Episode #31: Toddler Clock 101


Hey there! I’m Becca Campbell, your pediatric sleep consultant, and this is the Little Z’s Sleep Podcast Episode #31 - all about toddler clocks. This is very fresh in my memory because if you’ve been following me on instagram @littlezsleep you have seen the journey of my two girls and why we have recently implemented our clock. 

On today’s podcast I’m actually going to treat this like you are my client, and I’m going to walk through why you might need a toddler clock, how you should set it up, which types and brands I prefer, and give you some realistic expectations for using them. I know it might sound as easy as throwing a clock in their room and off you go, but there’s actually a lot to it! We have to ease them in.

But before I go too far, I have to share this review from a recent toddler family that I just worked with where we used a toddler clock to help with many of the challenges. 

“Becca helped us tremendously and I highly recommend her. We were having problems with our 3.5 year old fighting bed time (kicking and screaming for 2 hours per night), waking up in the night and only wanting to be consoled by daddy, and waking up before 6 a.m. We were hopeless and fearful that he would wake up our 16 month old, so catered to his demands. Becca helped us immediately and after 1 week, we consistently had 0 night wakings and bedtime wasn't a fight. To be completely honest, I was skeptical that she could help us, thinking I'd read books and articles on my own and nothing would help, he just didn't need sleep. But, that wasn't true and my husband and I are both happy with our decision to seek help, particularly with Becca. Her advice and custom plan helped us tackle bedtime routine in an aligned way. She also talked through scenarios when our 15 month old unexpectedly started having sleep issues. I can say that we wouldn't have the peaceful nights that we are having now without her. She has given us back our free time at night, which is truly invaluable.” -Virginia, Mom to 3.5 year old boy

Who should be using toddler clocks?

Alright, so I’m actually looking at about 2-years old as the best time to introduce a toddler clock, with the absolute youngest being 22-months. You want to make sure your child is old enough to associate an indicator light with a meaning, like morning time!

I would want you to begin using a toddler clock if your little one is struggling with maybe waking up and being really loud before it’s time to start the morning, or they’re struggling with getting up out of bed. However, I do want to point you to my podcast episode on how to get your child to stay in bed because I outline the expectation that your little ones should stay in a crib until 3-years old. (Episode 23)

What kind of clock do you recommend?

There are many different kinds of toddler clocks, but the most common either emphasize color or numbers. I prefer color clocks because they tend to be easiest for everyone to understand. Example: a green light means you can be awake, or a red light means you are supposed to sleep!

Now, if you don’t feel like going all out and spending tons of money on a toddler clock, you can grab a digital clock and simply tape over the minutes. Assuming your toddler is doing great with numbers, tell them that morning begins when they see the number 7, or 6, or 8!


How should you introduce the clock?

Start by showing them the clock the DAY you plan to use it. Don’t confuse them by saying, “In 5 days you’re going to use a clock.” They won’t understand! Show them how the clock works by making the light turn green, or display the number. Practice laying down in bed (during the day) and making the clock green, cheer and get out of bed! Practicing that new expectation over and over again is a great way for them to connect new rules.

If your child has a problem with early morning wakes, I highly suggest starting the clock to be “Morning time!” earlier for a few days. Then start to slowly move forward. This will help your child feel successful, and gain that reward we are working on!! (Next section)

EXAMPLE: Your child has been waking at 5:30 AM most morning.

  1. For the first 2 days, have the clock turn green at 5:45 AM

  2. Then push it to 6 AM for 2 days

  3. Next 6:15 AM

  4. Finally land on 6:30 AM! or 7 AM, wherever that minimum of 11 hours of sleep might be!

How can you use rewards to keep your child motivated?

I guarantee every chid on the planet is motivated for SOME type of reward! Praise, stickers, pencils, toy cars, or even a picnic in the living room, ride bike outside…something perhaps out of the ordinary for morning time. The key is that your child HAS to get this reward instantly when they make it to the clock turning green! No way will they stay motivated to “Stay in bed until your clock says morning for 5 days, then we will get ______!!” Nope. They need instant rewards and if they decide they don’t like it anymore- it’s time to change up the reward.

Above all, know that it will take time, practice and reviewing your child’s expectations every single day. As soon as you think they understand- remind them again!!!

Here’s the later morning starts and sweet dreams for all!

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