What to Do When Your Toddler Wakes Up Crying Every Morning

Frustrated that your toddler wakes up crying every morning? Learn why it happens and how to help your child start the day on a positive note.

Toddler Wakes Up Crying Every Morning

You could say that my toddler wasn’t exactly a “morning person.”

His cries and screams were enough to test anyone’s patience—that he started them first thing in the morning didn’t help at all. It seemed like he was set on waking up cranky and crying right from the start, and any attempt to cheer him up didn’t seem to work.

For many of us, the day is already off to a rocky start when our kids wake up miserable. Don’t worry, friend—you’re not stuck. I was able to find many ways to resolve this problem and will share what worked in this article. As these parents said:

“I wanted to say thank you for the advice you give all the moms and dads out there. Thank you for everything you do for us parents.”


“Thank you so much for posting this. It is some solid advice and I feel so much better knowing I am not alone!”


Have an earlier bedtime

If your toddler wakes up too early in the morning, she likely cries because she’s still tired.

Many kids struggle with going back to sleep in the mornings (until now, mine hardly “sleep in” in the mornings), even when they could clearly use it. And sometimes it’s difficult to do, what with the sun rising at a certain time or sleep associations that are hard to break.

To help your toddler get the sleep she needs, move bedtime earlier, even by 15 minutes. In fact, don’t push bedtime back any more than 15 minutes at a time. For instance, if bedtime is at 8pm, see what a 7:45pm bedtime looks like. If you think she can use more sleep, go for 7:30pm the next night.

This can help her get the hours of sleep she needs while still waking up at the same time in the mornings.

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Tell your toddler to wake up happy the night before

This advice seems so strange… until you try it.

We forget how powerful messages can be in affecting our behavior, especially right before sleep. After all, our minds are still hard at work, even when we’re fast asleep.

I don’t know about you, but when I go to sleep with worry or fear in my mind, I don’t always wake up in the best of moods. But when I tell myself that I’ll have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling positive, that’s exactly what happens.

Try talking to your toddler about how she’ll wake up happy in the morning. Don’t make it a threat (“You should wake up happy tomorrow!”), but rather, plant the idea that she can wake up feeling happy.

You might say, “Have a good night! Tomorrow, you can wake up happy and excited for the day.” She might even repeat it to herself as a bedtime affirmation: “I’ll wake up happy and excited.”

Remaining calm during this time will also help. Your words will have no meaning if your facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice show anxiety and frustration.

Cuddle with your toddler before wake-up time

I thought I was doing the right thing by letting my toddler sleep in. While his brothers would head to the dining table to eat breakfast, I kept his room dark, with the door only slightly propped open.

But every morning, he’d wake up crying, upset that he had been “left behind.” He woke up startled to find himself alone, rather than grateful for being able to sleep in.

So, I started to beat him to the punch. Instead of waiting for him to wake up cranky, I’d cuddle with him while he was still stirring and waking up.

When he was in his crib or toddler bed, I’d sit next to him and hold him as much as I was able to. When he transitioned from a toddler bed to a twin bed, I’d climb into his bed and hold him, gently helping him wake up.

By cuddling with your child before she wakes up, you can help transition her from sleep into awake time. And since you’re next to her, she’s less likely to throw tantrums once she’s fully awake and alert.

Expert tip

If she likes to drink milk after waking up, bring her sippy cup with you. She’ll have her milk ready to go, giving her one less reason to fuss.

Teach your toddler how to cope with big feelings

Your toddler’s behavior can feel extra exasperating because it seems like a paradox. On one hand, you know he’s tired, but on the other, he refuses to keep sleeping.

Except… this is you looking at the situation from your point of view. When you see it from his, then his behavior begins to make more sense, especially when you realize he may not know how to manage his big feelings.

You know it’s morning time and can situate yourself easily. But he might be coming out of bad dreams, night terrors, or sudden separation anxiety at bedtime. He could be experiencing changes like potty training or cutting teeth. And, unlike adults, he’s still learning how to cope when these feelings and experiences arise.

So, it’s up to you to show him how to manage this discomfort. As I say in my book, No Cranky Naps:

“You can’t control how your child wakes up, but you can control how you respond to him. And rather than getting into epic battles, assume the role of a coach who can help him get through big feelings.”

Start by talking about his feelings, from “mad” and “sad,” to “excited” and “happy.” The more he can use words to express how he feels, the less likely he’ll cry.

Then, give him an action plan, equipping him with things he can do when he wakes up, instead of getting upset. Maybe he gets out of bed and finds you or he can play with toys in his room while he waits. He can hold onto his lovey or blanket, sing songs, or tell stories. Give him options to replace his current behavior.

Factor in your toddler’s wake-ups into your morning

One of the reasons you may be losing your cool is because your toddler’s behavior feels like a major disruption to your morning. If you’re like me, your morning routine is geared to getting out the door on time—any misstep can throw the whole day off.

But since your toddler wakes up crying every morning, rearrange the start of your day to factor in her behavior.

Wake up earlier to get breakfast started. Get dressed for the day before he wakes up. Aim to leave later in the morning so that any delay doesn’t make you feel like you’re running late. Keep your mornings slow instead of rigid and fast-paced.

By working your mornings around her cranky wake-ups, you can tend to her needs without feeling rushed.


Starting your day off hearing your toddler screaming isn’t easy for any parent, but now you have a few strategies to cope.

I’m pleased to report that my son no longer woke up crying every morning. Regardless of whether he was in deep sleep or stirring throughout, he outgrew the phase, especially with the help of the tools we discussed.

And perhaps that’s the most important thing to remember: that kids will outgrow this, including your toddler. Even if he doesn’t seem like a “morning person.”

Frequently asked questions

Why does my toddler wake up crying every morning?

Your toddler might not be getting enough sleep—or enough continuous sleep—to wake up refreshed in the mornings. She may not know how to put herself back to sleep in the early mornings and wakes up grumpy from the lack of rest.

What if my toddler wakes up crying and it’s too early to get him up?

Start by setting an expectation of what time he should wake up—let’s say 6:30am. If he wakes up at 5:40am, calmly walk in, make sure all is fine, and let him know that it’s not time to wake up yet. Close the door and leave the room.

Check in every few minutes doing the same thing (without staying too long each time), until 6:30am. You’ll likely repeat this the next few mornings until he gets the point that waking up doesn’t mean it’s time to start the day.

Over time, he might even learn to soothe himself back to sleep, or at least learn that it’s okay to wake up calmly and enjoy the morning while he waits for you. You can even get an alarm clock or timer that lights up at a certain time. This can be his cue that it’s officially time to wake up.

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  1. Maureen Benzile Mbethe says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, it is some solid advise and I feel so much better knowing I am not alone!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      My pleasure, Maureen! You are definitely not alone, and I’m glad the advice is coming in handy. Rest assured you’re doing a good job, mama!

  2. Thanks for the advice. I have twin 23 month old girls and an 11 month boy in the same room, all in their own cribs. The 4 year old is in his own room. So, Twin A is the one who wakes up crying and screaming. Twin B is used to it but she can only take so much. It’s an interesting situation since there are 3 babies in one room. The baby takes two naps and the toddlers take one per day. I try to give them all an afternoon nap so I have some time for a break or a nap myself. The baby wakes up and Twin A is very sensitive and she wakes even when I’m super ninja stealthy. Oy! Any advice? I also have a small fan going as extra white noise. I’m so tired!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks Gabby! And yes, I can totally see why you’re tired—four kids under four, and twins too 🙂 If the baby is waking up Twin A, I would perhaps put the baby in either your room or your 4-year-old’s room in a pack and play for the nap, so that he doesn’t wake up Twin A for that afternoon nap. Hopefully by separating them, they can get more uninterrupted sleep.

  3. What about if your toddler is waking up super early and crying? I want her to sleep later because she is clearly tired- but she won’t. Trying to get ahead of her 5:40a wake up call doesn’t seem like the solution, and trying to cuddle her before she wakes up doesn’t either- both require us getting up even earlier when all we want is more sleep! And she cries inconsolably for almost an hour every morning like she is so angry at the new day. Is putting her down earlier going to have her wake up earlier? We keep the room so dark, with a white noise machine + fan + humidifier. She has her lovey. How do I get her to wake up happy AND to wake up later?!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Sam! Early wake ups are definitely rough. I’d set an expectation of what time she should wake up, let’s say 6:30am. If she wakes up at 5:40am, calmly walk in, make sure all is fine, and let her know that it’s not time to wake up yet and that she should go back to sleep. Check in every few minutes doing this same thing (don’t stay too long each time), until 6:30am. You’ll likely have to repeat this over the next few mornings until she gets the point that waking up doesn’t mean it’s already time to wake up. She might even learn how to soothe herself back to sleep, or at least learn that it’s okay to wake up calmly and enjoy the morning while she waits for you.

  4. Pure Despair / insane behind the facade says:

    What do you do when the child is one year old and doesn’t speak yet? She was also born with half a heart but had surgeries and is doing remarkably well for her condition. I am certain the hospitalizations were traumatic for her , which sends my heart into sadness.
    Anyways the problem is She wakes up several times a night AND OR early in the morning crying LOUDLY and I have actually gone to hide sometimes to hit myself out of frustration. My sleep deprivation is severe and affects every part of my broken being. Since she was born I haven’t been able to sleep normally ever again and live in absolute regret and despair every miserable day of my life. I am so tired I also can’t make it to the gym and I am sole financial provider bc her dad doesn’t work I feel very negative every day and I have no family near and even when they visited they honestly didn’t help me much what do I do?

    1. I’m sorry you are going through such a hard time. Babies cry because they are communicating something, (thirsty, hot, cold, uncomfortable, wet, etc) or she might just need you close to her after the trauma of hospital etc. if you are able to co-sleep safely it might help you to get more rest, it worked for me. My Bub just needed me there and slept better when we were on a queen mattress on the floor. All babies will eventually sleep through the night without sleep training, they just need love and support – mine now sleeps all night in the cot after a cuddle. They are completely dependent on you. You also have to be kind to yourself, you are doing your best and it is normal to feel overwhelmed. Try to be practical and delegate to your partner rather than trying to do it all yourself. Talking to other mums to let off steam or a councillor might also help you to feel better emotionally, I understand the frustration but it sounds like you are becoming depressed and feel desperate. Take some deep breaths, try to work out a practical plan moving forward. Your baby isn’t being manipulative or trying to make things difficult. I hope you feel better soon and things improve for you.

  5. Laura Norman says:

    Any tips for a 13 month old who wakes up crying every time? (Naps and night time). He sleeps brilliantly and self settles happily and alone in a dark room – between 1-2 hours of naps twice a day and 7-7 overnight with one 11pm milk wake. He just ALWAYS wakes up screaming. Never calm, gurgling wake ups. Every single time he wakes up he’s unhappy.

    Can’t explain/talk to him about it as he’s too young to understand, and can’t imagine he needs *more* sleep than he’s already getting. He’s not restless and constantly waking. No idea what is causing it. Any advice?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Laura! I totally know what you mean about the constant crying after every wake up. I didn’t even know kids could wake up without crying because my eldest always woke up upset for naps. Take a look at these articles that talk about babies waking up crying:

      Since it seems like he’s sleeping well and getting enough sleep, one thing I would to consider is hunger. He might still cry after waking up, but maybe have a sippy cup of milk or even simple snacks ready to go so he calms down as he drinks and eats. Another thing to try is to “wake” him up before you sense that he’s about to wake up on his own, by carrying him and holding him in the same room, for instance, on a recliner or even on a blanket on the floor. He’ll get to wake up with you next to him, which can feel better than waking up alone.

      I hope that helps Laura! xo, Nina

  6. I’m a dad to 2 girls: 3 years and 15 months old.
    I wanted to say thank you for the advice you give all the moms and dads out there❤️.

    Both my girls sleep in cribs at the same room.
    Both have been sleep trained since 5 months, and slept together well until about 2 months ago.

    My 15 month old wakes up during the night randomly to sip her milk or find a pacifier, screams and cries until she finds something- and falls back asleep. Sometimes she’d wake up for 15 seconds sometimes, 1 minute. In the morning the 15 month old wakes up exhausted and cries multiple times. usually continuously until we get her, and sometimes starts and stops of cries few minutes apart. Often she would stand up at the edge of the crib and cry her little lungs out. Usually she wakes up 6:45 am – 7:00 am.

    My 3 year old has been dealing with all thing well, but she is beginning to get fed up with waking up at all hours of the night, and rudely awakened in the morning. So much so, that she learned how to climb out of her crib, open the doors and rush towards our bed. Like she is running from a wild howling animal. Lol.

    We don’t have a strict set bed time. But the time usually ranges from 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm. Sometimes it would be later, such as 10:30 pm if we are going to visit grandparents- and the girls sleep in the car.

    I’ve tried waking up earlier to prepare myself around 6:15 am, and watch a monitor we have in the room, for any sudden movements in the crib. Once I see movement I stealthily ninja in and try not to wake up my 3 year old. Sometimes it works, but usually the 15 month old says something or makes a noise, to waking the 3 year old.

    Overall my 15 mo is happy. She is extremely curious and loves to run fast and loud. However, I am really trying to find a way for her not to cry in the mornings as it sets her day to a bad start, sets our day with stress and wakes up the 3 year old. I will try to follow the advice you’ve given here one at a time, if you do have any more specific advice for me I’d greatly greatly greatly with sugar on top, would love it.

    Thank you for everything you do for us parents.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Marcus, thanks so much for your kind words! It can definitely be rough when our kids don’t wake up quietly and peacefully at the right time in the mornings!

      One thing that could help is to put a white noise machine in their room so that at least it’s not super quiet for your 3 year old. I also would try an earlier bedtime (maybe 7 or 7:30 if that’s possible) to see if the restful sleep can lead to better wake ups.

      Lastly, I would try to prolong getting your 15 month old up the minute she cries and instead keep checking in on her until the official wake up time. If she wakes up crying, you can go in the room and explain that it’s still time to sleep and close the door. Come back in 5 minutes and repeat the same message, then again at 10 and 15 minutes (and every 15 minutes thereafter until the official wake up time). That way she starts learning that she really does need to stay in bed until wake up time.

      With your 3 year old in the room, you might want to try this by temporarily putting her in your room so that she doesn’t wake up when you do the check-ins. Or you can get her up at the first check-in and have her sleep on a mattress in your room until the wake up time.

      I hope that helps, Marcus!