Setting Limits with an Early Riser

I haven’t set an alarm in 4 years thanks to my oldest son who is up with the roosters. Some children are early birds because of their circadian rhythm (internal body clock). For these children, as long as they are waking up cheerful, have enough energy throughout the day and sleeping well through the night there is really nothing to be done except embrace the early mornings! Elizabeth Pantley has some tips on how to tell if your child is naturally an early riser or if they could be waking for reasons other than their biological alarm. See

In our family, we accepted our morning wake-ups and coped by adjusting our adult routines accordingly (and brewing our coffee extra strong). However, one issue we came across was that our older son who was waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed was not only waking up mom and dad but also his younger sibling. This became a problem because our younger child was not getting the sleep he needed, and as a result was tired and grumpy. We started trying to teach our older son to understand that just because he was awake, other family members were still resting, and he needed to respect that by being quiet. While I was brainstorming ideas on how to support this, I came across some gadgets that claim to help parents teach their children when it is appropriate to wake up or come out of their room in the morning. Most of these products are in the form of a children’s “alarm” clock.

They use either a glowing light or soft music and can be programmed to turn on at the desired time. For example, a clock might have a yellow night light that turns to green at 7am (or whatever time is appropriate for the individual child) to signal it is time to wake up. If the child wakes up and sees the yellow light, they know it is still time to sleep, and they need to wait until the light turns green. This seemed like a great idea for our situation.  Our older son could wake up when he would naturally, but he would learn that only quiet activities were appropriate until it was “wake up” time. My excitement took a hit however when I saw some of the prices of these products. A children’s alarm clock for $60 was not in our budget, so we moved on to Plan B which was a “do-it-yourself” model.

My son recently turned 4 and will be attending kindergarten in the fall. He has number recognition from 1-10 and can do simple matching. So with those skills in mind, I created a clock using a basic digital alarm clock we already had in the house.

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It isn’t pretty to look at, but it has been effective! I used tape to cover the last number because I wanted to make sure he was successful with the number recognition. I taped the time to the top of the clock 6:3. These are the numbers he has to match. We practiced a lot with the matching to make sure he understood the concept. If he wakes up, and it is earlier then 6:30am, he knows that he can look at books in his room or play quietly with his stuffed animals. After the clock shows 6:3, he can come out of his room and start the day. Now that he is older, he is not only capable of entertaining himself for a short period of time, but he is also able to use the toilet independently, and our exception to the 6:30am rule is that he may come out of his room any time day or night to use the bathroom. We chose 6:30am as the time because that is what seemed suitable for him. He is typically waking up between 5:00-6am, so it was not a realistic expectation to have him stay in his room past 6:30am. If you are wanting to try any of these products or strategies with your children, you should set them up for success by choosing an appropriate wake-up time based on your individual child keeping in mind their age, personality, and development.

So far this method has been working out great for our family! In addition to helping everyone get a bit more sleep, it has also brought about more understanding a clock and telling time. We plan to take the tape off the last number of the clock soon and hopefully continue to build on the skills of numeracy and telling time. You may simply want to opt in to one of the children’s alarm clock products that I mentioned above, but keep in mind, sleepy friends, that when your child is a natural early riser, you may have to accept that for the next foreseeable future, you will be an early riser too.

Written by Ashley Colvin, Parent Support Educator