How To Use A Toddler Clock
Do you have a 2 year old? Time to introduce a clock!
Do you have a toddler who is a chronic early riser? Time for a clock!
Have a child who fights bedtime? Time for a clock!
Around 22 months old a child can understand when a light goes off, that means it’s morning time! You can begin using a toddler clock if your little one is struggling with waking up early, being loud, or yes..even fighting bedtime!
Let’s first look at the differences in the types of clocks. We’re not talking about numbers, since obviously a 2 year old cannot tell time. There are TONS of options available, but I mostly point to the Hatch Clock which actually TRIPLES as a nightlight, sound machine AND clock! Don’t want to spend $50 on a clock? No problem! Grab the Okay to Wake or this stoplight one from Amazon!
Now that you’ve got the clock, let’s set up the colors!
If you’re just starting out I’d like to get as simple as possible:
Show your child the clock the day you start to use it and tell them: “Red is time for bed! When the red light shines that means it’s time to get into bed, say goodnight, and you go to sleep.”
For our girls, the red all night is also their nightlight. They’ve specifically asked for a light (around 2.5yo is a normal time for a chlid to say, “I’m scared of the dark!”) so I’m happy to allow the red all night long. Red is the least intrusive color on the light spectrum, and it won’t trigger wake-ups...so I’m happy for you to keep it on all night!
Next ask them, “What colors would you like for morning time?” If they are young, offer two options: “Would you like purple or blue for morning?” Whichever color they decide, tell them “When the light turns blue that means it’s morning! Time to play!”
If your child is in an open bed (3 years and up!) I have no problem telling them “When the light turns blue that means it’s time to get up.” Whether you’d like to come get them, or have them get up- it’s totally up to you!
Like any child they will wonder what it looks like when the clock makes colors, or what is sounds like when the birds chirp (Hatch!). Show them what it’s going to look like, so they have the expectation and experience with the clock.
Take a few minutes and even practice laying on the floor while the clock is red pretending to sleep. Then have the clock trigger wake-up time in 1 minute and pop up and say, “Yay! It’s morning! Time to wake up!”
In our home we say “Morning starts when the clock turns pink”, and that’s been helpful so far. It covers a manor of expectations for our girls: Morning is when Mom and Dad come and morning is when we get out of bed.
Setting up the expectations:
Just because you have a clock set up doesn’t mean that we can magically expect your child to stop getting up at 5 AM. They’re probably not. I hate to break it to you, but we have to ease into the new expectations!
If your child is having trouble getting up out of bed in the 5 AM hour, they most likely need more sleep. We’re not starting the day at 5:00 or 5:30, so I want you to set the clock to be okay to wake at 5:45. Yes! You read that right! Nobody wants to start their day with a toddler at 5:45, however, we have to give them a boost in their confidence. So, keep that clock to be okay to wake at 5:45 for one or two mornings. When they feel successful with that, the next step is you have to give them a reward, instantly.
It’s nearly impossible to motivate a toddler to stay in bed until the morning light comes on for 5 days, and THEN reward them! They lose interest!
We will boost their confidence that they CAN see success by inching the clock little by little. I want you to set it super early, maybe like 10-15 minutes after they normally get up to see if they can do it, and then start to build from there.
Maybe for a couple of mornings it’s 5:45, then we move it to 6:00, 6:15, 6:30, all the way until we reach that full level of sleep, 11-12 hours.
Remember 11 hours is our minimum here. If your child is over 3 years old and napping, then we are possibly looking at 10 hours of night sleep. (See more on dropping the nap!)
Ready to take it to the next level?
If you’re ready to move onto a little more advanced Toddler Clock level, you’re welcome to steal exactly what we do with our girls! (and save the photo below!)
We use 4 colors on our clock for the girls, and while it sounds a little complex, it’s actually really simple and keeps them on-task! And in bed!!
GREEN- get ready for bed! Baths, showers, brush teeth, PJs, and book time (~25 min)
YELLOW- last call for potty, water, tissues...basically anything they used to stall going to bed, we give them 1 minute to get it done!
RED- time for bed! Tuck in, prayers, songs, kisses and leave the room (this stays on all night, as red is the least intrusive color for sleep! And they like having a nightlight anyways!)
PURPLE- morning time! This is when Mom and Dad can come in to get you up!
The 4 color system is great if your child has been sleeping like a champ for a while, and is maybe starting to stall bedtime! It’s also great if you’re introducing a clock to a 4-5 year old who can handle a few transitions.