How Do I Get my Toddler to Stay in Their Room Past 5 am?
5:30 am: The windows are dark and you’re staring into space with a cup of coffee in your hand while your child eats their bowl of cereal, wondering how it came to this. There was a time when you never got up until at least half an hour after sunrise. Why, oh why, you ask yourself, did I stay up till 11 last night? I should have gone to bed at 9! Or maybe 8!
We all want to have some adult time to ourselves, and it’s necessary to being a good parent. Going to bed at 8 pm isn’t really an option. We need those precious evening hours to reconnect with our spouse, binge on Netflix, and enjoy that pint of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream we’ve been hoarding behind the frozen peas.
I hope I can give you a practical idea today on how to put a stop to those cold, dark mornings.
You may have noticed that toddlers and preschoolers don’t really understand clocks. Enter the light-timer! Those little gadgets you use to turn your lights on and off at set times while you are on vacation can extend your sleep another good hour at least. Set the timer to, say, 7 am. Plug a small, dim lamp or a string of Christmas lights into it. Use your common sense to position the string of lights in your child’s room where they won’t be a choking hazard. You want something that isn’t too bright, so that it won’t actually wake your child up if they happen to be asleep when it comes on. Tell your child they must stay in their room (or not yell for you from behind the baby gate) until the lights turn on in the morning. Or, until they turn off- my four year old likes his string of lights as a nightlight. They look quite cheery at night around his window.
I find it helpful to prepare a “morning box” of interesting things they can play with when they wake up. You could keep a special stash of stuff that you rotate for the morning box and they only get to play with it in those wee hours of the morning when decent folk are in bed. Put the box in their room by their bed before you retire. My mother tells me that a snack-box of raisins did wonders for keeping my early-bird sister occupied. My sister must have been very good about eating the raisins and not leaving them in interesting locations around the room for future discovery.
What you are going to do if they ignore the lights and call out for you to let them come out of their room before their proper time? It’s always best to have your plan worked out before you start a project like this so you don’t turn into Mommy Monster at 5 am yelling incoherent things about lights and sleep and inconsiderate toddlers. I know I’m never at my most patient, thoughtful self early in the morning. I’ve used a variety of techniques to encourage compliance:
- Sticker chart for each day they play quietly in their room till the lights come on/turn off, with some reward for 5 straight nights.
- Early nap time with the explanation “you didn’t stay in your room until the lights came on, so you need extra sleep today.”
- Special/favorite breakfast (bagels, waffles, etc) for days they stay in their room late enough. Otherwise, it’s cereal for you, kid.
One last note: if your child is potty-training or newly trained, you’re still going to have to get up when they do to put them on the toilet. Tell them it’s okay to call when they wake up and have to pee. But *then* you can put them back in their room and relish the feeling of getting back in your cozy bed for a few more minutes!
And as for you poor souls who are saying to yourself: “Man, I’d love to have this problem. At least those kids are in their own rooms in their own beds and not kicking their parents in their bed all night.” We’ll have ideas coming soon for you, too.
Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (4/3/2017) leafhopper77 (Flickr)