How to Introduce an Okay-to-Wake Clock to Your Toddler

Is your child getting out of bed ready to start the day before you’re ready? No matter how many times you tell them to go back to bed, some kiddos feel like it’s go-time and struggle with returning to bed after they have woken up. In this post, I’ll be sharing a tool that some parents find helpful for keeping their kids in their room until it’s time to wake up. If you’re struggling with your child leaving their room multiple times in the middle of the night, check out this post.

When you wake up in the middle of the night or early morning, what do you do?

Chances are, you check the clock to see if it’s time to wake up. If it’s not, you roll back over and go to sleep.

Your child can’t do that yet, unless they know how to read a clock and know what time they should get up. Using an okay-to-wake clock can help inform them that it’s okay to get up or that it’s not time to wake up yet.

Okay-To-Wake Clocks Meet Your Child Where They Are

Your child may not be able to read a clock yet, but they probably know their colors (or at least colors are easier to understand than numbers). Okay-to-wake clocks are programable and can turn colors at certain times.

For example, let’s say your child’s ideal wake up time is 7 a.m.

You can program the clock to be red (indicating that if they wake up any time and it’s red, they should go back to sleep) from the moment they go to bed until 6:45 a.m. Then at 6:45 a.m., you can program the clock to turn yellow, signaling that your child can stay awake, but they shouldn’t leave their room yet. Then at 7 a.m., you can program the clock to turn green, communicating that your child can get up and come out of their room.

For some children, having an external source tell them it’s not time to wake up is more reliable than a parent telling them to go back to bed. In these cases, using a clock can also prevent the power struggle toddlers often experience as they try to assert their independence.

Some clocks can be programmed with sound also, so you can have a waterfall sound going through the night and then at 7 a.m., the sound can change to a gentle lullaby. Of course, sound is completely optional, as you may decide not to wake your child up, but to allow them to wake up on their own.

How to Explain an Okay-to-Wake Clock to Your Toddler

When your clock arrives, it’s a good idea to take it out and program it first. Play around with the settings to program what time the clock will turn to specific colors. Once it’s set, you can bring your child in and show them their new clock.

Go through the colors with your child and tell them that when they wake up and see yellow, for instance, that means they can stay up, but they need to stay in their room. If the clock is red, they can go back to sleep. And if it’s green, they can get up out of bed and go to the living room (or whatever you feel most comfortable allowing your child to do).

It doesn’t matter so much what the colors communicate, as long as you explain to your child what they mean.

The magic comes with the follow through. For the first few days, your child may continue their habit of leaving the room when they wake up at 4 a.m. Gently remind your child that they should stay in their room until the clock is green (or whatever color you pick).

Give it a week of implementing the clock and following through to allow your child time to understand this new tool.

What Colors To Use for Okay-to-Wake Clocks

The colors you choose to set on your clock are dependent on what colors are offered. It doesn’t matter so much which colors you choose, however, for overnight time, avoid blue and purple hues, as those can interfere with sleep.

Red hues are better for overnight, since they don’t interfere with melatonin production.

If after a few weeks your child isn’t quite grasping the concept of the clock, it’s okay! Keep it around, and in a few months, try it again. Your child may just need a little more time to developmentally understand the clock.

Check out this Instagram post for recommended color settings.

Let us know — have you tried an okay-to-wake clock with your toddler? How did it work?

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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