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Weekday and weekend, our son wakes up so early!
Q: My 4½-year-old son wakes up every morning at 5:00 or 5:30 a m., weekday or weekend. It's draining on my husband and I and we've tried everything! In the beginning we would alternate getting up with him, but as he got older we decided to try other things. We've tried keeping him up very late. We've left cereal on the table for him to eat and then we return to bed. We've bribed him to sleep longer. I even threatened to put a child-proof door handle on the inside of his door so he couldn't get out. Sometimes he'll get his step stool or a kitchen chair to get into the cabinets or refrigerator. Any suggestions?
A: Sleep patterns are very difficult to change. There are “early risers” and “late risers,” and most of us resist efforts to get us to abandon our chosen pattern. It sounds as though your son has one pattern and you and your husband have the other, and that’s a bad fit. But try to remember that it’s just as it’s hard for your son to sleep late as it is for you and your husband to wake up early.

I’d work on this problem from both ends—your son, and you and your husband. Let’s start with you and your husband. If you know you’re going to be awakened every morning at 5:00 or 5:30, have you considered going to bed an hour early? If so, chances are you would be ready to wake up closer to the time your son wakes up.

Now let’s go to your son. Rather than try to make him sleep later, I’d let him get up when his biological alarm clock rings but set limits as to what he can do while he’s up. I like the idea of putting out cereal for him, and I’d set a small pitcher or measuring cup of milk on a low refrigerator shelf where he can reach it by himself. Then you make a deal with him that, after he eats his cereal (or muffin or toast or whatever), he is to go quietly back to his room and stay there until you get up. He may play quietly with his toys, look at books, etc., but not wander around the house, not come into your bedroom and try to make you get up, and not make a lot of noise. Depending on how your house is arranged, I might add that he could watch TV (with the volume low); there are a number of children’s cartoons on early in the morning in most cities. Each day that this works, give him some little reward— and offer a special treat if he makes it through a whole week!

Finally, no matter how desperate for sleep you get, don’t put a child-proof lock on the inside of his door. That’s an invitation to tragedy. An extra hour of sleep isn’t worth it.