Can you teach a toddler to sleep in?

"I don't need an alarm clock. Instead, I have a three-year-old."
"I don't need an alarm clock. Instead, I have a three-year-old." Photo: Getty Images

I don't need an alarm clock. Instead, I have a three-year-old who is programmed to wake up with the sun. The moment she senses the break of dawn she's wide awake and full of beans. Then, because she thinks it's her job to rouse the rest of us, she's out of bed and running down the corridor with a cheery "It's morning, time to wake up!"

Unlike my daughter, I am not a morning person. I don't want to start my day at 5.30am, and despite my efforts to make the best of it I just can't match her enthusiasm for early mornings. 

So is there anything I can do to teach her to sleep in, even just a little bit longer? 

For many parents wrangling early risers, the first thing to try is black-out curtains. It makes sense – after all, human bodies are programmed to sleep in the dark and wake with the sun.

It worked for mother of two, Jenny, who has been getting a lot more sleep since installing thick curtains in her son's room. "The curtains weren't cheap, but they really do keep the sun light out, so they're very effective," she says.

It seems that improvised black-out curtains can also be effective, as Louise found when she used water and newspaper to cover the windows in her toddler's bedroom. "It didn't look great," she admits. "But it worked really well, and bought us at least an extra hour in the summer months."

Another popular method for keeping little ones in their beds until a more sociable hour is the Gro Clock, a simple device that changes colour when it's "time to get up". The beauty of this is that parents can set the time that the clock changes colour.

The Gro Clock works well for some families. "It is brilliant," says Faye. "We are using it for the second time at the moment because it worked so well with our first child.

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"Today we actually got to sleep in until 6am, which is a vast improvement on the 5am wakeups we've been having lately."

Although it sounds blissfully simple, parents do need to take an active role in teaching their child that they need to stay in bed until the clock indicates they can get up – they can't expect it to work overnight.

Of course, there are some children who refuse to play along with the Gro clock idea. "It didn't work for us," admits Jo, a mother of two. "My daughter didn't care if the clock said it was still night time, she got up when she wanted to regardless."

Another option for dealing with early birds is to set up a few toys in their room and tell them that they may play quietly with them until it's time for everyone to get up. This means that although your little one is wide awake, they can keep themselves occupied until a more respectable hour.

This is a technique that worked for Amy. "I just leave a few board books and some cuddly toys at the end of my son's bed once he has fallen asleep. In the morning it's enough to distract him for a while," she says.

"Obviously I don't expect him to stay by himself for long, but it does seem to buy us an extra twenty minutes or so, which makes a huge difference!"

So if you're struggling with early mornings, it might be worth trying some of these ideas – or you could just embrace the dawn chorus and try to become a morning person.

Me? I'm off to buy some black-out curtains, for a start.

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