How to help your kid/teen wake up on her own

@MrsPJSimmons sent out a plea via Twitter asking how to encourage her teen to self-start in the mornings:

Tweet: Suggestions on training your teenager to wake up on her own?

Several "me toos" came back, and they had an air of desperation and resignation, as in "nothing I've tried has worked" and "it's driving me nuts."

But some suggestions also came back:

  • @espringer: Squirt gun!
  • @babytoolkit: Start kids young with alarms and natural consequences
  • @mangomeru: "I told my grade 8 class I would give them a personal wake up call at 7 in the morning if they were late 3x"

My response:

Tweet: At this point I think it's about the consequences. Work out w/ teacher clear ramifications for tardies, then let chips fall.

Decent advice, I think. But then I followed up with:

Tweet: In other words, no longer your problem.

…and that's when I got called out. Kindly, but firmly.

  • @stumark: "Fine up until 'not my prob' – instead, act as if u r on teen's team 2 defeat prob." Longtime Parenthackers will recall that this is a recap of Stu's incredibly wise advice that appeared here years ago: to see the Problem as the problem, not the kid. [For more Stu (one can never have enough) visit Forever Parenting.]
  • @rozanna_niazi: "good point – and surely you don't need to "act" as if? The Family Team is the way to go, no?"

THIS is why I love Parent Hacks. Because we all benefit with more than one brain/perspective/take on a problem…just as our kids do.

My refined advice:

Amazon: American Innovative Teach Me Time! Talking Alarm Clock and Nightlight Get your kids into the habit of using alarm clocks. Start them young. If you've already missed that boat (as I have), start now.

Brainstorm with your kid/teen about how you might solve the late waking problem together. Let her know, without accusation and hyperbole, how starting the morning in conflict affects the rest of your day. See if there is a fun way to chip away at the problem.

Identify the goal, and then create steps toward reaching it. Your kid may have no idea how to do this herself. Perhaps the goal is to be out the door by 7:45am. If your teen is currently 15 minutes late every morning, start by identifying ways to shave 5 minutes off the morning routine. Once she has achieved success, increase to 10 minutes, and so on.

See if there are some ways you can team up with the teacher on natural consequences. If tardy slips aren't enough, perhaps there are other consequences the teacher can suggest. Non-shaming, discreet, and meaningful consequences.

Troubleshoot problems and celebrate successes. The trick is to lower the tension around the whole issue.

Hopefully this helps. Would love to hear!

Any more advice on teaching kids to be responsible for waking themselves up in the morning?

Related: Four Parent Hacks for a nag-less morning routine

And: Alarm clocks work for early-waking babies, too

Finally, a little irony: Clock radio hack encourages kids to sleep later

Twitter and Facebook are great places to ask questions of me and (more often) the Parenthacker collective brilliance. What do you want to know? Follow @parenthacks on Twitter, and "like" the Parent Hacks Facebook page.


  1. says

    we have one of the ‘ok to wake clocks’… it works very well. we have the opposite problem- waking too early!! if your 4 year old doesn’t care that he is ‘supposed’ to stay in his room or go back to sleep, then any gadget is useless!!!
    how do you get your child to sleep later or play quietly in their room until the appropriate time???

  2. Shasta says

    Had to get an “Atomic Alarm” for my teenager, but there have only been a couple mornings in the past three years he was not woken up in plenty of time to get ready for school.

    • John in Colorado says

      We bought the Sonic Bomb too. It wakes up everybody in the house EXCEPT our 15 YO who is sleeping right next to it as it screeches and shakes his bed. The boy could sleep through a hurricane. We’ve gotten some traction by linking it to video game screen time. If our two teen boys don’t get up on time, they don’t get screen time that day. Also, if they finish their morning routine before they need to go to school, they get screen time until they have to leave. This week, our 15 YO has successfully gotten himself up every day. Our 13YO hasn’t (but my wife too often forgets the rules herself, and he skates. He knows and takes advantage.) Work in progress.

  3. Leesa Simmons says

    Thank you to everybody that chimed in. It is such a delima once they get to high school because tardies turn into detention, so letting them “learn the hard way” can be damaging to their transcripts that the colleges want to see. She’s a great kid otherwise. She’s not hard to wake up, just won’t do it on her own or with the alarm clocks we’ve tried. She recognizes the problem and is willing to try anything, too. Thanks again! @mrspjsimmons

  4. Rhubarb says

    Alarm clocks, shorter morning routine, and consequences all seem to be beside the point for me: Isn’t the underlying problem likely that the child isn’t getting enough sleep? Perhaps the focus here needs to be on teaching her to take care of herself by getting to bed early enough, not on how to wake her up.

  5. says

    I’m really concerned about this, though it’s a few years off for us. In our district, elementary schools start at 8 or 8:30, middle schools at 9:00, and high schools at 7:30. It’s just wrong wrong wrong.

  6. says

    I was a teen who almost didn’t graduate because my citizenship (tardies and absences went toward this instead of toward grades) was so low. I was late almost every day. I just had to learn to do it on my own, both my parents worked during my senior year. And I learned pretty quickly that my actions had consequences.

    I had a friend who never made it to early morning church so her parents started grounding her on Saturday nights so she wouldn’t be too tired from the night before to sleep through church. She was on time bright and early after that! (BTW- it wasn’t a matter of her not wanting to attend church but rather sleeping in and missing the meeting. I wouldn’t advocate forcing your kids to go to church if they truly didn’t want to.)

  7. says

    Great topic, great post. I want to be clear: Teens are adults with less experience. The more we treat them as we would want to be treated, the stronger and more self-sufficient they become. Walk them through the situation. Explain that your ultimate goal is to prep them for college, to help them develop the skills to avoid being the horrible roommate that no-one can stand. Remember, you can parent most effectively with a soft tone and a validating word and an empathetic look. Love them both as they are and as who they will become.

  8. says

    Verrrrrry good point. I’ve learned this for myself recently. My life improves immeasurably when I get to bed early.

    So, as much as I’d like to talk a little more, I’m going to sign off RIGHT NOW and go to bed. (It’s 10:35pm.)

  9. Donna says

    I usually wake up my daughter who is 9.5 around 6:30 in the morning. I turn her alarm clock on before I go to bed and it will begin going off around 6:30 by hooing like an owl (girl scout clock). I then turn her light on dim and gradually increase the dimness over about a period of 30 seconds. The result is her waking up to a brightly lit room seems to make a big difference in her attitude and her mood. I also remove any light blocking curtains after daylight savings times so that the natural sunlight wakes her up.

  10. says

    I recall getting up on my own as a teen when my mom bought me a cd player alarm clock that would go off by playing whatever cd was in there. I liked that a lot! I also liked that it didn’t jolt me awake by scaring the poo out of me with the sudden, loud buzzing that most alarms use. (Although, admittedly, now I won’t wake up to anything quieter than those alarms I always hated.)

    For a teenager, maybe try giving her the responsibility of waking up the parent(s) – my mom had me start doing this and, for some reason, it worked for me. I think it helped motivate me to get up and going on time knowing that someone else’s timeliness depended on me. My mom also used to ask me to make coffee in the morning, which gave some structure to my morning routine: Wake up, shower, start coffee, wake Mom up.

    Also, it greatly motivated me to wake myself up knowing that if I didn’t, my dad would come in with one hand cupped around his mouth (simulating a trumpet) and parade around my room trumpeting “Reveille”!

  11. Heather Mill says

    I was given 2 wake up calls and then the Air Horn came into play. trust me…once taht puppy went off I was NOT going back to bed!

  12. says

    Well i guess even without any device in order to wake your kids up,it is best to descipline them to get up early specially school days,telling them to sleep before 10pm,that way they would find waking up before the clock rings!

  13. Alli says

    I have a 12 year old, and we solved his missing the bus through late wake-ups this way:

    1st – allot enough time to wake up. For him, this is about an hour. He’s allowed to trim it if he finds himself with a lot of extra time, but he seems to prefer to read with his spare time in the morning instead.

    2nd – Appropriate Bedtime. We get a lot of grumbling on this one, but his “lights out” is 9 pm and his “wake up” is 6 am, which gives him 9 hours to sleep. This seems to be the right amount of sleep he needs to function well during the day. We do not allow TV or sugar after 2 hours before bedtime to help the process, and his bedtime routine (shower, tooth brushing, reading, etc) begins 1 hour before lights out. Helps A LOT!

    3rd – and this was the final piece that made it all work… He gets a $1 fine from his allowance if I have to wake him up OR drive him to school because he misses the bus. Since his base allowance is a pittance ($2.50/wk) and he works around the house for extra money, a dollar is a BIG inducement to being on time!

  14. says

    I actually don’t see the problem with the “not my problem” approach.

    When my 9 year old forgets his homework at home, I don’t bring it to school. He has forgotten exactly twice.

    Why is letting the chips fall where they may a bad thing, when we’re talking about teenagers?

  15. Dian says

    My son has been diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Idiopathic Hypersomnia. Most mornings, if woken before his body is ready, he is unable to move at first. He sometimes recovers over time but most mornings, we push him into school in a wheelchair and over the day, as his sympathetic and para-synmpathetic nerves match up, he is able to walk and function semi-normally. Sometimes he appears normal but the POTS, which does not let the blood flow up to the brain properly causes brain fog and confusion. They don’t know how his central nervous system was damaged. It is possible that he got a virus.
    His body is unable to produce a fever so many times he was sick, we’d send him to school because we thought he was healthy.
    At the worst, my son slept for up to 26 hours at a time. It was impossible to wake him. We tried everything. He is a great, happy normal kid once he recovers during the day only to start the process the next day. It is a nightmare. Doctors have told me he will most likely grow out of this because his nerves are still growing.

    Has anyone experienced anything like this?

  16. Ele says

    Of course it’s useful to let children and teens learn the consequences of their actions or inactions, but it seems a little cruel to let them set themselves up for failure.

    If there’s a problem, it’d be best to work out *why* they aren’t getting up in the morning. Going to bed too late? Sleeping poorly? Some other issue? What is perfectly obvious to the parent may be obscure to the child.

    Once you’ve figured out the right system to help your child wake up, then you may shift some of the responsibility onto the child to implement it and keep it going.

    I do like the person above who fines her kid 40% of his weekly allowance for over-sleeping.