i you have a toddler in the family, like
I do, chances are you're woken up way too I early every morning, roused by the voice oi' a tiny child who's burning with energy and hungry to boot. And you probably already know that sound machines, room-darkening shades, and bedtime adjustments won't necessarily solve the problem. Young kids are wired to wake up with the sun.
But here's what you may not know: Just because your kid's awake doesn't mean you have to be. Experts say that, depending on their temperament and maturity level, many kids are able to fend for themselves in the morning, at least for a short time, by age 3. In fact, even some 2-year-olds can play quietly in their rooms. You've simply got to train them.
My sister-in-law, who has four children, has done just that. Her littlest ones, ages 4 and 2, know they can't leave their rooms until there's a 7 on the clock. Then they find bowls of dry cereal waiting on the kitchen table. Tiny stickers show them which buttons to press on the remote control to fire up
By Michelle Crouch their favorite movie. And Mom, blissfully, sleeps until 8 a.m.
To get to that point, you'll have to do a bit of work, and take some precautions (see "Keeping It Safe," page 84). Most important, says Ari Brown, M.D., author of Toddler 411, before you start, ask yourself; Do I trust my child when my back is turned? Think about whether she always follows instructions—and so might be ready for a little more independence—or tends to get into mischief, in which case it might be best to wait. Make sure you childproof the area where your early bird wil I be, and that she understands it's okay to wake you in an emergency. Then let the training begin.
"Consistency is the main tiling," advises Lawrence Shapiro, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Norwalk, CT, and author of A Parent's Guide to Getting Kids Out of the Family Bed, "Try it three or four times, and most kids will learn to love it."
The benefits, he adds, won't only be yours. "This is not just about Mom and Dad sleeping for another hour," Shapiro says. "It's about giving your child a chance to learn how to entertain himself, how to make breakfast. That's good for him."
Step I > Teach her about time
The first things your child needs to learn are when it's okay to get out of bed and when it's okay to come wake you up.
> BYTHENUMBERS Put adigital clock inyour child's room, then put masking tape over the minutes (so it's less confusing). Tell her, for example, that she can get out of bed and play quietly in her room once there's a ft on the clock, but she can't leave the room until there's a 7. Too young to recognize numbers? Draw a picture of the right times on a folded index card and place it next to the clock so she can match them.
> TO A TUNE If telling time is too difficult, set an alarm clock to play the radio or your child's favorite CD at, say, 7 a.m., suggests Sarah Hansel, a mom in Eldridge, IA, When her 3-year-old twins wake her too early, she brings them back to their room, saying she'll see them when the music starts.
"The first couple of times, they cried," she says, "but wc stuck to it, and it only took a few days before they got it."
> BY THE HALF-LIGHT Tryputtingadimlamp onatimer,soit won't wake your child if she's sleeping. Or checkout the Good Nite Lite (goodnitelite.com; $34.99), aproduct designed by a dad whose child kept getting up at 5 a .m. Itglows like a sun when it's okay to get out of bed and like a moon when it's still nighttime.
Step2 > Keep him entertained
Some especially self-reliant children might be able to find ways to amuse themselves, but most will need a little inspiration.
> WAKE-UP-TfME TOYS Fill a bin with quiet playthings, such as puzzles and sticker books, and rotate them so there's always something interesting. Explain to your child that these arc "special morning toys" that he can play with only before he wakes you up. Then sneak into his room after he's asleep and leave the box waiting for him on the floor,
> HIS OWN "PLAY" LIST Makeadigital recording of yourself reading your child's favorite stories or singing songs he loves, get an audiobook from the library, or pickup a podcast online.
Then show him how to turn on the player himself. > A CRAFT SURPRISE On the weekends, Ridgewood, NJ, mom of four Nicki Bosch puts out the supplies for an easy-to-do craft project. "I tell them that when they wake up, there's going to he a super-secret project in the kitchen for them, and that they can surprise Mommy and Daddy with it once they're done," she says. "They're so excited about it that they go to bed happily the night before, and it affords us at least an extra hour of sleep."
Is jour child readyfor morning "alone time?
Daring the day, he can play quietly by himself for 20 to 40 > minutes if you're on the computer, making dinner, or taking a shower.
She understands it's okay to wake you if she gets hurt or something spills, but it's not okay to surprise you by cooking breakfast.
He's able to wait for things, such as when you tell him he 1 can have dessert in five minutes.
She can follow mult ¡step directions, and her preschool > teacher or other caretaker describes her as a rule follower.
He wants todo "big kid" things.
He thinks it's funny to turn on the appliances or leave the > house when you're not looking.
She has separation issues and cries or gets anxious when '' you leave the room.
He has trouble with self-control. If you tell him to eat his sandwich before his cookie, what will he do when you leave the room?
She has trouble playing by herself.
His preschool teacher or caretaker describes him as "demanding" or "mischievous."
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Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.