Raise your hand or your glass if this applies to you! I have lived it, and there is nothing more beastly than a toddler who starts his day too early and on the wrong side of the toddler bed.
Here a few suggestions and fixes to get going on this ultra important change.
First of all, early wake ups happen due to developmental reasons. Your 2 year old hits choppy REM sleep cycles in the early morning hours and gets tossed out of sleep. He is miserable, and you will be too shortly. This is unavoidable, but you can go in, give him a hug, and tell him you will see him when the clock says it’s morning and then leave — and come back when the clock turns green. Treat it like a night wake up. If you do a quick hug and leave, then he will think it’s middle of the night too and at least try to go back to sleep.
Make sure you have your schedule right — if he is still napping, choose a set time zone for the nap, i.e. all naps are 2.5 hours and end by 3pm. You can then control your 8pm bedtime. Usually a 4-5 hour awake window works for most 2 year olds. You might need closer to 6 hours for a 3 year old.
Let your toddler have success with the toddler clock. Be realistic and give him a few wins when you first get started. If he wakes at 5:45, then set it for 5:40. He will wake, see it is green, and then get a happy you (yes, you might have to dig deep here and feign your joy). You then come slowly move the clock to a normal time — ideally 10 hours and change after bedtime. He will know the green wake up time is achievable and worth waiting for.
If you have to help your toddler go to sleep, then he is going to want you there in the the early morning. Work on creating independence at bedtime, so that he is not holding your hand to sleep. He needs to see the clock switch to bedtime, and then know that he sees you next or leaves his room/crib, when the clock is switched to green/morning time.
This is clearly a lot of work, but it does work. Stick with it and if you hit a hurdle or two, reach out, we can help!