As a parent, you’ve likely experienced countless nights when bedtime feels more like a never-ending encore of curtain calls, peppered with endless requests and questions from your little ones. The struggle of getting your child to stay in bed and sleep through the night can be a nightmare. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there’s a behavior analytic technique that we use in sleep treatment that could bring some peace and quiet back to your evenings – the Bedtime Pass. In this post, we’ll explore how the Bedtime Pass works, what the research says about it, and who can benefit the most from using it.

What is the Bedtime Pass?

Picture this: You’ve finished the bedtime stories, tucked your child in, and just when you’ve settled in to enjoy a little peace and quiet at the end of the night, you hear tiny footsteps. “I need water.” “Can you check under the bed?” “One more story, please?” These bedtime encores can be frustrating and take up the little precious time you have for yourself at night. Even worse, middle-of-the-night wanderings can lead to a sleepless night for everyone. The Bedtime Pass can be an effective solution for many of your bedtime woes. This technique was introduced by Dr. Patrick Friman and his colleagues in 1999 and has been studied extensively since, with very positive results.

You can think of the Bedtime Pass as your child’s get-out-of-jail-free card – with a twist. The concept is simple yet effective: provide your child with a limited number of passes that they can use to get out of bed and make specific requests. In order to leave their room, your child must have a pass in their hand, and they must hand it over to a parent to make one reasonable request. When they run out of passes, they can no longer get up and they must remain in their room until an agreed-upon time in the morning. Initially, it’s recommended to provide more passes than needed so your child has a lot of success, then gradually decrease the number over time until you get to just one per night. This gradual reduction helps your child learn to make good decisions and consider when they actually NEED to get out of bed and when they should just relax and fall asleep. If your child keeps at least one pass until the morning, they get to exchange it for a special prize- an extra incentive to really consider whether it’s worth leaving their room and practice good decision-making skills!

How does the Bedtime Pass Work?

girl using bedtime pass, sleep problemsIt’s important to explain the rules of the Bedtime Pass to your child before you start. You might even role-play the process a few times to make sure your child understands how it works. Make sure they understand that they need to have a pass in hand before they leave their room, and decide together what constitutes an “appropriate request” (my general recommendation is something that can be completed in less than 3 minutes). Come up with some exciting “prizes” your child can earn for keeping at least one pass until the morning and make sure you rotate these often to keep it fresh and exciting. You might offer things like a special breakfast, maybe a few extra minutes of screen time in the morning, or a surprise box, or even something as simple as a sticker or star on a chart that can be traded in for something bigger when a certain number is reached.

If your child gets out of bed without a pass (but they still have passes left) you should remind them they need to give you a pass before they can make a request. If they get out of bed when they no longer have passes left, simply neutrally guide them back to their bedroom, tuck them back in, remind them they are out of passes, and let them know you’ll see them in the morning. Make sure you stick to the rules to ensure everyone understands!

Who Benefits Most from the Bedtime Pass?

The Bedtime Pass technique is most effective for children aged three and up who can understand and follow rules. The pass is most useful for children who get out of bed or call out to their parents frequently either right after they go to bed, or in the middle of the night. This technique can be especially helpful in preschool and early grade school-aged children who are beginning to work on self-control and decision-making skills. The technique is helpful for parents as well because it gives you a clear set of rules to follow and makes decision-making easier for you!

Another Tool for Your Bedtime Tool Box

In the grand production of parenting, a peaceful bedtime routine can feel like a standing ovation. The Bedtime Pass, a product of years of research and refinement, offers a practical approach to tackle bedtime struggles and nighttime awakenings. Remember, as with any technique, consistency and patience are key. By implementing the Bedtime Pass technique and adapting it to your child’s unique personality and needs, you’re setting the stage for more restful nights and brighter mornings. So, whether you’re dealing with curtain calls, midnight requests, or wanderings, consider incorporating the Bedtime Pass technique into your nightly routine. With time and persistence, you might just find that the encore becomes a symphony of sweet dreams. And as always, remember if you need help implementing this technique, reach out to me!

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