How do I get my child to stay in bed until a reasonable hour?

"Is he sleeping through the night?"

Before I had a child, this question was a social nicety, conversation filler I used when meeting people with a baby. Now, as a parent who has passed many a 3:00 AM hour reading baby sleep sites, I understand how much this question can sting.

For parents, "Is he sleeping through the night?" can sound like an accusation. If you answer "no," maybe it's because your baby is too attached to co-sleeping. Or maybe it's because the cry-it-out method you used is making her feel abandoned. Maybe you're not producing enough milk and the baby is waking up hungry. Or maybe you're feeding her too much and she's waking up wet. Maybe you're not stimulating her enough during the day and she wakes up to be with you. Or maybe you're overstimulating her and need to provide a more relaxing environment. Suddenly, an innocent question makes parents feel like failures. 

But what about those parents who answer "yes"? What, exactly, are they answering "yes" to?
"Sleeping through the night" means different things to different people. It might mean that the baby is sleeping for more than a couple hours at a time. It might mean that the baby is sleeping for the same length of time as the other adults in the household. It might mean that the baby is sleeping somewhere between the recommended 10-14 hours for infants. It might just mean that the adults are sleeping through the night, that they've learned to turn the baby monitor down and ignore every small noise. When we answer "yes" to this question without specifying what definition they are using, parents perpetuate the notion that there is a platonic ideal of "sleeping through the night," of which we necessarily fall short.

Before continuing, then, I'll give my definition of "sleeping through the night":  a long enough stretch to avoid a cranky toddler AND give his parents time to recharge and reconnect. In our household, that means a minimum of 10 hours. So when, like scores of toddlers before him, D started to view 5 AM as sleeping in, it was time for an intervention.

This next part's going to get a little spendy, because I will pay any price for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But because I also want to spend money on things like food, and adorable-but-impractical toddler shoes, I first want to share my go-to resource for price watching, camelcamelcamel. This website will let you track prices on Amazon products and will send you price alerts when the price drops to your desired price.

So, what should you add to your camelcamelcamel tracker? The OK to Wake! clock. This is the best kid gear purchase I've made this year (and you just saw those adorable Sperrys, so you know there was stiff competition for the top spot). I bought the clock at 4 AM on a Sunday morning, right after D had woken me for the second time and I was willing to spend any price for a bit more sleep. Monday morning was no better, so when the clock arrived on Tuesday (thanks Amazon Family!), I was desperate to try it. The clock came with two faces (one pink and one green) that were fun for D to pull off and put on. The back console required a little effort to open, but that was helpful because tiny hands probably couldn't break in and change the settings. 

At the time, D was just starting to identify numbers, demanding to checkout in aisle 4 or telling me a 9 was an upside down number 6. So I used a two-pronged approach with the clock. First, I showed him that the clock had the same time as our microwave clock. Then, when we put him to bed, we told him we would see him when his clock turned green. The next morning he greeted me at his bedroom door to tell me that his clock had turned "Geen! Number 6!" 

This clock is not magic. It took a few early AM reminders before D consistently stayed in bed until the clock turned green. And he doesn't sleep through every night. But he does know that we won't play until that clock turns green, and so often he'll often entertain himself until it does. Given that his current favorite activity is to yell the ABCs at top volume, I'm not quite sleeping through the night again. But I'm OK to wake to that.