In a perfect world, kids would cooperate at bedtime and drift off to sleep without a peep.
In the real world, convincing your child to go to bed and stay in bed can be utterly exhausting. Pushing limits at bedtime is something that most children do (even my teenager still tries to eek out a few extra minutes before lights out) but persistent stalling and negotiating every night can try the patience of even the most tolerant moms and dads.
If your child is resisting bedtime because they haven’t learned to put themselves to sleep without you – in other words if they need you to sit with them or lay down with them in order to fall asleep – then a sleep coaching strategy that involves working your way out of the room gradually is the way to go. If, on the other hand, your child knows how to put themselves to sleep and is stalling because they just don’t want to go to bed, you may be able to solve the problem with a simple and effective strategy called the Bedtime Pass.
Here’s how it works:
Choose a time when your child is happy and receptive. Tell them that you understand that sometimes they think they need something after they go to bed, and that you’ve come up with a great idea to solve the problem.
Explain that you’re going to give them a special card at bedtime that they can exchange for one request after lights out. The request should be something that you decide is acceptable, like a question, a drink of water or an extra hug. Tell them that they have 3 or 4 minutes for their request and then it’s time to go back to bed. Be clear that once they surrender their pass you won’t be responding to any other requests and that they’ll need to be quiet and go to sleep.
If you think your child needs motivation to follow the rules, tell them that if they don’t use their pass (or, for younger children, if they follow the rules after they surrender their pass) that they can trade it in for a small treat the next morning like a sticker or a few extra minutes of a favorite activity.
At bedtime, tuck your child in, leave the pass within reach and remind them of the rules. (If your child is three or four years of age you may want to start by offering two passes per night until they have a better understanding of how it all works.) Say goodnight, leave the room, and remain nearby.
If your child calls out or gets out of bed, collect their pass, respond to the request and then say goodnight. Keep things short and sweet. Remind them that they’ve used their pass, and that now it’s time to be quiet and sleep.
If your child gets out of bed again (and they might for a night or two to see if you really mean business) walk them back to their bed with minimal interaction. If they call out for you, respond with a quick “goodnight”, or, if you’re comfortable with it, don’t respond at all. Engage as minimally as you can and don’t cave in to additional requests!
Bedtime Pass tips:
- The bedtime pass is best suited for children over 3 years of age. Toddlers usually don’t understand the concept.
- You can create the pass for your child, or you can allow your child to create and decorate the pass themselves.
- Passes should be good for one night only – no stockpiling!
- If your child is dragging out their requests, set a timer to let them know when their time is up.
- Praise your child enthusiastically when they do a good job with their pass.
- Treats should be small, but motivating enough for your child to want to save their pass. Don’t get carried away and offer” big ticket” items if they stay in bed. Time spent is better than toys or sweets. You can fade out the “treat” over time – or your child may simply stop asking.
- The bedtime pass can also be used as a night time pass for middle of the night wake ups.
Alison Bevan – Sleepytime Coach
Pediatric Sleep Consultant – The Center For Advanced Pediatrics