My kids have been trying to wake up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. for the past two weeks! This weekend the time falls back an hour and I have been terrified. Are they going to wake up at 4 in the morning? I had to figure something out.
I have been fighting with my three year old for months now on every sleep occasion — staying in bed in the morning, staying in bed for nap, and staying in bed at nighttime. I was exhausted and angry and fed up. I’d tried clocks and bribing and consequences, but he refused to stay in bed.
He is a strong-willed child, and I’ve read in a few different places that guiding strong-willed children requires you to find their motivation. That is the only way to succeed with them, because punishment is only an obstacle to them of getting what they want. In a lot of cases, no discipline is strong enough to deter him. Instead, I need to find his motivation. And in this case it was stickers.
After one particular nap war, in a furious state, I drew a rudimentary chart for stickers, rewarding him for staying in bed. And to my complete shock, it worked. It took a day of him realizing that I truly would not give him a sticker if he got up (except to go to the bathroom), but it worked. I had to help him focus his raw determination toward earning a sticker instead of staying out of bed.
I told him that if he got 10 stickers on his chart he could pick out a toy from the dollar store. He was hooked.
After I saw that my hand-drawn chart worked, I designed on one the computer, because … well, I like to design things! You can download and print it too if you like. Click the chart for the high-resolution version.
Here’s one without nap time, in case your jumping bean is gone during the day or is in the works of kicking that nap to the curb (which, sadly, is what is happening over here):
There are a couple other things I’m using in tandem with the chart, in case you are in the trenches of your own stay-in-bed war.
1. Consistent bedtime routine
We do the same thing every time before going to bed:
- go the the bathroom
- wash up/brush teeth
- change (when it’s nighttime)
- read a short book
- sing a short song
- say a prayer
This takes about 5 to 10 minutes. He doesn’t even ask me for more because we do the same thing each and every time and I am very serious about bedtime!
2. OK to wake clock
I bought them both OK to Wake owls (affiliate link) that turn green when it’s time to get up. Luca has had one for awhile now, but I recently splurged and got Adri one too. I was leaving him in his crib until 6 (what my husband and I would at least like wake up time to be) even if he was fussing, hoping he would get the message. He did not get the message, so I got him an owl too. And he’s actually getting it now and playing until it’s green.
Before the sticker chart, Luca knew to wait until the owl is green to wake us up, but most of the time he just couldn’t help himself and came out of his room anyway. Now with the nightlight timer and sticker chart together, he’s on board.
(In case you think you might want to try an alarm clock nightlight setup, read the reviews on Amazon. The Onaroo Night Owl works for us, but there are different opinions online as to parents’ favorites.)
(And in case your wondering why we don’t just put him to bed later, we’ve tried. Multiple times. Last time we tried consistently for two weeks, and he still woke up at 5:30/6, only he was sleep-deprived and completely breaking down all day. For whatever reason, he’s just an early riser.)
3. Wall clock with hands
The owl works for morning time, but what about naps? Some days Luca actually goes to sleep and some days he doesn’t, but I want him to stay in there one hour for quiet time either way. This mom needs an hour a day to herself!
Telling him I would get him up in hour wasn’t good enough for him. Could I be trusted? (Probably not.) So I bought him a wall clock with minute and hour hands. I showed him how the minute hand works and told him it has to go all the way around before he can get up. I put an arrow Post-it to the number it need to land on.
It’s good visual for him to see how much time he has left, that it’s not a never-ending period of time. And then, of course, he will get his sticker. I’ve found that without the fuss of our nap time arguments, he goes to bed calm and sleeps more often than not.
This clock is from Target, and makes some ticking noise but not too loud. It doesn’t bother him.
Does every kid need this elaborate set up? I’m sure not! But this has made big progress in the sleep department at our house. I feel much more peaceful and in control. And Luca feels great about himself with all the positive reinforcement from Mom and Dad’s praises and looking at his full sticker chart. It’s honestly made a big difference in our relationship, not fighting about sleep three times a day.
This is what is working for us this month. Who knows what will work next month in kid world, right? If you have any sleep-training advice that has worked for your family, please share! I’d love to hear.