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Grumpy in the Morning

As soon as your tween gets a wake-up nudge, he becomes a beast -- stomping into the kitchen, refusing to put on his "stupid" clothes. But before you chastise him, know this: It's not all his fault.

"Starting around puberty, there's an underlying shift in a child's sleep and waking patterns," says Judy Owens, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital. This means that your child is going to get sleepy later than he used to (10:30 instead of 8:30, say), but since he still needs his ten hours of zzz's a night, his body's preferred wake-up time is actually more like 8:30 a.m.—an hour or two later than the usual weekday time. To lighten up his morning mood:

  • Ease him into bedtime. Homework, TV, computer games, phone chats—the combination can leave him too wired to drift off, says Dr. Owens. Shut it all down at least a half hour before bedtime and let him read his way to dreamland.
  • Be consistent. It's actually not possible to "make up" for lost sleep by, say, snoozing later on Saturdays. "In fact, it makes the problem worse by throwing the body clock further off," says Dr. Owens. Let your kid have a looser schedule on weekends, but ideally he should be going to bed and waking up only an hour later than during the week. (Good luck!)
  • Can the caffeine. Or at least get your kid to cut back. Until the U.S. follows Europe's lead and bans caffeine-loaded energy drinks for children under 12, you'll have to keep an eye out for them yourself. Some brands, like Rockstar and Monster, have 160 milligrams per 16-ounce can, equivalent to a few cups of coffee.
  • Back to those mornings: don't overreact. Unless he's being totally rude, just ignore your tween's bad temper. Then speak to him (when he's in a better mood) about appropriate ways to vent.