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Help! My Toddler Won't Wake Up in the Morning

Morning Wars: The Toddler Who Won’t Wake Up

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

I love your posts and advice, and have been following the blog since my 2 year old was born. I have a bit of an unusual issue I’m looking for some help with. I cannot get my daughter to wake up in the morning.

Her bedtime is between 7:15 and 7:45pm depending on how bath time goes. She typically naps between 2-3 hrs a day at daycare after lunch. My problem is this…we just moved to a new city for work, and while our schedule hasn’t changed, she is impossible to wake up. My husband has to be at work by 6:30 every day, and I have to be at work by 7:30am. We both work in construction. In order for me to make it, she needs to be up around 6:15am, and we have to be out the door by 6:40am. Lately we’ve been dealing with the nap strikes, and even the bed time stalling antics, but in the morning I really can’t let her rule the house. I’m due with #2 in a few months, and I’m worried if I don’t get some kind of morning routine that works this could be rough.

Our typical morning routine is such that I’m able to get ready and get everything in the car before I wake her up so I can focus totally on her and getting her out the door. She eats breakfast at daycare, so all we need to do is get up, go potty and get dressed. Some days this can take me 45 min or more, and the 3rd trimester bulge is making it harder to chase her down. One more thing to make it better, she is still in her crib, and she knows if she lays flat on her back, I can’t reach her without a stepstool (this is entertaining when I think about it, but not when I’m living it).

I removed the blackout curtains so the light is getting brighter in the morning, but that won’t work in the winter since we live in the NE. I’ve also tried playing some of her favorite tunes for a bit before trying to get her out of the crib, but lately all I hear when I start the music is “I still sleeping.” Or “Not this song.”

While most of your posts are about getting kids to sleep, any advice on how to get her moving in the mornings would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

As a fellow near-violently non-morning person, I have to sympathize a bit with your daughter here, although as a mother well-versed in the three-ring morning circus of “get up get up get UP move move MOVE” — I completely feel your pain as well.

Since her schedule hasn’t changed since your move, that suggests this might be mostly a behavioral/attention-seeking thing, which I typically recommend reacting to by reacting as little as possible. No pleading or cajoling or bribing with music/TV/breakfast treats, just go straight for the stepstool and get her out of the crib when it’s time for her to get out of the crib. “It’s time to get up now.” Not in five or 10 minutes, now. Honestly not all that different to how you’d react to a kid doing the same sort of stalling at bedtime, who wants one more story/kiss/drink of water. “Goodnight. It’s time to sleep now.” Lights off, parent OUT.

I’d also remove the “get dressed” step from the morning routine and have her sleep in her clothes for the next day. I usually did that anytime we knew we were going to have an extra-early morning (we had to catch a flight or had some super early morning appointment) and it worked GREAT. In your case, having her wake up dressed means you can simply pick her up, take her to the potty, then pick her up again and head directly out the door. (Not clear if she’s in pull-ups or nighttime diapers, but if she is, remove those in the bathroom and have a clean pair of underwear ready and waiting.) Toddler play clothes are generally pretty comfy and soft, and it’s not like they’re prone to overnight B.O. or anything. (In case of a diaper leakage or odor, I’d just swap the bottoms really quickly.) I wouldn’t do this with super fussy dresses or overalls, but a cotton shirt and soft shorts/leggings really aren’t much different that P.J.s.

Now, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to offer SOME incentive or reward for her cooperation in the morning. If she can recognize numbers on the clock in your car (or if not, some sort of visual timer or light-up clock), perhaps she can get a treat for the car ride to daycare. “Hooray! We got alllllll ready by six-four-zero! Here’s a yogurt smoothie/baggie of your favorite cereal/tablet with a Dora episode.” Whatever you’re comfortable with that you think might interest her — especially once she’s already out of bed and more awake than in the cozy warm crib, where those same incentives might not seem so…incentive-y. Make it more of a nice surprise (which she’ll like and then come to want every day), rather than a bribe made while you’re still inside the house (which she’ll reject with a hearty NOPE I SLEEPING).

In the winter, when the lights-through-the-curtains isn’t happening and she’s remaining more soundly asleep up until the last minute (and thus more heavy-rag-doll and harder to handle physically), get a light-up/wake-up clock that will gradually mimic a sunrise. They’re great. Combine this with the music or sound alarm to make sure she’s waking up 10 – 15 minutes before you retrieve her. But still — don’t expect her to willingly get up and get out of the crib herself. Just go straight to the stepstool and lifting her up as step one. If she starts rolling around or other antics to escape your grasp, move her to a toddler bed. (Which isn’t a bad idea for a toddler who’s using the potty anyway.)

(Is there any perceptible difference in the mornings after she’s gone to bed at 7:15 vs. 7:45? Getting a full 11 hours at night might be pretty critical for her, and worth sacrificing the occasional time in the bath, particularly in the winter in the Northeast. Too-frequent bathing in cold dry climates can lead to yucky itchy skin, so you don’t have to feel guilty about rushing through it or skipping it entirely in pursuit of her Proper Bedtime.)

I can’t promise that your mornings will never go a bit haywire and she won’t find other ways to escape your grasp and run back to bed or find a COMPLETELY NEW GAME THAT SHE WILL TRICK YOU INTO PLAYING — especially once you’re juggling a newborn. But in any way that you can, try to treat her morning routine like ripping off a Band-Aid. (That’s how I have to do it, even as an adult, or else I will waste hours rolling over and drifting back off to sleep.) No PJs, no incremental time warnings. Out of bed, straight to bathroom, straight to car. Lots of praise and something fun waiting for her there.

Photo source: Unsplash/JonathanFink


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Love the tip about sleeping in clothes. One additional thing–at my son’s school, for nap time, they put on a pull up, then put underwear on over those. So after nap-time, the children sit on the potty, then rip off the pull up at the sides and pull up underwear and pants/shorts. Voila, no need to even take shorts/pants off. Could be helpful if your child, like mine, is prone to seizing those post-potty moments and running around with a bare bottom.