time and help them feel confident in their ability to do their part. If we expect too much at once, children can be easily overwhelmed and decide that they are not capable.

Another area that we get in to trouble as parents is that we hover, nag and tell kids what to do only to give in and do it for them when we feel the time crunch. This tells our children that they don’t need to do something until we have asked many times and if they wait long enough, we will do it for them out of frustration.

When its time to get ready, let the routine be the boss. This is a key component of Positive Discipline parenting. If we all know the steps in the routine, we, as parents, don’t have to get on our high horse and step into lasso mode. When your 3 year old goes running off to play instead of brushing teeth, you have a script on the wall showing her the steps. Take a deep breath and say, “What needs to happen next so we can get to school on time?” or “Lets look at our chart together, what comes next?” It is interesting to watch what happens when we stop nagging and start treating our children as partners in the dance.

We also need to acknowledge our part in morning challenges. We often base our wake up time on how much time it would take an adult to do the tasks we expect our children to do. When the inevitable wrench gets thrown in to the mix, we have no cushion built in. When we get stressed, our kids do too. If we are yelling down the hall to get out of bed, get dressed and are running around frantic, its easy for a child to feel lost in the shuffle and overwhelmed themselves. That’s the time we see misbehavior showing up. Allow yourself more time. We quickly realized that getting up 15 minutes earlier created much calmer mornings for the whole house. I love sleep, but the benefits of cooperative kids in the morning way outweighed that 15 minutes of sleep.

When we take time for training, involve our children in the creation of morning routines and let the routine be the boss, the need for rewards and punishments becomes unnecessary. Rewards and punishments teach our children to do what we say to make us happy and feel loved and connected. Most children do not learn, understand, or value the behavior that they are being bribed or threatened to do. They simply “perform” in order to earn the reward or avoid what was threatened (AKA a punishment). Ideally, we want children to be able to behave without us always needing to intervene. By bribing and threatening, we actually decrease the likelihood they will replicate the behaviors we value again on their own. We actually discourage the valued behavior. Research has shown that children lose interest in tasks that they receive extrinsic (external) rewards for.

What time should my child go to bed? How do I get them to go right to sleep? What if they keep getting up?

Many children today are so scheduled, that they are not getting enough sleep. Up until age 12, most children require 10-11 hours of sleep a night. The time they go to bed is equally important. Children with late bedtimes often have greater difficulty falling asleep, more frequent night waking, wake up too early in the morning and get less sleep overall.

Bedtime should be consistent as well. Consistent, early bedtimes are linked to better grades in school, better overall behavior, greater memory and increased learning.

One challenge many parents face is endless delays of bedtime. As I have witnessed our bedtime successes and struggles over the years, I have a theory on why this time of day is so hard: There is a mismatch in what parents and children want at that time of day. Parents are tired. We have made it through dinner and know that clean up, lunch packing, our own chores are all still waiting for us. If we can just get the kids to bed, we may even get a chance to relax before it’s time for us to go to bed.

What about the kids? They may not have had much time with us if they have been in school or childcare. They have some food in their bellies and your focused attention. There are no phones or computer distracting us and they finally can have some quality time with mom and dad. No wonder they want to keep that going as long as possible. Add in some books and cuddle time, and now they are relaxed and ready to really connect, just as we are halfway out the door.

So there it is. Parents are ready to say goodnight and get some time to themselves, children are in a calmer place and want more time with their parents. This mismatch of needs creates anxiety in both parent and child and can lead to endless bedtime struggles. From running away when it’s time to brush teeth to a litany of requests for water, hugs, more light, less light, missing teddy bear, and more

Your biggest tool is that bedtime routine. Again, so important to make sure there is adequate time for all of the parts. Be mindful of that as you set up your bedtime routine. Make sure there is ample time for connecting and cuddling. I find this is often a time of day my children likes to share deeper thoughts and feelings she is having. This often causes the show to end a little too late though. We realized by starting the bedtime process a few minutes earlier, we could fit this in and still meet all of our needs. We also have asked her more thought provoking questions at dinner in hopes of creating another time for her to share and connect.

Help your child by ensuring that the time before bed is relaxed and calm, as this will aid kids in easily falling to sleep.

Got some tips to share? We would love to hear them!