How to Get Your Sleepyhead Out of Bed, Part I: Revenge of the Howler Monkey

Posted August 4, 2008 by

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My son has inherited my “sleeping gene” as my husband calls it. I can—and have—slept through everything from crashing thunderstorms to earthquakes. As a kid, I remember my mother doing everything short of setting off fireworks to get me up, from tearing the covers off me in the dead of winter to sprinkling cold water on my face. But at least I wasn’t as bad as my brother, who’s even more legendary in the sleep department than I am. My mom used to carry him to the bathroom in the morning until he was twelve. He was taller than she was even then, so his feet literally touched the floor as she lugged him down the hall. I didn’t want the Sherpa treatment, so nothing else worked for my mom except hauling me out of bed by my feet. “I hope you have a child who’s just like you, so you know what it feels like,” she warned. Well, it’s happened. My son is, if anything, an even bigger sleepyhead than I am. Since kindergarten is starting in the fall, I’ve been getting increasingly nervous about his chances of making it to the school bus on time. I have the feeling that if I don’t do something, we’re going to be in big trouble a few years from now. I talked to James Lehman about it after I read his latest article on Back-to-School. “Get him an alarm clock. It gets him in the habit of waking up to an alarm from an early age,” he advised. We went out and bought a cute little monkey clock over the weekend. (Unfortunately, I forgot the second half of James’ advice—get a clock with a subtle alarm.)

It went off this morning. It seems I didn’t read the label carefully—it’s a howler monkey alarm clock. The thing screams like its tail is on fire, and sounds disturbingly human. We all ejected out of our beds, my husband Joe clutching a vacuum cleaner nozzle—for protection, I assumed—our hearts beating a mile a minute. Our son Alex jumped out of bed like a champ. “It works,” he yelled proudly, and ran to the bathroom. Joe and I stood staring at each other, ashen-faced and slightly nauseous. “Are you going to take it back or should I,” Joe said, his eyes in a permanent state of bulginess from the shock of being awakened by the sound of a screaming monkey. “Shock the monkey?” I said weakly. He didn’t laugh.

Now I just have to find a way to switch that darned monkey for a cricket clock and we’ll be all set.

Does anyone out there have good tips for waking their kids up in the morning? What consequences do you give them if they don’t get up? Please share your tips with the EP community!


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “R.desperate”: Thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s understandable you would be concerned about your son and his future. It’s so frustrating to see your child not living up to his full potential and not really taking true responsibility for his academics. You may want to start by setting some firm limits around his grades and the privileges you provide to him. For example, perhaps he has to get all C’s or better to keep the cell phone service you pay for. It’s going to be most helpful to focus on a single goal and then come up with a way you can hold him accountable. With young adults, letting them be uncomfortable can be a good way to motivate them, whether he’s uncomfortable without his phone, without using your car, or without some other privilege you restrict. I’m including a three part article series about adult children for more ideas on how to set up some limits and consequences to help motivate your son. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care. Failure to Launch, Part 1: Why So Many Adult Kids Still Live with Their Parents Failure to Launch, Part 2: How Adult Children Work the “Parent System” Failure to Launch, Part 3: Six Steps to Help Your Adult Child Move Out. I hope this has been helpful. Good luck to you and your family as you work through this challenge. Take care.

  2. R.desperate Report

    My son has had behavior and school problems since 10 years of age. He has been to psychiatrists, counsellors, and medical doctors for his problems. I was told to have him sent away to a residential facility but I could not bear to see such a young child sent away from home and his family. It wasn’t until recently that he has been diagnosed as ADHD/ODD. He has given us fits down through the years with school work and at home. He refuses to do homework, study, follow instruction, or do chores. He can be a sweet boy but he will not take responsibility for his actions. He provokes arguments and becomes very defiant. It looks like he will fail the 10th. grade for the second time at the end of this year. He was placed on Adderal this year and it does help when he takes his medicine, but now, he refuses to take it. He will not cooperate with us to help himself. Besides being a very sick woman who endures a lot of pain from fybromylgia, osteopodrosis and nerve atrophy each day, I feel like I have reached my limit. I am very concerned about him and his future. Home schooling is out because he will not follow my instruction. It would be difficult for him to get his GED because he can’t seem to pass the 10th. grade. I know my options are limited because he will be 18 years old in July. Do you have any suggestions for me at this time?

  3. Shirley Report

    Ummm! Any suggestions on how you could change the mind set of a 16 yr old. Who at all cost will do anything to prove he is right. Yes, that includes getting out of bed in the morning. He says he can’t, he won’t, he will not, and no one will change that. He jumps up after 1 hour of hell for us and runs to the bus. To prove the point that he can make the bus and not get outta bed till he is ready.

  4. Shirley Report

    Better the monkey Psycho than me. Ours is almost 17 and he still does not get up. Nearly every morning is a fight. Sometimes it makes me so depressed, I spend my day trying to come up with just another idea that will work. This summer was so bad that he barely got out of bed each day before 5 pm. Its so bad we took him to the DR yesterday and made them do a complete blood work up on him. If Psycho monkey cannot get him up, then I finally give up. Its a ridiculous fight every single morning. Doesn’t help that he is my step son and I am limited on the things that I can do.

  5. Shirley Report

    I seriously need to know where you got that alarm clock. I must have one. We have tried everything. This might just work.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Shirley, You’re in luck! I recently saw the same clock in a book store near my house and checked the name. (My son’s clock mysteriously disappeared shortly after we purchased it. Hmmm.)
      Here it is:
      Be sure to read the reviews at the bottom, though — one person called it “psycho.” (I tend to agree.) Another said they bought it for their co-worker who is never late anymore… Good luck!!! 🙂

  6. Melody Report

    OK, First I can totally relate! I was the same and my son follows suite, but my daughters seem to have no problem waking up when they want. I have to say I had to really laugh out loud at the morning alarm shock and the disparity of reaction between the child and the parents 🙂

    Thank you Elisabeth and thank you everyone for your comments as I gained a few tools. Determining the most effective amount of sleep for each child would be ideal. In addition, I like that concept of firm accountability “It is my job to drive you (at 8:00)… what happens before then is up to you.” I think USING the alarm clock and interspersed frozen marbles would be highly effective. Too often I think my kids just get use to and even crave/seek the constant nagging to get anything done. It makes me insane!

  7. oceanmom Report

    so, about getting kids up in the morning….hmmm, I have been having this problem with my youngest son for almost 2 school years now. My oldest son is less of an issue in this regard, however, the morning attitude is getting VERY old (another issue for another time). I have started recently to give them both a consequence of late downstairs in the morning-early upstairs that night. My boys are a month shy of 7 and almost 11. The shock on their face told me it was going to be effective! I have to confess, with baseball season some games go until 9:30, so it has been difficult to follow through with consistently. I plan to use this next school year for sure! Good luck!

  8. Connie Report

    I have the same problem trying to get my 15yr old to
    sleep at night and up in the morning. My situation is
    that he doesn’t care if he is late for school!! So I
    take his lap-top, his ipod, cell phone he tells me
    no problem he’ll just use his friends!! He “feels”
    that these consequences are unfair because he has paid
    for all of his stuff and that its not my property to
    take as I did not buy them for him.( He can afford to
    buy these things for himself because last summer he
    had a super summer job, where I live in Bermuda, this is
    very commom and legal)
    Any advise for me anyone??

  9. MommieDearest Report

    I have two beautiful children who had great difficulties getting up and getting ready for school. I gave up trying to force them out of bed after three years of arriving at school having made it through numerous tantrums, tardiness, and tears. The ability to get up and self start is, ultimately, their responsibility. I held a family meeting and we discussed the problems we were having, and I then offered a solution. I posted a note of the fridge door that basically says, “It is my job to drive you to school and drop you off. What happens before that is up to you”. I promised to drive them, in what ever clothing they have on, in what ever state they happen to find themselves, at 8:00am, without fail, Monday through Friday, to school. I provided them with an alarm clock, a fully supplied cereal cupboard with plastic dishes included, and permission to ask for whatever help they needed. I do love them, dearly, but my strong stance has changed our lives. They now get up, get dressed, follow the posted suggestions on how to get things prepared, and how to get ready. Most mornings, I have time to eat, have my coffee, and brush my hair. Wonder of wonders! I will cook for them if they ask, politely. My results are not guaranteed until I have had at least one cup of coffee!;)

  10. Konnie Report

    My son is 14 and he’s been in High school for 6 month know. This is the 4th time he’s late and because of it has to spend this Saturday at school. I alway’s get up before him and wake him up about 3 times before he finally get’s up . He has an alarm but just turn’s it off, and than he get’s upset because he’s running late and tell’s me he can’t remember me comming in to wake him up!!!! I want him to go to bed at 10:00pm but somehow it’s always later. He’s going to the bathroom or cleaning his room or something. He already lost TV and computer privilages and his phone, what else can I do?? He also always had a hard time falling asleep at night. He read’s a lot sometimes till 12:00 or
    1:00am.How can I make him more responsible or what can we do to make him fall asleep easer. I tried lavander pillows and milk with honey and turning his electronics of 1 hour before bedtime and he enrolled in sports to see if he would be more tiered. Any suggestions?? Thanks:)

  11. Barbara Report

    We were having this same problem with our 17 year old son. He’s always been a “sleeper baby”, only now he’s not a baby. He was missing the bus and after my husband and I drove him twice, we had to come up with a better solution. After taking away his computer access, I asked him to come up with a solution. he did. He set my alarm clock for 10 minutes earlier than I usually get up and that gives him enough time to get his act together and out the door. I wasn’t crazy about being a part of his problem, but it’s now working and we’re not fighting in the morning, either.

  12. Megan Devine, LCPC and Parental Support Line Advisor Report

    Dear Craig: Children’s sleep patterns and habits are complicated and unique. There are so many variables with each child, I can’t give a definitive answer to your question. You may want to discuss this issue with a health care provider, as they will be able to assess your situation in detail. To prepare for your appointment, you might ask yourself these questions: What time does your child go to bed? Is it age appropriate? Too early? Too late? What is the bedtime routine? Has something happened recently that makes him need company in order to fall asleep? Is this a new behavior?

    You might also look for an upcoming article on Empowering Parents entitled, “My Child Won’t Get Out of Bed! Stop the Morning Madness”. We’ll have another one soon on getting kids to bed at night, as well, so please keep checking our site.

  13. Craig Berger Report

    We have trouble getting him out of bed in the morning and going to bed at night. Any advice on getting him to bed. He is 9. He will lay down but I can check on him 3 hours later and you would think he would be sleeping, but no completely awake. And completely exhausted. He refuses to sleep unless someone lays with him.

  14. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Tina, you know, you’re right. We are learning to “embrace the monkey” instead of rejecting his morning battle cry. And Jessica, one good thing about a kid who can sleep through anything — it becomes a definite benefit later in life. Hang in there!

  15. Tina Report

    I would stick with the monkey clock…hey, it works vs. you having to drag him out of bed. I would say that would be a great compromise.

  16. Jessica Report

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THE HOWLER MONKEY STORY. I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my computer chair! I have an 11 year old step-daughter that I have been raising for 8 years. She is a wonderful child. Her father has the nightowl syndrome. When she goes to bed at night as long as I don’t have to wake her within a couple hours of her falling asleep she wakes to her own alarm clock and has for going on 3 years now. On the other hand we got custody of her two half sisters a little over a year ago and the oldest of those 2 is a pain to get up in the mornings and she is 10 years old. So I guess she got more of the syndrome than the 11 year old did. I have tried everything and so has the 11 yr. old to get her up in the mornings. The 11 yr old sometimes has to come get me up in the mornings so that I can get the 10 yr old up. I have had to threaten dragging her out of bed before, that seems to do the trick but I don’t get a lot of sleep at night because we have a 4 month old son and a 2 yr old daughter (that are not in school yet). I don’t even think that that howler monkey alarm clock would wake this child. I truely believe that she got a double dose of the syndrome because her mother is the same way. So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place with this particular situation.
    We have six Kids in our home, 3 are my step-children and 3 are our children. So it makes for a busy day and well deserved sleep that most of the time their father and I DO NOT get!!!

  17. Perri Report


    we struggle each school year with my son not wanting to get up and get ready for school, so for every minute he makes us late and the kids in our carpool I add 15 minutes to it, and then he has to go to bed that much ealier that night, it has worked. I like the idea better of doing his chores for him that I read above, I will try that this year.

  18. Christi Holm Report

    I love the marble idea! My 16 year old son has inherited my night-owl behavior. It is almost inmpossible to get him to bed before 11. Last year was a nightmare and his siblings were frequently late to school. This year I have imposed a 10 pm bedtime. If he goes beyond 10, he loses a privelage the next day. For the mornings, I have told him that I will no longer wake him. He has an alarm clock and is old enoguh to be responsible for himself. I also told him that I would leave without him. (we live 18 miles from the school) so he will have work to make up which he hates. I slept through our fire alarm going off, now that’s scary! Even with my sleep habits I was still able to get myself up (in college), but only when there was no one else to do it for me! The best of luck to you!

  19. Susan Report

    When my kids were younger I would wake them them and then take their clothes and blow hot air from a hair dryer down the arms and legs of their tops and bottoms. If they didn’t get up they missed puttng on warm clothing that morning. My kids LOVED this!!
    Running the clothes in the dryer works too. Just wake them and tell them when the clothes you are taking out the clothes.

  20. Jeanne Brown Report

    The howler monkey story made me laugh till I cried.
    In my house, my 15 year old son is very difficult to wake in the morning. I bought him two different alarm clocks, which were placed at opposite sides of the room. That did not work. So, I bought him an alarm clock made for the hearing impaired. It shakes the bed, it blinks red lights, and it emits a loud noise. He uses this in conjuction with the one across the room that plays music. My next door neighbor complained that his alarm woke up their entire family at 5 am every morning, but my son slept right through it. So did I. How DO my neighbors sleep so lightly?

    What I finally found to be helpful is to turn off the computer–and all the electronic doo-dads and watchamacallits– one hour before bed time. If he does not turn them off at his curfew time, he is not permitted to use the computer for the entire next day. I taped paper across the room where the computer is that read: “Off limits to BJ for today,” and I put the date that he was banned from the computer. I kept the paper so that I can change the date whenever I need to. So far, he has only missed one day of computer use, and he gets up when I need him to.

  21. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Madeleine: That’s a good thought–maybe we can find a way to embrace the howler monkey. (Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right. Well, you know what I mean. 🙂 ) And by the way, it’s been a lifelong ambition of mine to become a morning person–I really envy you being able to get up at 5 a.m. I’m a night owl, unfortunately, and every time I try to change my internal clock, I just end up frustrated. To Kellie: I got the clock at a toy store in Portland, Maine. It was the last one they had, and the box was quite dusty, as I recall. Now I know why!

  22. Sue Yodice Report

    Once my son started 8th grade, we had a good discussion about becoming more independent, and one topic was how he could get up and get ready for school on his own. He really wanted to show us that he could do it (making our jobs quite a bit easier, thankfully), so we tried a few approaches before settling on the one that worked best.

    Zach would experiment with different bedtimes, too (9:30, 10:00, etc), and we figured out the best time to wake up by walking through each of the things he needed to do to get ready (brush teeth, get dressed, eat, etc.). Then we built in a few extra minutes so he wouldn’t stress. After a week he was on his own! His reward for the first week (which we agreed upon ahead of time) was that I would do his chores for each day that he was ready as planned. Of course, he loved that idea and it really motivated him!

  23. Robin Report

    Our ten year old son is difficult to greet the morning so we have used frozen marbles to wake the “dead asleep” at our house. I keep them in a bag in the freezer and give one wake up call “or marble time”. I just pour the marbles beside him and every way he rolls, he lands on the frozen “get up” reminders. I gather the marbles while he gets dressed as part of the deal. Hope this helps with the first day of school so close!

  24. Demetria Report

    Thank you for the laughs with the Howler Monkey story. With my son having a monkey room, it might actually blend in well. As far as cricket sounds or nature sounds, my son has slept right through it all, yet his alarm clock that features such options has helped him calm to sleep on some occasions. I have resorted to different alarm options from my cell phone. He wakes up, yet learned to eventually tune it out, and those ignore as time went on..and then slept right through it..still working on this issue with school starting in less than three weeks. I might have to resort the our big goldendoodle jumping on the bed full of play and kisses to get him out…we shall see.

  25. Kellie Report

    Elizabeth, I really needed the laugh first thing this morning. My husband and I try the month of August to ease our son back into the routine of school slowly but having him actually heed the “time to get out of bed” directive is a neverending battle. We had the race car noises for a while so I totally sympathize with the howler monkey (the race car ended up at my ex’s house by the way). I concur with Madeleine that if it is working you should stick with it for a while and set your own clock a bit earlier. I might have to try it with mine. You got it where? 🙂

  26. Madeleine Report

    Elizabeth, since the howler monkey works oh so well, I suggest you and your husband set your alarm for a few minutes earlier than your son’s, that way you two are already awake. I always wake before my children, even if it means 5 am, so I can sip my cup of coffee in peace.

  27. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Brooke, I’ll update you after we take it back! In the mean time, does anyone have any good ideas on how to do that smoothly? We are on day 2 with the howler monkey and I’m afraid my husband is developing a twitch…

  28. James Report

    Oh my gosh! I just laughed till I cried while reading about the howler monkey alarm clock. What a great story! Thanks for sharing.

  29. Tina Report

    I found that by using the summer’s end, the school holidays and any weekend to determine exactly what time my son needs to go to bed to get up in the morning it worked perfectly.

    I found that if he OVERslept through the night he wouldn’t get up in the morning. For example, if he goes to bed at 8 p.m. he will definately sleep until around 9:30 a.m.. Now mind you he must get up by 7:30 a.m. to get on the bus.

    He began the experiment with a sad face thinking that he would have to go to bed even earlier just to wake up on time. Suprise to him, I sent him to bed an hour later (I know if I get too much sleep at night I am not functional first thing in the morning). It worked he got up at 8 am with a better attitude. Then I took him to 9 p.m. and he did even better.

    We experimented over the summer with extreme late nights so that he could see how that wouldn’t work for him. We have now settled on a 10 p.m. bedtime weeknights and weekends a bit earlier in case he needs to catch up for any reason.

    We will adjust the bed time according to what time he needs to get up in the morning and how many or few hours he actually needs to sleep.



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