Ask the Experts

Q: Our Child’s Problems Waking Up Make Our Mornings Miserable

Your teen has serious problems waking up. He sleeps through his alarms. When you try to rouse him, he’s mean and obstinate. After an inordinate amount of stress and arguing, he’s late for school and everyone is upset. How can you end this unhealthy morning cycle? Here are some ideas.

Q: “My son refuses to wake up and get out of bed in the mornings. He yells at us to get out of his room and not to talk to him. He will say, ‘I can’t stand you, you are a terrible person, and I hate you. Get out now and don’t come back.’ When he finally does get up, he will apologize, but by then he is late for school, church, etc. His problems waking up are making our mornings abysmal. Please help.” — GeorgiaMother


Hi GeorgiaMother:

When my kids were growing up, I used to tell them, “I’ll work just as hard as you — but not harder.” That said, my question for you is this: Why would your son get up on his own if he knows his parents are going to do it for him? If you are his alarm clock or wake-up call, you are working way harder than he is. This is why we need to switch the balance of responsibility from you to your son.

Trust me, I understand that the morning madness can be very stressful and a huge challenge for everyone. There is a big emotional tug-of-war going on here as well. On one hand, you want him to be independent and get up on his own. On the other, you fear that he will never make it to school if left to his own devices. And that may very well happen. The important thing to realize is that, as long as you are the one in charge, your son will let you be. Here’s some points that make for smoother morning routines:

1. Set new ground rules. Clearly state your expectations from him, and explain what you will and won’t do. For example, perhaps you will knock once on his door to ensure he is awake, but it is up to him to take the lead after that. Or if he misses the school bus, he will need to find his own way to school. If that is not a feasible consequence and you have to drive him, then impose another consequence that is an obvious fit. My favorite? Paying back time! “If I take 30 minutes out of my day to drive you to school because you are late, then you will give me back that time in chores around the house.”

Bottom line? Your son needs to experience the consequences of not getting himself up on time if you really want to change his behavior.

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2. Sound the alarm! Does he have an alarm clock? One with extra loud bells or buzzers? That has NO snooze feature? If not, purchase multiple alarm clocks. Avoid setting the alarms to music as it tends to become white noise that lulls teens back to sleep.

Also, the nightstand is the worst spot imaginable for an alarm clock. I advise placing several clocks in different spots around the room — each one set for one to two minutes apart. This forces your son to actually get out of bed to turn off the alarm, and keep him from crawling back under the covers for more than a minute or two. Odds are that once he is out of bed, he will get moving.

3. Make sleep time non-negotiable. I can’t stress enough the importance of a good night’s sleep — for overall health and better mornings. Perhaps moving your son’s bedtime back an hour might be appropriate. You could also use his bedtime as a natural consequence, meaning he needs to earn the privilege of a later bedtime by waking up on his own in the morning.

 4. Prepare for the day the night before. Although this might not directly teach your son to get up on his own, it will make your mornings less stressful when he does emerge. If clothing is laid out, lunch is packed and his backpack is by the front door, he will have less to do and more time to get done what he needs to.

And as a foot note, I know his hateful comments are inappropriate and hurtful to you, but please don’t take them personally. Try to let them go and just concentrate on moving your son through the morning.

Good luck!

[Get This Free Download: Sound Sleep Solutions for Kids with ADHD]


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Updated on November 20, 2019

2 Related Links

  1. One thing that isn’t listed here that was life changing for me was a sunrise simulator alarm clock. I struggled with waking for my entire life. It was particularly bad during my teen years and twenties. I would turn alarms off in my sleep, hold conversations with my parent without waking… I was just stuck in the deep sleep part of the cycle when the world needed me up and functional. Research seems to suggest that those with ADHD are set to different wake and sleep cycles. I certainly wasn’t staying up late or spending long hours in front of the screen. That was just the sleep cycle my body demanded. It made it extremely challenging to perform in the 9 to 5 world. Getting older helped, but having a sunrise simulator alarm clock has made a massive difference as well. I wish I had access to the technology when I was younger.

  2. Another thing that might help; set up something to look forward to in the morning, to make getting out of bed less painful! Set the (sunrise?) alarm a little earlier, and then have the first thing to do be something pleasant (for me, that’s eating a cookie, but anything positive would work), then have a second alarm go off when that activity needs to end!

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