By Stephanie Slaughter
How you wake children from sleep can impact their day and psychological health. Waking up children in ways that don’t disrupt their R.E.M. stage is important in helping to reduce their anxiety, stress, and feelings of fear. Try the following tips on how to safely wake your child, what to avoid and how to ease your child into routines so they can eventually wake themselves.
When waking your child, be gentle. Use a soft voice or sing a quiet song that will slowly and calmly wake the child up from their sleep. Beginning the day with love and comfort can promote wellness and a sense of peace. A soft, gentle touch also may help reduce the stress your child experiences when waking because it is physically comforting. Study and understand your child’s waking process and allow the time necessary to wake them gently. Ensuring your child is also getting adequate sleep—children need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night—can make waking them easier.
Psychological studies show that repeatedly introducing stimuli, such as a loud noise or a yell, in an environment that is comfortable produces a fear instinct that can stay with a child long afterward. Waking a child using a loud sound or voice can startle them, causing fear and anxiety that they may then associate with waking. Also avoid splashing cold water on a particularly hard-to-wake child, which will contribute to their anxiety and stress—and the child may internalize that waking from sleep is traumatic. Although a child who doesn’t wake easily may be frustrating, startling a child awake can have long-term effects as well as immediate effects of stress or anxiety that day.
If your child needs a few moments after waking before getting up, build that time into a morning routine and begin waking them a few minutes earlier. Another method you can use to help your child wake themselves is to establish a step-by-step process for a morning routine to prepare them for what they need to do that day after waking. Buying an alarm clock or wake-up light and teaching your child to set it will also encourage waking themselves and following a routine. Setting out clothing the night before—or anything else the child may need after waking—will reduce the stress that could be caused by scrambling and searching for needed items. Establishing a morning routine and following it consistently can reduce anxiety for both parent and child because everyone will be prepared and know what to do on waking.
Waking a child gently and with love and encouragement can help shape a child’s day and avoid producing fear that will add to their stress and anxiety—and may have other long-term effects. Creating and starting simple routines with your child can ease them into waking themselves and being ready for the day with less anxiety. Encourage and congratulate your child when they begin using methods to wake and begin preparing for the day on their own.
Stephanie Slaughter began a career in the nursing and surgical technology fields 20 years ago but has since chosen a new career path. More teacher than doer, she has researched, written and edited pieces on a variety of medical, wellness and nutrition topics for the past 15 years as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of three. She currently is completing a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice.