Man sleeps on sofa

Man sleeps on sofa
By Sandy Hemphill, Contributing Writer, BabyMed

Sometimes it seems impossible to say no to a child. It can seem even harder to get them to bed and get them to stay there after lights-out. A recent study from the Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health finds bedtime arguments can be eliminated by something as simple as a bedtime pass. It only works, though, if parents follow the rules, too.

Connie Schnoes says the secret to sweet dreams uninterrupted throughout the night is simple, effective, and it works on toddlers. It plays on every child’s need for rules, boundaries, and consistency in parental discipline. Schnoes first discovered the value of the bedtime pass while conducting research for her PhD in 1999. She’s now director of National Behavioral Health Dissemination in Boys Town, Nebraska. And she has six kids of her own.

The Bedtime Pass

Schnoes’ bedtime pass is a 5-by-7-inch card that each child gets at bedtime. Let your child help make or decorate his own pass to increase engagement in the routine.

At bedtime, give the child his bedtime pass and explain that it is good for one escape from the bedroom each night. Only one escape. When the child gets up for one last hug, trip to the bathroom, drink of water, to share a scary dream, or whatever, the bedtime pass is relinquished. The parent keeps the pass and the child returns to bed once the reason for the pass has been addressed.

After that, parents are not allowed to respond to calls from the child (this may be the hardest part of the bargain to keep).

Giving Control to Parent and Child

The value of the pass is that it gives control to both the parent and the child, according to Schnoes. The child knows it’s OK to leave the bedroom, but only once a night. Parents know giving the child a choice helps build a stronger sense of self and self-control. All parties involved with the bedtime pass “have a plan, as opposed to reacting each night, over and over,” says Schnoes. The bedtime pass can help overcome bedtime power struggles and tests of will.

A Giant Time-Out

“Bedtime resistance is about escaping that experience of bedtime that is essentially like a giant time-out,” says Schnoes. Children know bedtime signals the end of a day of play and the beginning of time to quietly hang out in a dark room. This can lead to desperation that prompts the child to try anything to avoid sleep. Schnoes says that, “with the pass, children have a way to escape that in a way that’s acceptable” to all.


  1. Mitman Clarke, Wendy. "The Bedtime Pass Helps Parents And Kids Skip The Sleep Struggles." NPR / Shots. NPR, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.
  2. Fortson, Beverly, Colby Lokey, Tessa Burton, and Alana Vivolo-Kantor. "CDC’s Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers." Administration for Children & Families. US Department of Health & Human Services, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.