Can the bedtime pass really work for me?

By Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

“My daughter is 3. She has never been a good sleeper. During the night she cries and yells until one of us goes in there to her. We’ve tried the okay to wake clocks, ignoring her, taking away toys when she screams, you name it. A friend told me about the bedtime pass. It sounds like a load of –hooey–. Is there a way this simple thing could actually help me?”

I’m sure in your sleep deprived state that a simple fix would come across as a load of –ahem, hooey.  Here’s the deal. If you’re going to try anything new at all, I’d recommend you try something that is based on research. And the good news? The bedtime pass is a tool based on actual research.

What is the bedtime pass?  A very brief rundown:

  • Teach your child that you have a new system. You will give them a pass to use to call out and get you to come in the room one time per night. After the pass is used up, parents can’t go in anymore unless there is an emergency.
  • Create a physical pass with your child.
  • Provide reinforcement for using the pass correctly. Such as “You get to do _____ in the morning if you only call out once and stay in bed nicely after using your pass.”

Does this sound like it will work for you just as written? Maybe not. Let’s brainstorm some ideas to individualize and make this work for your child/family.

#1 Number of passes

Is only one pass reasonable? I’d recommend taking baseline data. That means counting how many times you are going into your child’s room at night. That number is your baseline. If the number is 10- would going to just one pass work for you? Maybe but that’s a pretty big jump. If you need to, start off with multiple passes. Gradually decrease over time with the goal being one pass only. And of course, the big picture goal is no pass needed at all.

#2 The pass itself

Is a 3×5 card interesting enough for your child to understand and want to use it? Maybe you decide to color pictures together of a bed. Maybe a photo of your child laying in her bed. Maybe a picture of mom or dad (since that’s what the pass gains access to). Maybe the pass you use isn’t paper form at all. Perhaps you have tokens or stuffed animals they turn in to you as a pass. Or maybe you’re super low maintenance like myself and just stick a post it (or two) on the door before bedtime.  Nothing fancy necessary- just recognize this is an opportunity to increase your child’s interest in the plan.

#3 The rules

What are the rules in your house going to be? You must be silent if not using the bedtime pass? My kiddo sings loudly in her bed regularly. We just laugh and hope all members of the household can sleep through her serenades. Maybe that’s too much noise for your environment. Maybe the pass is to get out of bed and leave the room a certain number of times a night. Maybe the pass is to get a parent to come into the room a certain number of times a night.

#4 The reinforcers

I can’t ever recommend you try anything lacking a positive reinforcement plan. In this case- you can provide reinforcement for using the pass only the set number of times. You could provide even better rewards (differential reinforcement) for making it all night and having a pass leftover in the morning! Do you need to go buy toys and create a treasure chest for a prize each morning? Um, no. A friend of mine simply put some dolls up in her closet. When her daughter used the bedtime pass correctly, she could get them out and play with them in the morning. Or you could let your child choose what’s for breakfast, sit in mom’s chair at the breakfast table, have something non-breakfasty for breakfast. It doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. But it does need to be a big deal to your kid.  Make sure they want to earn this reinforcer you’re offering!

#5 Your attitude

If you present this to your child as just another thing you’re going to try, will you get their buy in? Doubtful. If you want to get your daughter on board, then you need to be on board first. Once you set the rules, stick to them. Once you set up a reinforcement plan, provide that reinforcement consistently and make it good!

I hope you can get some well-needed sleep soon. Don’t just try random ideas you read online. Try the ideas that are research based. And do them with fidelity. Meaning- do them the way they were intended and follow through.

I know you’re tired, parents. Just hang in there and let the bedtime pass provide you some relief!

This isn’t the first time the bedtime pass has made an appearance on bSci21. Check this article out, too!

For a selection of research articles in the area, check out the following:

Freeman, K. A. (2006). Treating Bedtime Resistance with the Bedtime Pass: A Systematic Replication and Component Analysis with 3‐Year‐Olds. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis(4), 423-428.

Jin, C. S., Hanley, G. P., & Beaulieu, L. (2013). An individualized and comprehensive approach to treating sleep problems in young children. Journal of applied behavior analysis(1), 161-180.

Moore, B. A., Friman, P. C., Fruzzetti, A. E., & MacAleese, K. (2007). Brief report: Evaluating the bedtime pass program for child resistance to bedtime—A randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Pediatric Psychology(3), 283-287.
Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA

Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA has worked with kids with disabilities and their parents in a variety of settings for over 10 years. She has taught special education classes from kindergarden-grade 12, from self-contained to inclusion. Leanne has also managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting. Since becoming a mom, Leanne has a new mission to share behavior analytic practices with a population she knows needs it- all moms of littles! Leanne does through her site parentingwithaba.org and through her book ‘Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity”.  You can contact her at lpagebcba@gmail.com.

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