Tot clocks are a great tool for teaching toddlers to stay in bed until the morning.  They provide a visual cue that it’s time to wake up for the day.  Just like any sleep item, a tot clock will not magically end the trend of a toddler who rises too early or pops out of bed for a middle of the night visit to mom and dad’s room.  It’s important to know how and when to implement the use of a tot clock and when your child is ready to move on to reading a digital clock.

Gro Clock

Gro Clock

Kid's Sleep Moon

Kid’s Sleep Moon

(The Gro Clock and the Kid’s Sleep Moon are two popular options for tot clocks)

When should you use a tot clock?  A tot clock is a useful tool beginning between 2.5-3 years of age.  Adding a tot clock to a child’s sleep environment often coincides with moving a child from a crib to a bed.  A family meeting is essential in making the move from a crib to a bed.  During this time, you can discuss the rules which come along with the freedom of a bed and explain how the tot clock will work.

How can you make the use of a tot clock effective?  A tot clock is a tool that will help support your child’s newfound independence while sleeping in a bed.  I’ll often hear parents say that they bought a tot clock and it didn’t work.  This statement is misleading because a tot clock is only a tool and it won’t work independent of parents to back it up.  You will need to explain to your child that he is to stay in his bed until his clock changes colour.  At that time, he’s allowed to get up for the day.  If he gets up for the day before the clock changes colour you will follow through with a behavioural method for teaching independent sleep.  It’s important to be ready with your method prior to your first night with the clock.  By combining the visual cue of the clock with your behavioural method you will find the tot clock is an effective tool to support your little one’s independent sleep.

Who is a tot clock useful for?  Kids who are early risers or kids who are struggling to stay in their beds through the night will benefit from the use of a tot clock.  If your child stays in bed all night and has an appropriate wake up time, a tot clock won’t be a necessity for teaching independent sleep.

When is it time to stop using a tot clock?  As your child grows and his sleep needs change you may notice that the tot clock is leading to less sleep as opposed to more.  When your child starts school, and begins after school activities you may notice a natural tendency for a later bedtime on some evenings and the potential for a later morning wake time.  If the tot clock has given your child a job to do, for example, he can’t sleep soundly during the early morning hours because he keeps waking to check if his clock has changed colour, it’s time to move to a digital clock.  A digital clock is less invasive than a bright tot clock and it will allow your child the sleep in he needs as his schedule demands.

One more thing to think about… There are some great tot clocks on the market and they come in all different shapes and sizes.  Some will appear with a coloured screen during the night.  These screens are very bright and may cause your sensitive sleeper to have a difficult time falling and staying asleep as light inhibits the body’s natural production of melatonin.  Set your little one’s tot clock so the screen appears black during the night for the most restorative sleep.


Alysa Dobson is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant with SleepWell Baby. She works with families to help them get the sleep they need. Alysa offers support to parents with children ages 4 months- 8 years old through both in home and remote consultations. She can be contacted at alysa@sleepwellbaby.ca.


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