Recommended by a pediatric sleep expert, a sleep pass can turn your bedtime battleground with your children into a peaceful experience.
BY TERRY CRALLE
Editor’s note: Savvy mattress retailers want to do everything they can to help their customers sleep better, including offering them sound advice and tips. Feel free to share this great guidance from Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Terry Cralle with your shoppers (with credit given, of course). The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
Bedtime should be a relaxing, positive time of winding down, finishing the day, preparing for tomorrow and looking forward to the hours of sleep our minds and bodies require. Yet, for many children and, consequently, their parents, bedtime can be one of the most stressful times of the day.
When bedtime becomes a battleground, arguing, negotiating, pleading and threatening become routine. As tempers rise, the sleep that is so vitally important for a child’s growth and development is less likely to arrive. Many parents are so tired themselves that bedtime becomes the most emotionally exhausting part of the day.
Even weary kids are wary of sleep
Children’s resistance to bedtime makes perfect sense—from the child’s point of view. In the mind of a young child, bedtime seems much like a lengthy, unreasonable time out. For many children, it means:
- Loss of attention from parents, siblings or friends
- Lack of access to toys, books or other fun things
- The approach of quiet and darkness, which can bring feelings of vulnerability and anxiety.
Children are clever at thinking up dozens of ways to keep from going to bed, with excuses like:
- “Just one more book”
- “The show isn’t over”
- “I’m thirsty”
- “I have to go to the bathroom—again”
- “There are monsters hiding under my bed.”
As adults, we want to keep children safe and happy, but, sometimes, because of our own exhaustion, we give in to those tearful bedtime demands. After all, what loving parent is willing to sacrifice his child to the monsters under the bed? But giving in only feeds into a cycle that makes sleep difficult for every member of the family, adversely affecting everything from immune systems to schoolwork and job performance.
If adults better understand how kids perceive bedtime, they can improve their nighttime routine and instill positive sleep management skills that will benefit their children for years.
Give children a pass
One way to improve bedtime is to use the Snoozby Sleep Pass, a technique recommended by pediatric sleep expert W. David Brown, a Dallas-based psychologist who is board certified in sleep medicine and behavioral sleep medicine. The strategy is named for Snoozby, an animated pillow featured in a children’s book that Brown and I co-authored, “Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle” (2015, Rowe Publishing). The Snoozby Sleep Pass allows a child a get-out-of-bed-free pass that gives him a sense of control and empowerment, while providing adults the strength to say “no” to arbitrary and repeated requests. (The technique is a variation of the bedtime pass first described in 1999 by P.C. Friman, K.E. Hoff, C. Schnoes, K.A. Freeman, D.W. Woods and N. Blum.)
Each Snoozby Sleep Pass allows one free trip out of bed, no questions asked. The child can get out of bed for a glass of water or another hug or simply to check that everyone in the house is OK. The request has to be for something short and reasonable and must be made politely. It’s not good for another TV show or another book; it’s good for a pressing need that must be met.
Parents can download the sleep pass (available at www.terrycralle.com), which features soft and cuddly looking Snoozby (pictured above) and explain to their child how it can be used to leave the bed after bedtime. A young child just beginning to use the system can start out the night with two sleep passes—or even three if she is accustomed to many “curtain calls” after bedtime. The pass is designed to be appealing and comforting to children, making them less likely to relinquish it for an unnecessary trip out of bed.
Prior to initiating the system, the parents and child sign a “contract.” This can be a fun, shared project that promotes a discussion about the importance and function of sleep. The child should think of the Snoozby Sleep Pass contract as an official document that can be posted on the refrigerator door or any place visible to all members of the household. The more fun, positive and creative the agreement is, the better. It can be colored with markers or crayons, decorated with stickers or embellished with drawings of stars, sleeping animals—whatever a child desires, as long as it presents sleep in a positive way. Parents and children should sign the contract to make it official.
The value of Snoozby
When the child chooses to use Snoozby, parents shouldn’t get angry or upset and should grant the request without hesitation. Once the request is filled, the child must surrender the pass and can’t use it again until the next night.
If a child attempts to get up after using the pass once that night, he must be put back in bed. This should be done without anger and with as little interaction as possible. Children can be masters at pulling strings. When they sense weakness, they pounce and take full advantage. Remember, negative attention is still attention and that’s what the child is seeking. Parents must be firm and honor the contract. If the parents give in, they too have violated the contract, and the child has the upper hand. Short-term weakness can lead to long-term problems.
Given consistent firmness and established expectations, most children will respond positively to this technique in only a few nights. Interestingly, children typically will use the sleep pass for a night or two and then begin to hold onto it for a time when they truly need it. Very soon, they won’t use it at all, preferring to save it for a “real emergency.”
While simple, the sleep pass technique works well because it empowers both child and parent.
“Children feel some sense of control, knowing they can get up and no one will get mad,” Brown says. “By giving the child some control, parents also find it is easier to say ‘no’ if the child violates the contract.”
And to all a good night
The Snoozby Sleep Pass is a fun, easy way to help both children and adults avoid bedtime battles, yet its underlying purpose is a serious and critical one. To say that sufficient sleep is important to children is an understatement.
Sleep is foundational: proper growth and development, long-term health, optimal functioning and even quality of life depend upon sufficient sleep. Insufficient or poor quality sleep during childhood can have negative consequences throughout life. Good sleep habits and an attention to sleep health and wellness early in life will pave the way for a healthier, brighter and better future for our children. O
Terry Cralle is a registered nurse, certified clinical sleep educator, and health and wellness spokeswoman for the Better Sleep Council. Check out her website at www.terrycralle.com.