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Why is my 3 year old having a meltdown in the mornings?

My 3-year-old son is waking up screaming and crying now that he's in a transitional toddler bed. He's awake at 6 a.m., but he used to self-soothe and sleep until 8 a.m. while in his crib. Now he gets up and bangs on his door, which has a safety lock on it. I have offered him books and puzzles, but nothing is working. I want him to stay resting for at least another hour. How can I get him to understand it is "too early?"

Submitted by cozmoraine

Ah yes, the elusive promise of the "big boy bed" -- it's not all it's cracked up to be! It might help to know that many toddlers go through this same transition, once they're freed from the crib.  The crib once gave him a nice, contained space where he knew he was stuck, so he learned to relax. 

For the time being, try using a toddler clock that can be timed to play music or display a light show when it's ok to get up. Let your son know that he will get a special sticker and extra praise for following his "big boy wake up time." Set the timer to play 10 or 15 minutes later each day, so that he doesn't have to do a big transition all at once. You can also consider cutting back on his naptime to see if he'll sleep more in the morning. (At his age, his need for sleep is adjusting anyway.) Most importantly, tell him how happy the familiy feels when everyone is well rested. Eventually, he will learn to adjust to waking up later.

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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