When can kids wake up by themselves?
January 1, 2013 10:15 AM   Subscribe

So what do you do when your young child wakes up in the morning?

There's a lot of discussion online about how to get children to sleep through the night. That's not my problem. My daughter, now 16 months old, sleeps through the night pretty well most nights. The problem here is that "through the night" means roughly 8PM to 5:30AM. And then she wakes up, and it's dark out, and she starts crying until someone (me) comes to hang out with her.

I don't need to know how to get her to go back to sleep, she just slept 10 hours, she's not going to. What I'd like is for her to be able to entertain herself in the morning until someone comes to get her. She's pretty good at entertaining herself during the day, as long as someone's in the room with her. She's just been playing by herself here in the living room as I write this. I know she's still young, and so maybe it's to early for this, but how and when can I expect her to wake up without screaming for me? I honestly don't really care what she does for an hour in the morning as long as I can stay in bed. And yes, maybe this takes another year, but at least if I knew typical ages for this, I'd have some expectations.
posted by tylerkaraszewski to Human Relations (36 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You mention the fact that it's still dark; does she have some sort of night light or automatic light that could go on at 5:30am or something to make it not so scary to wake up on her own? Also, does she need to be changed as soon as she gets up? That might have a lot to do with it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:19 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

but how and when can I expect her to wake up without screaming for me

dunno, my kids 7 and while she does not scream in fear first thing she does is come wake me up, jump on the bed, make some percussion instrument to wake me up, whatever it takes so we play "make coffee" or some other lovely 5AM game.
posted by H. Roark at 10:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

Is she in a crib, or can she get out and play in her room? Maybe with a babygate across the doorway, so you don't have to worry about her wandering around the house?
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:34 AM on January 1, 2013

It's a little young, but do you have a spare iPhone? Or, tell her it's time to read books by herself?
posted by leahwrenn at 10:35 AM on January 1, 2013

16 months is a ways out from this, but when I (chronic earlybird) was 3ish my mom started leaving me a fancy, cute breakfast (well, maybe just cereal in a little box, but she'd write a cute note or draw a picture, arrange fruit into the shape of a smiley face, etc to make it exciting) and sometimes a little toy (about like a Mcdonald's happy meal figurine.) And we had an understanding that I could watch cartoons after that, since this was usually Saturday. I think this worked pretty well.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:36 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, as of five years old one family I know is still struggling with this. There is a live-in grandma so sometimes the girl will bug her instead. Teaching the kid to make coffee (they have a Keurig) or "straighten up" or some other not-horrible morning chore that makes her feel useful and appreciated helps. But for the most part they've resigned themselves to accepting it as part of having a kid.
posted by schroedinger at 10:39 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our first son, when he was that age, tended to wake up at any time from 4am to 6am. By the time he was two, he was sleeping until at least 7. Our younger son has consistently slept 12 hours from 7 to 7 since he was a few months old. Often we have to wake him up. So it varies from child to child, and it changes over time.

We've always used blackout blinds and a little orangey-coloured nightlight that gives just enough illumination to be reassuring. The idea is that changes in the length of daylight won't affect sleep patterns much. At some point you might consider introducing a Gro Clock or similar - a clock that lights up blue during sleep time, then changes to a yellow sun when it's time to get up. It works really well, after a little prompting.

You can't realistically expect a child of 16 months to entertain herself in the morning. You might just have to adjust your own sleeping habits so that you're up and about at the same time she is.
posted by pipeski at 10:39 AM on January 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

It sounds counter-intuitive, but I am sometimes able to get my kids to sleep later in the morning if I put them to bed earlier. Try putting her down at 7:30 and see if that helps.
posted by sutel at 10:41 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have my doubts that leaving a snack or a game for her would work. At that age, she's still wanting Daddy to come make her feel better about waking up in the dark. I would try the nightlight or the Gro Light thing first. Also, does she have stuffed animals with her? That might help comfort her so that waking up isn't so stressful.

When Tiny Stomper wakes up earlier than normal (he's 14 months old and usually wakes up between 6:30 and 7:30) my choices are either to try to ignore it and let him fuss until I get those precious last few minutes of sleep that give me the moral fortitude to deal with him; or to go get him immediately, hold him/ nurse for a while, and then take him to the baby-proofed zone in the basement. I sleep on the couch for another hour or so while he plays by himself, which he's usually happy to do so long as it's warm and he's already nursed. The drawback to this arrangement is that he's really, really good at finding any paper or dishes or forbidden items that have been carelessly left in the babyproofed zone and wreaking havoc with them while I sleep. It's always interesting to wake up to find a swath of toilet paper scraps and cheese crackers across the entire basement floor.
posted by daisystomper at 10:46 AM on January 1, 2013

Can you set up an alarm clock or a phone or something that plays the sound of your voice? Maybe you can record yourself reading her favorite book? Or maybe some gentle music?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:48 AM on January 1, 2013

Ahahahahahahaha..... Ahem.

I think you're either going to have to suck it up or start fiddling with her entire sleep schedule. You might try adjusting bedtime to be a little earlier and see if that helps. I've been tinkering with bedtime for over a year and my 2 1/2 yr old comes to give me (wet, slobbery) good morning kisses between 5 and 6 every morning of my life. Why he doesn't go round to his dad.....
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:49 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't want to give her a nightlight that turns on at 5:30, as it seems to encourage what I don't want: waking up early. Sometimes she sleeps past 6, and I don't want to discourage this by turning on lights earlier. Besides, she doesn't seem to be afraid of the dark, she just doesn't like being left alone. Currently, when she wakes up before 6, I won't even come turn on the light, I'll just lay next to her in the dark and rest quietly until 6 or whenever she starts running around the room and climbing on things, whichever is later, but usually she'll lay there with me mostly quietly for a while.

She sleeps on a mattress on the floor, not in a crib, so she can get up and move around the room as she likes, but she can't turn the doorknob to let herself out.

She does wake up with a wet diaper, but the degree to which this actually bothers her doesn't seem to be very high.

She will gladly "read" books or play games or try to dress herself quietly as long as I'm in there with her and turn the lights on, but if I don't respond to her calls for "dada" from the other room, she'll start crying for me in a minute or two.

Maybe I can try putting her to bed half an hour later and see if that helps (I know someone suggested earlier rather than later, but we moved it back once before and if moved the time she wakes up back as well), the only problem with this is u really only get about an hour of quiet time to myself in the evening each day and I'm reluctant to give that up.

As far as things like making coffee or giving her an iPhone - she's 16 months old, not three years. Maybe I just have to wait.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:55 AM on January 1, 2013

Maybe leave the door not quite closed? Mine started sleeping in his toddler bed at 17 months and he would just get up and come to our room. Sometimes I could get him to go back to sleep with nursing and sometimes he'd get a cartoon on the iPad. I feel your pain on the early wake up. We went through it for months. It's a victory when he sleeps past 6:30 still at 26 months.
posted by chiababe at 11:03 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Congratulations - you have a morning person!

With our now-4-year-old, we left the door open once he was walking and he would come to our bedroom and get in bed with us. Sometimes he even falls asleep again there, especially when we're too zonked to respond. Most of the time we either hand over the ipad (now) or let him loose on youtube kids videos (then) until we're ready to get up. I know that's not ideal, but it becomes his only screen time of the day, so we're okay with it.

We also had some luck once he knew his numbers -- we have big digital clocks in his and our rooms and by around that age we taught him that when the first number gets to 7, he could ask for his morning milk.

And yeah, he's still up regularly at 5:30-6 even now - some kids are just wired that way, I guess. We try to see it as a good thing that we'll never have to worry about getting him out in time for school - at least till he's a teenager.
posted by Mchelly at 11:11 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you get her a clapper or touchlamp she can turn on by herself?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:27 AM on January 1, 2013

from around 2 to this present day, our daughter gets up, comes to our room, and cuddles in bed with the ipad while the two of us spend 30-45 minutes waking up. It isn't ideal, because we aren't totally asleep, but it works for us.

Is she taking one or two naps during the day? Our daughter dropped her second nap at around that age, and it meant longer sleeping at night - more like 7:30-6:30 generally. Our daughter def. fell into the "put her to bed earlier, she'll sleep later" category.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:39 AM on January 1, 2013

We do co-sleeping with our 3yo. He sleeps from 8:30 until 7:30, although sometimes he'll wake up early. We leave it as long as we can but eventually submit and get up to make breakfast. Us going to bed earlier helps.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:34 PM on January 1, 2013

Hi, father of two older kids here (11 and 8). Your daughter is still a (very) small child. You are not just her parent, you are her world. She will grow out of this phase, but probably not for a while. In the meantime your mornings will start early. Sorry, but that's just the way this is going to go, at least for the next year or so. That was our experience, anyway. Short of hiring a live-in nanny, I don't think there's anything you can do about it. Most kids get up with the sun, and most little kids want attention from their mommy (first), and daddy (a distant or at best grudging second). I'm a night owl and didn't like this situation myself when we had to experience it, but it did eventually get better. But not until the kids were at least several years older.
posted by mosk at 12:53 PM on January 1, 2013 [16 favorites]

Isn't this what cartoons are for? You can sleep through bugs bunny while she lays beside you and giggles. She'll grow out of it... Sleep will come again...
posted by pearlybob at 1:03 PM on January 1, 2013

She's pretty good at entertaining herself during the day, as long as someone's in the room with her.

From the question and your follow up it seems like your actual problem is that your child can't handle being alone. I would suggest your work on that during the day (like leave her alone for five minutes at first until she gets used to it and then maybe increasing the time as she gets used to being alone) and maybe it'll transfer over to her waking up.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:12 PM on January 1, 2013

My son or daughter was the same way (they are both this way now, so I'm not sure who it started with), but we found just bringing them into our room in the early morning helped. We'd already have books and toys stuffed in basket beside our bed, so we'd give them the toys and tell them to play while we slept. They'd either sit happily between us on the bed with their basket or they'd fall asleep for awhile with us. Either way it guaranteed another 30-60 minutes of "sleep".

That's the only suggestion I have and it still works (ages 4&5).
posted by Sweetmag at 1:26 PM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sixteen months is not a reasonable age to expect a child to happily entertain herself unsupervised. What is? I don' t know; probably around the age when she' s old enough to apply some of the other suggestions (toys, cartoons, breakfast) and she won' t get herself into trouble. Plenty of much older kids (and adults!) would not be happy waking up alone and stuck in their bedroom.

Try to tweak her schedule, or bring her to cuddle in bed with you, or set up a childproof play area with somewhere for you to nap close by, but that' s about all you can do. I feel your pain, I have a two year old who still doesn't' t sleep through the night yet and I' d love to trade problems.
posted by celtalitha at 1:37 PM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Whoever was designated Getter Upper that morning got up whenever he did. If it was really early, we'd try to go back to sleep snuggled with him. If it wasn't, or that didn't work, well then it was snuggling on the couch eating a banana or other breakfast item and watching PBS Kids until Mom or Dad had the wherewithal to get up, or, on weekends, tagged-in the still sleeping parent and then went back to bed.

These days, he grabs the iPad and plays Angry Birds till we are ready to get up/turn on cartoons. One of us makes sure he gets breakfast but otherwise leaves him to his own devices. This didn't become the norm until age 6; before that he was "too lonely, Mom!!!" Of course on school days, we all get up early so there's no issue. But unless he's sick, this child has never slept past 8am his entire life. Maybe when he hits adolescence.

16 months? You have a ways to go. If you had an older sibling to play with them, maybe not so long, but otherwise, resign yourself to a few years of someone having to get up early every morning.
posted by emjaybee at 1:48 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

We just started working with our 22 month old on this. He loves, loves books, so letting him play with whatever novel I'm reading gets a reliable period of dozing for the adults. But this all happens in our bed, which is also where he sleeps.
posted by linettasky at 2:09 PM on January 1, 2013

Hmm, mosk makes good points. I have 7 and 10 year olds and they still come get me first thing and will lie in my bed with me talking until I get up. Neither has ever needed as much sleep as the books say. When they were smaller I would put them to bed later so they got up a bit later and more in line with when I wanted to wake. As for how much they want to be alone, this is related to their personality. The only thing that ever really worked for me to get more sleep was a video or television show. Really having kids is so so inconvenient.
posted by kimmae at 2:35 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Around about 20 months our daughter started getting just the hints of a little more self-reliance. I think you have a clingy stage coming up and then things will start to get a bit more interesting and manageable. We just transitioned to a "big girl" bed and it has been HELL. I mean, now she's 24+ months and she just gets out of bed and wanders in at least twice a night because she can work the doorknobs, too. Sometimes we haul her in with us and she goes to sleep. Or, like this morning at 4:20, I haul her in and she kicks me in the ribs and tries to lay her head on my head until 5 a.m. in which I take her back to her bed (and sleep in a nearby twin) until about 7:30 or so.

However, we can tell her now: "It's too early and it's not time to get up yet, we have more sleeping to do" and she'll sort of stay settled and quiet and she'll try to sleep. We are contemplating doing a little bed on the floor next to our bed but haven't tried it yet and there's no way she, at 16 months or 18 months, would have been able to do that.

And, if it's 7 and we are still wanting some sleep (it's vacation!), then we have some Curious George on our iPad but no way are we doing that at 4 a.m!

So, my advice: hang on. Things are going to change. Put these tips in your back pocket and just know that the consensus is: It sucks and we all deal with it.
posted by amanda at 2:47 PM on January 1, 2013

My son is 11 months and on really bad mornings I put a blanket over my head and lie on his floor while he plays.
posted by HMSSM at 2:58 PM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Little Llama started hanging around by herself when she woke up at around three, I think, although she did it sporadically earlier. I think that 16 months is too early for high expectations in this regard, but you can do some things that will make it easier later, like always make sure her room is a place of safety and independence, help her learn to turn the lights on and so forth. Little Llama always had a charging plate of those little electric votive candles (I don't think she learned to pop these out and turn them on until later than 16 months, but we put them throughout the room and they're comforting), she had flashlights, a bunch of friendly stuffed animals, and full, easy, immediate access to us, so she was never super concerned about being alone because she could just go get us. So it was always a 'no pressure' situation.

Two other things that might help in the short term: you can try to wear her out more -- a long warm bath, extra time running around, that sort of thing; or you can bump up the bed time.

You can also make very sure that nothing untoward is waking her up unexpectedly early, like television from a neighbor's place, or your own walking around and getting coffee. If either of those things is the case, get a white noise generator--ours was and is really helpful in instilling 'now is time for sleep'.

The other thing is I think you want to figure out when you want her to get up and try to stick with it--like if you want her up at 6:30, ritualize 6:30 with the end of white noise, up come the lights, dad gets coffee, baby gets a bottle or some cereal or particular music comes on--all so that you can have this kind of theater going of this exciting event that is "6:30". Those sensory cues saved our asses.

So: ritualizing, scheduling, and confidence building.

And in the meantime you have my total and complete sympathy. Getting kids to do what you want sleep-wise is hard work.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:08 PM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, yes, seconding a white-noise generator. We used an airfilter in the hallway outside the kids' room, and it seemed to help.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:09 PM on January 1, 2013

I don't need to know how to get her to go back to sleep, she just slept 10 hours, she's not going to.

Also, for what it's worth, I don't think it's weird for little kids to rock more than ten hours. It seems huge to you and me, but they buzz through life like hummingbirds. Little Llama sleeps eleven to twelve hours most nights, at four years old, roughly 7:30 PM *looks at clock in anticipation* through 6:30 AM. We're less ritualized than we used to be, she's older and in school now, and we have been getting up later lately ourselves (we used to get up at 5 and she'd still be asleep--it was the only time to have a peaceful cup of coffee).

But it's not at all weird for her to sleep twelve hours. So you might want to talk to your pediatrician about what's normal or optimal for kids' sleep (I don't know what's normal, just what happens in our family.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:27 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sadly, I don't think there is much you can do at 16 mos. We were never able to do anything to change wake up time at that age with our kids. When she is a little older (maybe after turning 2 years old) you can get one of those clocks that will change colors at a time set by you, like 6:30, and tell her she is to play quietly in her room until the light turns green. Use a sticker chart where she gets a sticker each day she waits until the green light, if necessary with a reward associated with getting a certain number of stickers. Won't change the wake up time, but lets you get more sleep...
posted by Mallenroh at 4:41 PM on January 1, 2013

I feel your pain.

My daughter is only 11-months-old (tomorrow!) so I don't know, but would a bunny alarm clock work at this age? (She can wake you up when the bunny's awake but not before?) And does she have books in her bed? I've seen that work with a 13-month-old.
posted by semacd at 4:53 PM on January 1, 2013

It's not reasonable to expect her to be alone in the dark without being scared and upset. Sorry. When our son does this, we go lie down with him and it sucks but it is what it is.

We also put our son down at 6:00 to 6:30 so we get much more alone time and he wakes up at 5:30 too. I'm sorry that an earlier bedtime doesn't seem to work for you, sleep is so damn frustrating.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:30 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our toddler did that too at 16 months. For some reason, she just started sleeping later once who hit 18 months. Babies.

I don't think you can change it, but in terms of coping, what worked for us was just bringing her into the bed with us until 6:30 or so.

I actually think that 8-5:30 is not quite enough sleep at that age. If she's otherwise a calm baby but wakes up crying, she may actually ne overtired.

I'd try moving it back to 7:30 and if she wakes up earlier (before 5am), try to get her back to sleep via comforting or sleep training, depending on your comfort level. I've found that it's easier to get a our toddler back to sleep when there's still a couple of hours until morning.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:49 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

My early riser is closing in on 7 years old and still gets up at 6ish every single morning. This is great on schooldays, horrible on weekends. Bringing him in bed with me just gets me non stop talking and ocassional kicks in the ribs. The only way he would leave me semi-alone when he was younger was if I was lying on the couch and let him watch TV. Not ideal but sometimes very, very necessary. My best advice is to go to bed early and embrace your new schedule.

By the time he was about 4, maybe 4.5 we had worked out a deal: he stays in his room until at least 6am, then he sneaks downstairs and can watch TV or (now) play minecraft or the new DS he got for Xmas until I wake up. As soon as he wakes me up the TV/computer go off. So yeah, I still use screens. But I get to sleep in on the weekend and it's worth every dead brain cell in his head.
posted by Cuke at 7:05 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

My boys are both early risers (6am is pretty much as late as we are going to get out of each of them). It sucks, but we just adjusted our time line so that when they woke up, we got up. We tried going to bed earlier, or later, and neither worked. They were going to wake up when they wanted to. Once the one got old enough (about 2-3 years) we got him a clock that changed colors at a set time, and we said that he couldn't get out of bed until that clock changed colors. However, we couldn't use this to sleep really late, but were able to set it at 6am and have him accept that. That's the best we could do.
posted by katers890 at 6:45 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

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