The Five Step Plan For Preventing Early Wakings


Early waking is common in children . In the summer months we might blame it on the light outside, or noises that your child hears that disturb their sleep. It might be that your child is unwell, or teething, or any of the other myriad reasons children have for waking. Or we might just put it down to being an inevitable part of raising little ones.

However all these things are usually just the trigger for you child to wake, the root cause often goes a little deeper. If your child is regularly waking up tired without having enough sleep, then one of the most common reasons is their sense of connection.

Children often wake in the night, or wake early, when they are feeling disconnected. Sometimes children just need their connection cups to be filled a little more. At other times they may be experiencing hurt feelings or stress that get in the way of feeling our warm presence and attention. This can cause them to seek out connection with us a little earlier than usual.

This week I’ve been hearing a lot of success stories from parents who are trying out Giggle Parenting at bedtime, with amazing results. Kids are sleeping through the night. Nightmares and morning grumpiness are reduced. Laughter when kids are in the more powerful role (or playlistening as we call it at Hand in Hand) is a powerful way to strengthen our connection with our child.

But simply adding laughter to your bedtime routine may not be enough to completely cure sleep issues. The Hand in Hand parenting approach consists of 5 tools to listen to our children’s feelings and build connection with them. Whenever we are struggling with our parenting we can use all five of these tools for the most effective results.

So here are your five tools to help prevent kids from waking early.

  1. Get Some Listening Time For Yourself – First get yourself a listening partnership, and read more about them in Hand in Hand parenting’s Listening Partnerships For Parents Booklet. The Hand in Hand parenting tools are a way of listening to our children that takes a lot of patience and energy. With your listening partner you can vent about how tired you are in a safe space. Talking and being listened to by a warm listener is a powerful way to prepare yourself to do the same for your child. Read more about listening partnerships here.
  2. Do Some Special Time In The Daytime – Next schedule some time to do daily special time with your child. This may not always be possible, but while you’re dealing with sleep troubles it’s great to attempt it most days. Even five minutes can make a difference. Let your child do something they love, and shower them with attention. With special time it’s really about the quality of the time rather than the quantity. Your child can internalise a deep sense of connection with you, that can help them relax and sleep well. Read more about special time here.
  3. Staylisten To Morning Grumpiness – When our children wake early in the morning in a bad mood, we often tend to assume it’s because they haven’t had enough sleep. However it’s most likely that the grumpiness is what caused the early rising rather than the early rising causing the grumpiness. If your child gets upset about something that seems small and inconsequential, then stay and listen to the feelings until they have finished crying. Tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone, and other mood balancing hormones. When children get to cry with a loving adult they can release all the feelings that get in the way of feeling closely connected to you. Without these upset clouding their thinking their sleep will be much more peaceful. You can read more about staylistening here, and if this is challenging for you, don’t forget step 1 😉
  4. Set Limits and Listen To Feelings – When your child wakes grumpy you may find yourself walking on eggshells trying to avoid an upset. A child’s early waking can effect the mood of the whole day, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When a child behaves in ‘off-track’ ways, it’s like they are waving a red flag to saying, ‘’Help! I’m not feeling good, and so I can’t think well.’’ Setting a limit on their unworkable behaviour is actually a gift to them. As we stop them from throwing toys, or hitting a sibling, in a warm and loving but firm way we can listen to the emotional upset behind their behaviour, and also heal their sleep. You can get a free Hand in Hand parenting guide to setting limits here.
  5. Giggles At Bedtime – This tried and tested method is scientifically proven. Add giggles to your bedtime routine. Anything that gets laughter flowing with your child in the more powerful role. Chase games, roughhousing and any silliness that puts you in the less powerful role is a guaranteed sleep inducer. Read more about giggles at bedtime in my friend Tara’s fantastic article here.

Tried all this and your child is still not sleeping? For more indepth help applying these tools check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online sleep course Helping Young Children Sleep. Or for personalised advice contact me for a free 30 min initial sleep consultation.

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The Pramshed

20 thoughts on “The Five Step Plan For Preventing Early Wakings

  1. My husband has instinctively in cooperated laughter into our daughter a night time routine. They two of them giggle and laugh when he’s tucking her in. I would say to him don’t rile her up but obviously he’s doing something good if it’s a tried and tested method. She sleeps well, only waking once in the night if at all and wakes for the day after 6am usually

    1. it’s so funny, now so many mums are commenting that it’s the dads winding their kids up, and now they realise it’s a good thing. Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. I love this part: “they are waving a red flag to saying, ‘’Help! I’m not feeling good, and so I can’t think well.’’”

    It’s so easy for me to forget their size and experience in the real world. Heck, I can’t even articulate myself much of the time and here I expect these tiny people to be chipper all the time and happily do as I say. I shake my head at myself! Such a great reminder of how we can see these struggles in a new light. As always, great post Kate.

  3. thanks Tara, yes it’s so true what you say about us adults not always able to articulate ourselves.

  4. I am so against the giggles. It really throws our routine off. Once dinner is over and the bath is running, we create a totally sleepy atmosphere. Low lighting, warm bath, white noise, quieter, slower voices. By the time our kids are in bed, they’ve wound down and are ready to sleep. But, as my husband and I are both Montessori trained and live the philosophy of mutual respect, we don’t assume a “powerful” role with our kids anyway. Maybe that has something to do with it?

    1. Your routine sounds dreamy! Just reading about it is making me sleepy 🙂 How wonderful that you and your husband are both montesorri trained, it must help a lot with the daily running of your family. I think all children need to work through issues of power no matter how respectful or free their family life is, it’s kind of their nature I think to explore the boundaries. And laughter is a great stress release, and way to deal with emotions, about power struggles that come up in other moments of their lives, such as school, friendships. If parent’s kids aren’t sleeping through regularly, then adding giggles always helps.

  5. You are always so resourceful, Kate! I need to digest these tips, think about them.. I am not a morning person and especially with my insomnia issues and the little one not sleeping through the night most of the time I do not see myself having the energy, the cool to apply these..

    1. thanks so much! Yes it can be a bit of a vicious cycle when we have our own sleep deprivation to deal with. I hope your insomnia improves soon. Step 1 can help a lot and when you feel your have a bit more energy, the other steps can be gradually incorporate into daily life.

  6. This is a fab list – we’re not quite there yet as little girl is only 13 months, but she is waking at 5:30am every morning! Great ideas for when she gets a bit older, I do hope the giggles doesn’t come into the battle… #ablogginggoodtime

    1. you can totally do this with a little one! My daughter loved chase games at that age, and if I held up her pyjamas she would immediately crawl away from me laughing! I hope you get a lie in soon 🙂 thanks for reading.

  7. These are great tips as always. My little one is only 6 months so his wake up times vary to be honest. I like the idea that their off track behaviour is them saying ‘help! I’m not feeling good..’, it makes a lot of sense. #fortheloveofBLOG

    1. thanks for reading! Yes, it’s so obvious when we think about it, that our children behave ‘badly’ when they are not feeling good. So much of this parenting path, is finding the patience to be compassionate when our child’s behaviour is challenging!

  8. I always know that something is not quite right with my daughter when she wakes up crying, as usually she wakes up happy, cooing and babbling, but crying is difficult – often I think that this is because she hasn’t had enough sleep. We as parents are often quick to jump to this conclusion, but I think that I should maybe be a bit more tuned in to her feelings, and less worrying about the fact it is 4am and how bad my day will be because of it. Often the day gets better as it goes on, and is not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Your post is a real eye-opener for parents, and a change of mind-set and giggles before bedtime (which works for me) could be the solution. Thanks so much for joining us this week at #fortheloveofBLOG. Claire x

    1. Hi Claire, thanks for reading. I’m glad that that the giggles at bedtime our helping. I hear from so many parents that are really sceptical and they try it and are just amazed by the results. And with the tears too, it’s the same I think if we can be there and just allow the tears, it can mean that the grumpiness that could colour the whole day, is over in a short time, and then that helps the day go better and in the long run, they’ll sleep better, as we make time for their feelings. x

  9. This does make sense, though I am always a bit wary of over-excitement around bedtime – I have two under three. But we always have a LOT of fun at bath time and quite a bit of play in NG’s room before settling down to stories. It is my son, the baby, who I feel guilty about as I do bedtime alone each night (my husband gets back too late) and I often feel as though I just do milk, one book and put him down whilst my daughter watches a couple of cartoons, before turning my attention to her and giving her the full treatment (play, books, songs, etc.) because it’s the only way I can handle them both. Any tips for more ‘equal’ double bedtimes would be great! #fortheloveofBLOG

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