I want milk. I need to go to the bathroom. Mom, I’m scared! If you are the parent of a child who frequently gets out of bed at night you have likely heard these common requests.
This past week I had the opportunity to conduct a workshop with a group from the Naperville Mother’s Club. The group decided to focus the time together on the discussion of challenges with daily activities—and no surprise we spent a great deal of time discussing two hot topics: bedtime and mealtime.
During our thorough discussion of nighttime habits of toddlers and preschoolers, I was reminded of a great tool that was created by a fellow behavior analyst Patrick Friman Ph.D.—The Bedtime Pass. The Bedtime Pass is simple to use, and incredibly effective when done correctly.
The tool is designed for parents of children ages 3-10 who repeatedly get out of bed or call out for parents at night. This is a very common issue with kids and can be exhausting for parents. As always, I prefer to rely on research-based methods for these types of things, no one wants to be the guinea pig for a new strategy. The good news: In four-easy-research-based-steps you can be on your way to bedtime bliss.
The Bedtime Pass
1. Simply explain the concept to your child.
Explain that together you are going to create a “pass” or a “ticket” to get out of bed at night. Each night the child will get the pass when laying down for bed. The child is permitted to get up ONE time for a particular reason. The reason can be anything from a drink, to use the bathroom, or just to get a hug from Mom and Dad! The parents will pleasantly allow this to go on and then put the child back to bed, taking the pass for the rest of the night. (think Monopoly and the “Get out of Jail Free Card”)
2. Produce the Pass
Let your child make the pass. I suggest you use a heavy piece of paper or something that will hold up after being held tightly night after night…possibly a note card or piece of cardboard. Allow the child to decorate as he pleases.
3. Explain it again at bedtime
Just to be sure that your child understands that concept, talk it through again. You may want to do a “practice round” so she can try out using the pass.
4. Let the child use the pass
When your child gets up and requests to use the pass for a break from bed, allow him to do so with a smile and no hesitations. Be sure to collect the pass after it is used the first time each night, this is critical! After he uses the pass, put him back to bed quietly.
Other key points:
Most common result? The majority of children rarely use the bedtime pass--they hold on to it each night waiting for the right time and end up falling asleep.
What if the child continues to get up after the pass is used? If the child continues to get out of bed after the pass is used, quietly guide him back to bed--refrain from talking to the child and tucking him in again. Through this he will learn it is acceptable to get out of bed once with the pass, and he will be rewarded with positive attention from his parents when doing so. It may take a few nights for the process to set in, stick with it!
Consider adding an incentive program. If you child follows the plan and only gets out of bed each night when using the pass, reward it! In the morning allow the child to place a sticker on a calendar if she had a successful night, and after a week of stickers they get a special reward.
Try it out! Let me know how it works, and if you have any questions on the process. Do you have any other good ideas and methods that have worked well for your family? Please share!
For more great, research-based bedtime tips, read Dr. Patrick Friman's book "Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I love you."