What to Include in a 3 Year Old Bedtime Routine

Want to stop the bedtime battles and get your child on a good sleep schedule? Check out what to include in a 3 year old bedtime routine!

3 Year Old Bedtime RoutineA strong-willed 3 year old and bedtime don’t always mix, even if your child had always gone to bed with no problem in the past.

These days, she hates going to sleep and instead wants to stay up late. With a lack of routine, she sometimes even falls asleep in the living room or your bedroom. You’ve tried creating some sort of routine before, but she fights it hard.

She might like some parts of the routine, like reading books. But as soon as she knows bedtime is coming, she fusses and throws tantrums. She pleads for more books to read just to stall your leaving. And when you put your foot down to say it’s time to sleep, she cries and pouts until you close the door.

And boy, when you do, that’s when she screams and unleashes her anger before finally tiring herself out and falling asleep.

3 Year Old Sleep Schedule

What to include in a 3 year old bedtime routine

As you can imagine, these bedtime battles can be heartbreaking for you to see each night. You don’t want her to grow up dreading bedtime, especially when it’s supposed to be a relaxing part of the day.

Rough bedtimes can be especially tricky if you’ve previously had no issues. How do you respond to this kind of behavior? How can you reinforce a good bedtime routine while being empathetic to her big emotions?

It’s understandable if this is the most frustrated you’ve ever felt. But rest assured friend, you can put together a consistent bedtime routine to change her behavior and help her settle into sleep.

Take a look at the important elements to include in the routine to help you transition to bedtime:

1. Put toys away

Start unwinding for the evening by putting toys away. You can stick to a designated area, like tidying up the living room or your child’s room. Or you could put away the most recent toys she had been playing with.

Use this time to tidy up her room as well. Make sure her blankets are smoothed out and pillows are in their places. Place dirty clothes in the hamper, and hang clean ones in the closet or fold them into the drawers. Spend about 5-10 minutes putting toys and tidying up.

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2. Brush teeth

Brushing your child’s teeth is a great way to start bathroom activities. Make sure she has a step stool so she can use the sink properly. At this age, you’re likely still brushing her teeth for her, but you can still talk about what you’re doing to prepare her for the time she does this on her own.

Use child-size toothbrushes and kids’ toothpaste. The smaller toothbrush fits into kids’ mouths easier, and the minty taste of regular toothpaste might be too strong.

3. Use the potty

If your child is potty trained or in the process of learning, she can use the toilet next. Since she’s already removing her clothes to take a bath, she won’t have to worry about putting her clothes on again. If she’s in pull-ups, you can undress her and toss the pull-ups at this point.

Learn what to do when your 3 year old won’t poop on the potty.

3 Year Old Won't Poop on Potty

4. Take a bath

A logical activity to do after using the toilet is to bathe your child. Use a kid-friendly bath soap and shampoo combo along with a washcloth for a simple bath. Add bubbles and toys to make the activity fun, especially if you want him to play for a few minutes before toweling off.

5. Dress in pajamas

You might dress your child in pajamas right in the bathroom, or you could wrap him in a towel or bathrobe and walk him to his room to change. Either way, try to stick to the same method to ingrain the habit and make it more predictable.

At this age, you can also encourage him to dress himself as much as he can. He may not be able to get everything on by himself, but allow him to do what he can on his own. For instance, you might still pull the pajama top over his head, but have him push his arms through the sleeves.

6. Read a bedtime story

Now that it’s almost time for bed, reading books beforehand is a fantastic tradition you can start. You can read it on your child’s bed so that she’s already tucked in for sleep.

How can you avoid the pleas for more books after you’ve finished the ones you’ve started? Decide on a set and consistent number of books each night. For me, that was four picture books every night. This doesn’t guarantee your child won’t ever plead for more, but consistency can help it feel fair and predictable.

Check out these children’s books about bedtime.

Children's Books about Bedtime

7. Offer a stuffed animal

My kids have had lovies since they were little, and these were designated blankies that they would sleep with all the time. That way, they develop an attachment to help them cope when they would eventually sleep alone.

Whether a lovey, blanket, or a stuffed animal, give your child something that she can hold and cuddle with at nighttime. This is likely the special stuffed animal that she favors over the rest.

8. Give hugs and kisses

Now that you’ve wrapped up the bedtime routine, give your child a hug and kiss. Say the same phrase every night so that he gets used to the same routine over and over. You might say, “Good night! I love you. See you tomorrow morning for breakfast.”

Set boundaries and don’t succumb to giving “just one more.” Try to stick to the same “type” of affection you show to avoid pleas for more. Perhaps that’s giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Whatever you decide, stick to the same routine every night.

Again, this doesn’t guarantee he won’t ask for more, but the consistency can make it more predictable and expected.

9. Turn off the lights (and turn on a night light)

Once you’ve tucked your child in and said good night, turn the lights off and leave the room. You might even want to hang darkening curtains in her room to block light that might stream from outside the window.

That said, you may not want it pitch-black, especially if she either gets scared or gets up in the middle of the night. Having a night light in the room can offer enough of a glow to see, but not so bright to keep her awake.

10. Praise your child the next day

I’m a big fan of praising young children for behavior we want to see, rather than only admonishing the ones we don’t. So, regardless of how well the bedtime routine went the previous night, find something about it to praise.

She may have cried when you left, but you could say, “I’m glad we did our bedtime routine. I know it can be rough when things are new or different. But you were a trooper and gave it your best.”

Or “Thank you for being such a helper with getting your pajamas on last night and picking out your books.” Or “It looked like you were having so much fun in the bath!” Keep the experience positive so that she remains open and receptive to your new bedtime routine.


Creating a 3 year old bedtime routine is a fantastic way to curb misbehavior and give your child a sense of predictability.

Start the routine by putting toys away and tidying her room. Brush her teeth and let her sit on the potty. Next, bathe her in the tub, followed by dressing her in pajamas. Tuck her in bed so you can read bedtime stories, and offer a special stuffed animal she can hold onto for the night.

Say good night and give her a hug and a kiss, then turn off the light and close the door (while leaving a night light on). Lastly, make sure to praise her the next day, pointing out all the positive choices she made.

Regardless of what you include in your bedtime routine, I encourage you to do the same things in the same order at the same time. Pick the activities you’ll do and set out to do them in the same order instead of mixing them around. And try to start at the same time every evening.

You can pull off a bedtime routine, friend—even with a strong-willed 3 year old in the mix.

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  1. Thank you for this. Our biggest struggle currently is bedtime. No matter how hard we try to instill a calming routine, it may go pretty well with minimal stall tactics, but as soon as it’s time to get in the crib, she loses it. Then it feels like all the setup we took our time and patience to get to is out the window and we have to use “tough love” and say sorry too bad, it’s time for us to leave you in here. She usually yells and cries for 5-10 min and then goes to sleep. We’ve tried to stop appeasing her requests (I need another stuffie, I want my blanket on me, etc) and leaving her to eventually run out of steam, but it doesn’t feel good to have her fall asleep upset with us. Any tips?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Mary, It’s definitely rough when you try to transition smoothly to bedtime, only for it to all break loose in the end. As far as appeasing her requests, I would definitely stop that after the “cut off” time. You might even prepare her ahead of time and say, “Let’s get your stuffie and blanket all set up how you like them before bedtime, etc.” If she asks for different things, put your foot down.

      And it’s actually great that she’s able to sleep within 5-10 minutes. You might even “congratulate” her the next morning and say, “You fell asleep pretty quickly last night! I heard you crying for about 5 minutes, but after that, it sounded like you fell asleep soon after. Maybe tonight you can even sleep sooner than that!”

      I hope that helps! Hang in there, mama <3

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