Oh man... those were the days...
I often see my friends complain on FB about their kids being early risers. I hear things like:
"Bobby was up for the day at 4:30am. Today is going to be rough!"
"Been up with Cindy since 5am again... ugh."
"My kids are always up before 6am."
When I hear things like that, my gut response is:
They wake up that early because you let them!
If kids wake up at 5am, and then get set in front of a bright tv, they're going to get used to that. It almost trains them to wake up that early, because the lights and stimulation mess with their internal clock. Its like when you were in college and you signed up for an 8am class. The first few weeks were reallllly hard to get out of bed, but after awhile, your body got used to it, and then by the end of the semester, you barely needed your alarm anymore.
Same thing with kids. And it goes both ways.
Babies and toddlers don't have much concept of time, and as their parents, its our responsibility to teach it to them. Yes, we can't "control" when they wake up. But we can do things to encourage them to sleep til a reasonable time. I have picked a time that I will allow my children to get out of bed. 7am. If they wake up before that, I will patiently get up and quietly put them back to bed. Consistently.
When my girls were babies and they woke up too early, I'd change their diaper, feed them another bottle in the rocking chair, and put them back to sleep. And then sometimes go in and wake them up at 7:30am if they were still sleeping (so it didn't mess up the morning nap).
If its my toddler, I'll usually pick her up out of the crib, and snuggle her up in a blanket and rock her for a few minutes, to help her feel sleepy again.
Sometimes she will fuss or argue with me, and I will whisper things like, "Look baby girl, its still dark outside. Its still night-night time." or "The house is so dark and quiet. Daddy is still asleep, sister is still asleep, and mommy is still sleepy, its not time to wake up yet" or "Lets get you snuggy again so we can all go back to sleep."
If its my 5 year old, I just explain that its not time to wake up yet, and to go get back in bed for a few minutes. We bought her a toddler clock a few years ago like this one that lights up at a set time (7am for us!) and signals that its ok to get out of bed. When we initially bought it for her, it took quite a bit of patience on our part to enforce the habit of waiting til her "cow woke up" before she could get up. We had to get up and put her back in bed. Over and over. But after about a week, she understood and would come running into my room saying, "Mom! My cow's awake! I slept so good!" We set it a little earlier than we wanted to (comparable to when she was naturally waking up), and then gradually changed the time to later, in small increments, until she was used to the 7am wakeup.
They don't always fall back asleep, and sometimes I have to put them back to bed multiple times. Yeah, its probably easier to just get them up, turn on some cartoons and doze next to them on the couch. But to me, its worth the effort.
Update: A good white noise machineand blackout curtainscan also do wonders to help keep them sleeping!
If you thought this post was helpful, check out my tips on helping babies sleep!