What is an OK-to-wake clock, Gro clock or toddler clock?
Considering using a gro clock or toddler clock?
There are many toddler clocks available on the market at the moment. One of the most popular in the UK is the Gro Clock by Tommee Tippee. Featuring Ollie the Owl or originally a star and sun. There are also other colour based clocks, and some of the fancier nightlights such as Hatch also combine this feature now too, showing a different colour in the morning.
Whichever make and model you’ve got, the principles remain the same. They can be very helpful for resolving early morning waking, bedtime delays and getting out of bed at night.
I speak to LOADS of clients who said ‘it didn’t work’ or ‘they just ignored it’. However I believe they are an amazing sleep tool. Let’s take a look at the most common mistakes when using a toddler clock and how to use them effectively!
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When should I start using a sleep training clock?
Most families get a sleep training clock (also known as ok to wake clocks) around about the age of 2-3 years old. It’s not suitable for a younger child or baby. They’re often experiencing problems with early morning waking or their toddler getting out of bed! Your little one may also be interested in nighttime or calling out to you in the morning about whether they can get up and out of bed.
Between 2-3 years of age, children’s development is really quite different, so only you will know if your child is ready for one or not. For it to remain a useful tool, the most important thing to do is to use it in a way that is realistic and achievable for your child.
5 top tips when setting up the toddler clock
- First and foremost, take some time to read the manufacturer’s recommendations!
- Place it where your child can see it from their bed, but preferably not touch it after lights out (they soon work out how to change the settings!). A shelf, or on top of a chest of drawers would do nicely!
- Turn that screen brightness OFF!!! Some of the older models have an awful blue backlight at night. Blue light can affect melatonin production (the hormone that helps us sleep). If you’ve got this model, keep reducing the brightness until it goes completely off at night.
- Spend time in the day talking to your child about the clock and both day and night. Particularly younger toddlers will need to understand what it is before we introduce it at bedtime. Some gro clocks come with a little story book which is great.
- Pick a realistic wake time! If they’ve always woken at 5, this is NOT going to solve your issues straight away. It’s a slow and gradual process. Simply plugging it in and setting it for 7am isn’t going to get them on a new routine! (More about this below).
Can an OK-to-wake clock help sleep train my toddler?
This is a slow and steady process…used to resolve early waking and pushing back their wake up time or getting out of bed. Some families choose to use it as a nap timer too (if you want to then the same rules apply).
Why toddler clocks matter
Toddlers and young children don’t have the concept of time that we do as adults. We need to use a visual cue to help them understand our expectations. This is where a sleep trainer clock can help break down something quite complex (such as an ordinary clock), making it easy for a child to understand it’s time to sleep and wake up times.
You may also be able to introduce easy to understand rules such as stay in bed or keep your eyes closed. For this – see my flashcards too – perfect for this age group!
From about 2.5-3 years of age fears of the dark can also start to hinder the bedtime routine and be the cause of some night wakes. If this is the case for you, then you may also want to choose a wake clock that has a night light feature (aim for reds and warmer colours).
How do I use an OK-to-wake clock?
For those of you with a colour clock let’s break down what we expect into small and achievable expectations, for example:
“Red means bed!”
“Green means go!”
For those of you with an animal based clock:
“When the owl is sleeping, you need to clock your eyes and stay quiet”
“When the owl is awake you can get out of bed and come for a cuddle!”
How to use a Gro clock for early morning waking
This is probably the biggest reason why people use the clock.
- Try to think about the time your child woke up the last 5 mornings and take an average. For this example, let’s say it’s 5:10AM
- For the first 2 days we’re going to set the clock to wake EARLIER! (sorry!) So, 5AM in this example. I really want them to achieve this goal and get such an instant sense of achievement because we made it easy for them to do. You get to celebrate too and it sets things off on a good note.
- The next 2 days we return to the old wake time of 5:10AM
- Then 5:15
- Then 5:20
- You get it…every couple of days, we’ll move the clock 5 minutes later. Continue with the rewards, praise and high 5’s.
What if my child wakes up before the toddler clock indicates it’s time to get up?
They may be happy chilling in their bed which is great. They’re still resting. Early waking can also be a genetic trait, so if either parent is an early bird then your little one may be too (sorry!).
If they’re not happy or start to get out of bed then we need to ask ourselves if the clock is set too far in the future as smaller shifts towards our desired morning rise time may be better.
You may want to use silent returns and a ‘nighttime voice’ to return them to bed and explain it’s still nighttime (point to the ok to wake clock and explain the rules again) and it’s time to sleep. Some children may need a consistent response from parents over a few days before really understanding how the clock works.
They’re still waking early!
If they’re still waking early even after working on this for a couple of weeks then we need to take a look at their sleep needs. They’re quite possibly well rested!
Children in this age group typically need between 10.5-12 hours of sleep each night. If bedtime is 7pm and they’re waking at 5:30am, then that’s your answer! They’re just a 10.5 hour kiddie. In this case, we’ll need to slowly push bedtime back by 5 mins every couple of nights as we adjust the morning time. We’ll be shifting their whole schedule to achieve a later rise time.
Also, if they remain an early bird then we may just need to shift the rules. When the clock turns then they can get out of bed and play quietly until a parent comes to get them.
Note! If your toddler still takes naps then early waking is also a sign they’re ready to drop their last nap.
Getting out of bed consistently too?
Using a Gro clock or Toddler clock Q&A with Gemma Coe
Q: At what age can I start using a toddler clock?
Sleep consultants would usually recommend using these from around 2.5 years of age, however some little ones will grasp the concept earlier (closer to 2).
Q: At what age should kids wake up on their own?
Ideally all toddlers should start waking on their own, happy, after a good night’s sleep. It’s just at what time they wake that’s the issue!
Q: Should I use a sticker chart with the toddler clock?
This depends on the child. They absolutely have to celebrate in the morning when they’ve either stayed in bed until the clock light turns, or they’ve woken up after the light.
For some children cuddles, kisses and high 5’s is all they need, and for others stickers are great! You know your children.
Q: Are toddler clocks safe to use in a child’s bedroom?
Yes! Make sure the adjustable brightness light is low or off at night and make sure it’s out of a child’s reach as they’ll often have USB plugs and cables.
Q: Can a toddler clock help my child sleep through the night?
Absolutely, if they’re used right. You are probably still going to have the odd night time toilet trip to contend with, but the wake clock helps to get buy in from your little one.
You can also use it for naps if they’re still napping, or if they’re growing out of naps and you’re replacing the nap with quiet time then it’s perfect to indicate when your little one can continue playing quietly and then when they can get up.
Q: How long does it take for a child to understand and follow the toddler clock?
It can almost be instant if we take the prep time and explain the rules in a way they will understand. Some have an optional digital clock feature which can be useful for school goers when they start to look at clocks and learn digital time. For younger kiddies, we’ll just be using the ok to wake clocks as a visual cue.
Q: Can a toddler clock be used to manage bedtime battles or resistance?
Yes absolutely. It helps parents set some boundaries and helps to explain what we expect in a simply set way. Visual cues are great for kids. It helps maintain a consistent flow. Displaying my flashcards in their room is also perfect for helping to reduce bedtime battles during the bedtime routine. Also be mindful of just whether your little one is ready for that big bed or not!
Q: How long should the wake-up colour stay on in the morning?
Ideally about half an hour, so if they wake after the clock turns then they get that awesome sense of achievement that they’ve done it!
Q: How can I help my child stay in bed?
Still need some help?
I’m here to help! I can tailor advice and plans to your family and situation.
I can help establish good sleep bedtime habits and provide tips on how to cope with inevitable nighttime disruptions. I offer tried-and-tested sleep training solutions that are well worth the investment for your whole family.