The Magical Power of the Sleep Pass to Keep Your Kids in Bed All Night

Maybe your kids slept well as infants or maybe they didn’t, but if you’re like every other parent I know, once your child hit the age of two or three — essentially about the time when they transition out of their crib — bedtimes become maddening. I think this is largely because the crib provides a very safe boundary for kids. They think, “I can do whatever I want in this space, but I can’t leave this space.” Once that is gone, kids have free range. “Hey, I can play in my room with all my toys. I can even LEAVE my room and go see what mommy and daddy are up to.”

This becomes problematic, especially if you’re like me and you NEED your downtime after your kids go to bed. I found myself vacillating dramatically from anger and rage to sadness and guilt, all depending on my mood, how long this particular bedtime had been dragging on, and how cute my kids looked when asking me to come in for “just one more snuggle.”

Each kid has his or her trick. For my son it was, “I’m hungry.” How do you say no to that? Well, eventually dad and I caught on and started preemptively offering him a spoonful of peanut butter before brushing his teeth, so that he could no longer bait us with an empty stomach.

My daughter, however, brings it to a whole other emotional level. She is my one true cuddlebug. She will snuggle and snuggle and rub your arm for hours if you let her, which is wonderful, most of the time. But when it’s been going on for an hour and a half, it gets tiresome.

This all came to a head the other night when we had good friends in town, one of whom is a pediatric neurologist specializing in sleep disorders. He was observing this whole bedtime routine spectacle with a bemused look on his face. He poured me a glass of wine and asked gently, “Have you ever heard of the sleep pass?”

I had, vaguely. I knew of a friend who’d tried it, but I was certain my son was too smart for it, and my daughter was too young to understand the concept. At that point, though, we were so desperate that we were willing to give anything a try.

He sat us down and recommended the following:

  • Make a piece of paper that says “Sleep Pass” on it.
  • Every night, after you have completed the entire bedtime routine, give it to your child.
  • Explain to them that they can use the pass as a one-time ticket to come out of their room for whatever reason, whether it be for water, an extra kiss or hug, to complain about being hungry, etc. (Bathroom trips are excluded, and are allowed as needed).
  • Once they’ve used the pass, they can no longer leave their room for the rest of the night, and parents cannot respond to their calls.

What I love about this concept is that it introduces the idea of planning and strategy to young kids, because they have to decide, “Is this reason really worth using my one trip out of my room, or should I try to wait and hold on to it for when I really need it?”

The real enticement of the pass system is if the child chooses to stay in their room all night and NOT use their pass, then they can exchange it for a prize in the morning. SO brilliant. Our prizes range from stickers to small trinkets purchased at the Target dollar section, but I’ve had other friends use screen time as a reward, too. Our kids are so ecstatic to pick out their prize each morning, so everyone is happy!

I have to say, initially I was full of doubts, including worries that my daughter wouldn’t understand, and also, what if they used their pass and kept coming out of their room anyway? How would we handle that?

Continue reading at San Francisco Mom’s Blog…. 

(This post was originally published on San Francisco Mom’s Blog on April 5th, 2017)

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