Does your child sleep in a big kid bed and are you having trouble convincing them to stay in it? Do they get out repeatedly at bedtime, or wander into your room ready to start the day at 5 am? Are you tired of walking them back to bed over and over again, and worried that all of that up and down is depriving them of the sleep they need? If so, a child sleep clock can be an effective and fun way to keep them tucked cozily in their beds until morning.
Child sleep clocks are designed to help children understand when they need to stay in bed and when it’s ok to get up and start the day. There are a variety of sleep clocks on the market, but they all work off the same premise. They provide visual cues for children that can’t tell time. Some, like the OK To Wake Clock and the Stop Light Sleep Enhancing Clock change color when it’s time to get up. Others, like the Kid’Sleep Classic, use images and light to convey the message. More elaborate models offer extra features like nap settings, story telling functions and white noise. No matter what model you choose, in the end they all offer the same perk – you set the clock, say goodnight, and the clock reminds your child to stay in bed – not you!
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s not always that simple. Some children take a while to adjust to a child sleep clock, and will continue to test limits, especially if you’re lax about enforcing a stay in bed all night long policy. Be sure to take the following steps to assure that your child gets the hang of the clock and can learn to use it successfully.
Be sure they’re developmentally ready. Although some 2 to 2.5 year old’s can grasp the idea of a child sleep clock, most aren’t cognitively ready until closer to 3 years of age, either because they don’t understand the concept or they do understand but lack the impulse control required to ”listen” to the clock. (This is why I don’t recommend moving your child to a big bed until at least 2.5 years – they just don’t get what stay in your bed all night long means.) If there’s any doubt in your mind about whether your child is ready, think about waiting a bit longer before you try. Asking them to do something they’re not capable of doing will be an exercise in frustration for both of you.
Select the right clock for your child. The KidSleep Classic is a great choice for children in the 2 to 3 year age group because of it’s easy to understand imagery. When the sleeping bunny is illuminated, we stay in bed– when the awake bunny is lit up, it’s time to start the day. For children in the 3+ age group I like the Stoplight Sleep Enhancing Clock. Modeled after a traffic light (which most children recognize and understand) the clock lights up red at bedtime and green in the morning when it’s time to get up.
Learn how to program it. Basic sleep clocks are relatively easy to set up, but clocks like the My Tot Clock have multiple features and can be a bit more challenging to master. Be sure that you understand the clock’s ins and outs before you start using it. Do your best to discourage your child from playing with the clock. Tell them that the buttons on the clock are off limits to little fingers and place it in a location where they can see it but aren’t tempted to touch. Clever pre-schoolers can reprogram it when you’re out of the room which definitely undermines it’s effectiveness!
Explain to your child how the clock works. When you’re ready to start using the clock, sit down with your child and tell them that you’ve found a way to help them know when it’s OK to get up. Show them the clock and explain how it works in an age appropriate way. Let them know that when the sleeping bunny or the red light is glowing that they must lie quietly in bed, and that once the light changes they’re free to get up and start the day. If they need extra motivation to follow the clock you can introduce a sticker chart to reinforce what’s expected and measure/praise progress. List three or four sleep expectations, or manners, being sure to include, “stay in your bed until the wake up light turns on.” Review the chart every morning, discuss what needs improvement and hand out stickers promptly, along with lots of praise for any progress they’ve made.
Treat the clock seriously. If you set the clock for 7:00 am but allow your child to get out of bed at 6:45 am you will send the message that you don’t take the sleep clock seriously. Remember that if you don’t respect the clock it’s unlikely that your child will. Hang in there and be consistent, even if you want to throw in the towel. Knowing that you mean business will help your child learn more quickly and with less fussing overall.
Be patient. It may take a week or two for your child to “buy in” to the idea of a child sleep clock. Have patience and reasonable expectations. If your child wakes every day at 5 am, it’s not realistic to expect them to stay happily in bed until 7 am on day one of using the clock. Work towards a more reasonable wake up time gradually. Set the clock at 5:15 for a day or two, then 5:30 and so on. In time, most children adjust to the new routine, which means better sleep for everyone – including you!
Alison Bevan – Sleepytime Coach
Pediatric Sleep Consultant – The Center For Advanced Pediatrics