Whether you call them the “Terrible Twos and Threes” or “Terrific Twos and Threes,” we all know that toddler life is crazy – good crazy and messy crazy.
With this new found independence and language often comes some sort of sleep regression or change in sleep patterns, and one great tool to introduce at this time is a toddler clock!
Around two years (and older) is a great time to introduce a clock, as toddlers have some understanding of rules and boundaries and they get excited about new or special gadgets.
Even if your toddler is not struggling with sleep, it’s still a great tool to introduce/implement!
Popular Toddler Clocks
Hatch Baby Rest
Our family favorite is the Hatch Baby Rest, as you can program it right from your phone.
You can choose what time the “clock” comes on in the morning (really, it’s just a light), and your child can even choose which color he or she wants to wake up to.
If, for whatever reason, you need to adjust what time the colors change but your child is already asleep, you can simply change it right from your phone!
[Read more about why the Hatch Rest is our favorite.]
Ok to Wake! Clock
Another popular toddler clock is the Ok to Wake! clock.
The clock lights up green when it’s time for you little one to get up for the day. It also has a night light function that you can keep on or turn off.
If your child is a bit older and has a grasp on numbers, you can even use a good old digital clock. Simply wrap tape around the minutes and teach them to wait for the “Magic 7” to appear to let them know it’s okay to get up.
How Toddler Clocks Can Support Your Child’s Sleep
Early Morning Wakings
My favorite use of toddler clocks is for the toddlers and older kids who wake up super early. Although those early risers are cute, few people want to start their day before 6:00 am; or if you’re a morning person, you probably want to start your day solo.
So set a bedtime/night time rule that when the light is off, or the clock doesn’t show the “Magic 7” yet, your child must remain in bed and quiet.
For the kiddos who regularly wake-up before 6:00 am, especially, teaching them they have to remain in bed, lying down, and quiet until their light comes on can actually re-train them to fall back asleep and re-set their body clocks to a more reasonable time!
And depending on your child’s age and “house rules,” you get to decide what happens when the light comes on – can the child get out of bed, or is that when a parent will come and get her?
For older children who can handle a bit more freedom, their rule might even be they need to stay in their room until the clock changes, but may read or play quietly until then.
Toddler clocks are also great for toddlers and older kids who still wake up in the night. As you’re working on setting bedtime and overnight expectations, teaching your child that if the light is off, or if it’s a certain color, it means it’s still time to stay in bed.
Another reason I love the Hatch is that you can set an overnight night light to red, and teach your child that, “Red means bed.” Some parents will then say, “Green means go” in the morning, or simply let your child pick another fun color to wake up to.
Some parents also use their toddler clock as a night light. A rule of thumb I have around night lights, however, is to only introduce one if your child has expressed a fear of the dark, which usually doesn’t come up until kids are closer to three.
Because we still want your child’s room to be dark dark dark, we don’t want to suggest that the dark might be scary, or accidentally teach your child that the dark is scary, and then offer a night light that’s not necessary.
If your child has expressed a fear of the dark, however, you can absolutely use a night light.
[Pro tip: a red or orange light is best, as they will not interfere with your child’s sleep like a white or blue light.]
Independence and Consistency
When I work with families of toddlers and older children, two words I use regularly are independence and consistency. It’s so important that we, as parents, remain consistent when it comes to boundaries and expectations with our children.
And along with consistency from us, as parents, comes independence for our children. While we tell them when it’s bedtime, they can choose their jammies and their books. While we’ll kiss them goodnight, we teach them how to tuck themselves back in if their covers fall off in the middle of the night.
I think toddler clocks play a big role in fostering further independence with our kids. Rather than our kids having to go back to sleep “because we said so,” they understand it’s time for sleep without needing us to say so, because the light is red, or it’s still off.
And rather than it seeming like we’re simply “deciding” when our child can get up for the day, the clock changing colors is “deciding” for us. It teaches the child to look to the clock rather than simply waiting until mom or dad says it’s time.
p.s. If your toddler clock becomes your new best friend at bedtime or for those early mornings, don’t forget it when you travel! It’s one more piece of your child’s normal routine that will help keep sleep as “same” as possible while away.
When to Start Using a Toddler Clock
When I work with families who have kids in an open bed (ideally age 3 or older!), I highly recommend a toddler clock, as it helps keep boundaries around the new freedoms an open bed brings.
However, I suggest parents start using a toddler clock sooner, if possible, while their child is still in a crib!
I have found that around the age of two is when kids are able to start understanding the concept of a toddler clock. This is actually when we introduced our oldest to the Hatch and it worked really well!
I even know some families who have started even younger, around 18 months, and I think that’s great!
They start using it with the idea that, although their child might not yet understand that the light turning on means it’s time to wake up, but as soon as they do understand, it’s a routine that’s already in place.
How to Introduce Your Child to a Toddler Clock
When introducing a toddler clock to your child, first explore it during the day; make a little game where your toddler lays down and pretends to sleep when the light is off, and then when it turns on, make a big deal about it being time to wake up!
Then switch! You pretend to sleep, let your child be in charge, and show them how exciting it is when the clock changes colors.
Then when your child goes to sleep that night, show them where the light is and remind them that the special light will come on when it’s time to wake up.
You’ll also want to talk about the clock quite a bit the first several days you’re implementing it, both during the day and at bedtime.
And if your child is still waking in the night, when you go to respond, direct their attention to the clock. You can say something like, “Your light is still red, it’s time to sleep. Lay down, close your eyes, and be quiet.”
Although the end goal is to program the clock so that it comes on at the same time each morning (whether your child has been awake for a few minutes or is still asleep), I suggest parents start by setting the bar a bit lower so their child is able to achieve success more quickly.
For example, if your end goal is for your child to get out of bed at 7:00 am, but right now 6:00 am is the norm, start by setting the clock for 6:10 so you push them a bit but are not expecting something unrealistic, and then keep climbing from there.
When we first introduced the Hatch to our daughter, we did not have it programmed to come on at a certain time. Rather, when she woke up in the morning, we would always wait at least 5 minutes, and then we’d turn the Hatch on and quickly go get her, helping her connect the light changing with us coming in.
As she started understanding more, we were able to program it and she was comfortable waiting for us until the light changed.
If you have a toddler or older child, I highly recommend you consider implementing the use of a toddler clock. It is a great tool to help you, as parents, establish and keep boundaries and expectations around sleep.
It is also helpful for your child to feel more autonomy when it comes to sleep, which is good for us all.
And if you’re wondering where to even begin when it comes to establishing expectations around bedtime? Checkout my (free!) Guide to Bedtime Boundaries to help you even more!
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