Frustrated because your toddler won’t go to sleep? Learn how to stop these 3 year old bedtime battles and get the rest everyone needs!
My son had been a great sleeper for the most part, especially after I had sleep trained him as a baby. So, you can imagine my surprise when, at 3 years old, bedtime turned into a nightmare.
All of a sudden, he’d start yelling both at bedtime and throughout the nighttime, saying he wanted us to stay with him. He’d scream and cry if we left him in the room. Exhausted, we ended up sleeping on the floor until he fell asleep (and sometimes, all night).
During this stage, he’d wake up some four times a night and, at its worst, every hour. We’d always had the same bedtime and nap routines, so I wasn’t sure what had caused this sudden change. And the last thing I wanted was for him to hate bedtime or going to sleep in his room.
How to deal with 3 year old bedtime battles
Perhaps you’re dealing with your own case of the 3 year old bedtime battles.
You may have gone on vacation, messing with your child’s sleep after you came home. Changes at home—from a new baby to a new school—could be the culprits. Or like me, this may have come as a surprise, leaving you clueless as to what could’ve caused these behaviors and what you can do.
But despite your best attempts, it’s like there’s nothing you can do to get across to her that it’s time to finally sleep.
I hear you, mama.
It’s never easy dealing with sleep problems after all this time. That’s why I wanted to share with you what helped me and my son, and hopefully these tips will work for you as well:
1. Start with a calm evening
We might think our bedtime routine is pretty calm and subdued, but I encourage you to take this up a notch.
First, if you don’t already have a bedtime routine at all, begin doing the same activities every night, at the same time and in the same order. This will help give your child a bit of predictability so that there’s less nagging and anxiety about what happens next—she simply knows what to do.
Then, stick to calm activities like a soothing bath, and avoid stimulating ones like playing wild games. Reserve those for earlier in the daytime when she’s awake.
And finally, create a calm environment. Listen to classical music and dim the lights. Talk in hushed tones as you change into pajamas and read bedtime stories. By starting with a calm evening, you’re helping her wind down the day and welcome a good night’s sleep.
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2. Make sure your child has everything she needs before bed
If I had to guess, one of the biggest struggles with your 3 year old’s bedtime battles are the constant requests. She needs just one more hug, a sip of water, another trip to the bathroom. Perhaps she asks for an exact amount of light to peek through the curtains, or yet another blanket tucking.
To break away from this pattern, start making sure that she has everything she needs before bed.
Incorporate these needs into your child’s bedtime routine. For instance, does she usually ask for a cup of water? Offer her one at the beginning of the routine, before she takes a bath. Does she ask for tissues to wipe her nose in the middle of the night? Place a box of them by her bed.
What about requests like extra hugs and kisses? Have a set number in mind ahead of time and count them off as she gives them to you (for instance, three kisses for the night). Or you can say, “Give me all the hugs I’ll need to last until the morning,” so she has one less reason to ask for extras.
You can even make a list of her bedtime needs, letting her know that you’ve checked them off. That way, when you say goodnight, you can leave knowing that all her needs are met. Any extra requests for the potty or stuffed toys weren’t “part of the plan.”
3. Check in at set times
Once you’ve closed the door behind you, give yourself set times to check in on your child, instead of every time she happens to cry. A good pattern to try is to check in first at five minutes, then at 10 minutes, and finally, every 15 minutes thereafter.
Let’s say she cries the minute you leave. Don’t turn right around to tell her to quiet down. Instead, set your timer for five minutes and only go in then to remind her to go to sleep (and keep these check-ins brief—30 seconds is good enough!). Set your timer again for 10 minutes and repeat (if she’s still crying).
You’re reassuring her that you’re still here, all while breaking the expectation that you’ll come in every time she cries.
Then, the following morning, praise her for sleeping all on her own. Yep, even if she cried and screamed, sleeping on her own was still a big accomplishment worthy of acknowledgment. And by praising her, she’ll be more inclined to sleep on her own again.
Tip: Still have her old baby monitor? Put it in her room so you can see what she’s doing between these check-ins.
4. Have a plan (and be consistent)
The best course of action is one taken with purpose and intention. For instance, are you staying in your child’s room until she falls asleep as part of a plan, or is this a reaction to her tears and bedtime tantrums?
No single parenting method is better than another—we all do what works for us. But whatever it is you decide to do, be intentional about it. Have an end goal in mind as far as what you want to happen. What habits and routines do you want to stop doing, and what do you want to replace them with?
Having a plan makes for more consistency, which will avoid conflicting messages. Imagine the confusion she feels if you tell her to sleep on her own one night, only to stay in her room the next.
5. Experiment with nap time
This is the age when some kids stop needing a midday nap, but the transition may not be as smooth or gradual. Some days your child might take a long nap, while other times, she skips it entirely and ends up cranky the rest of the day.
Observe how she naps and make changes based on what you see.
For instance, if she still takes a nap but wakes up too close to bedtime, move it earlier or wake her by a certain time. Maybe she doesn’t take long naps anymore, but could still use a short catnap toward the late afternoons. Or it’s time to drop the nap or quiet time, giving her more chances in the day to play.
Often, how well kids sleep isn’t just limited to the evenings, but in how many hours of sleep they get in a 24-hour period. By experimenting with her naps, you can ease her into a calmer sleep come bedtime.
Dealing with 3 year old bedtime battles can be frustrating for many moms, especially when your child fights sleep for hours. How can you get her to stop putting up a struggle and finally go to sleep?
Start your evenings off in a calm environment. Make sure she has everything she needs (and that she knows she can’t keep asking for them over and over). Check in at set times instead of every time she cries—this reassures her that you’re here but lets her know that she should go to sleep as well.
No matter what you decide to do, be consistent with your choices—mixed messages will only prolong these bedtime battles. And finally, experiment with nap time, from adding a catnap in the evening to dropping it entirely.
Your child can go back to sleeping well again—all without you sleeping on the floor next to her.
Get more tips:
- How to Respond when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Stay in Bed
- Examples of a 3 Year Old Sleep Schedule
- What to Do when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Go to Sleep
- 7 Proven Strategies to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
- Effective Ways to Handle the 3 Year Old Sleep Regression
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