If you have a toddler in the family, like I do, chances are you're woken up way too early every morning, roused by the voice of 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 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. 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 will be, and that she understands it's okay to wake you in an emergency. Then let the training begin.
"Consistency is the main thing," 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."