Unless you're one of those lucky few parents whose young kids live to sleep, you're probably in the same boat as the rest of us — staggering through your days in a fog of fatigue, yet dreading sunset when the clock starts ticking closer and closer towards [cue ominous music] bedtime. Even if your kids don't have trouble falling asleep, their challenge might be staying asleep. You've come to expect you'll be greeted by a little shadowy face multiple times in the night.
Fellow mums and dads, there is a solution to these sleep woes, one that's been scientifically tested. It is The Bedtime Pass.
How it works: You take an index card, and on it, write [child's name] Bedtime Pass. Decorate it with stickers, laminate the crap out of it, but whatever you do, make it look damn official. Little ones can use this pass for one "out" after bedtime, if they really need it. They can trade it in for an extra hug, or a drink of water, or to share a deep thought such as (as recently heard in our home)
"I need to rearrange some furniture next week so my time capsule can land." Whatever. Their one request to exit the bed should be honoured, but subsequent, non-emergency requests to leave the room should be ignored. The magic behind this idea is that while you're setting clear limits, kids feel a sense of control.
The Bedtime Pass, which has been particularly effective with preschool and early elementary-aged kids, was first studied by Connie J. Schnoes, a staff psychologist at Boys Town Center for Behavioural Health in Nebraska. NPR reports:
Schnoes set up a pilot study with two boys, ages 3 and 10, and gathered data from 20 parents and 23 paediatricians who rated the acceptability of the bedtime pass intervention technique.
"Crying and coming out of the bedroom reduced to zero rates in both children," according to the paper outlining the study released in October 1999 in the Archives of Peadiatrics and Adolescent Medicine. "Paediatricians rated the pass as significantly more acceptable than letting children sleep with parents and equivalent to ignoring. Parents rated the pass as more acceptable than either alternative."
I tried the hack myself after a particularly memorable evening, when our rebellious daughter, aspiring Broadway star that she is, screamed so loud our burglar alarm went off. (According to the alarm company, some screeching mimics the sound of breaking glass, and she had tripped the sensor on the window in her bedroom with her antics.)
As soon as we handed The Pass to our kid, she left her room less, and acted out way less, too. And because the power struggle was over, she settled down faster in the evening as well. Unlike sticker charts, bribery, consequences, or reading the Go the F- to Sleep book over and over, the technique works long after being introduced.
Sometimes, parenting takes a village. Other times, all you need is an index card.