How to Handle 3-Year-Old Bedtime Battles

Behavioral sleep problems can be overcome by implementing the proper tips and techniques. Learn how to resolve your 3 year old’s bedtime issues.

Bedtime was a breeze when my son was a baby. I would put him in his crib and he would drift off within minutes and without much fuss. It wasn’t until he was 3 years old that the bedtime battles began.

Shortly after switching from a crib to a toddler bed, he began getting out of his bed multiple times a night. After a couple of weeks of interrupted sleep, we decided to make some drastic changes to his bedtime routine.

“Bedtime can be rough for a preschooler,” says Baby Center. “On the one hand, she’s learning to assert herself and her newfound independence. On the other hand, she’s fearful of what it means to be on her own.”

Know that you probably won’t be able to solve your child’s bedtime woes in just one night. It can take time for your child to transition to a new bedtime and night routine. However, it’s important to set rules and be persistent. Setting consequences for poor behavior can also help diminish bedtime battles.

What the Experts Say

Bedtime battles are very common among preschool-aged children. However, they can be conquered with the right techniques. Here’s what some experts have to say about dealing with sleep problems in children.

“If he cries when you leave his room, explain that it’s time to sleep and say that you’ll be back to check on him when he’s calm. Return, as promised, but don’t stick around.”

– Brett Kuhn, PhD, Stop Toddler Bedtime Battles

“Pediatric sleep specialists often advise parents to tackle sleep problems by putting their children through sleep training. Several training programs have been scientifically test, and, in general, parents who stick with these programs report improvements in bedtime behaviors.”

– Gwen Dewar, PhD, How to Solve Bedtime Problems in Children

“Once your toddler is out of his crib and into a big-kid bed, you’ll most likely have at least a little bit of what we call jack-in-the-box behavior: your toddler will spring out of bed, and you’ll have to tuck him back in. For some toddlers, though, this problem is incredibly persistent! To deal with this, simply out-persistent your persistent child. Do what we call the “silent return to bed”: every time your child gets up, calmly and quietly return him to bed.”

– Emily DeJeu, 9 Toddler Sleep Problems (And How to Deal)

“Even if you have never had a solid bedtime routine for your preschooler, there is no time like the present to start one. Getting used to a new routine will take a few days for your child to adjust to. Your child should adapt quite quickly and will soon crave the new routine.”

– Kim West, 11 Steps to Eliminate Preschooler Bedtime Battles

“Avoid active play and electronic devices, which are stimulating. You might give your child a bath and read stories. Talk about the day. Play soothing bedtime music. Then tuck your child into bed drowsy but awake and say good night. Experiment to find what works best for you — but once you settle on a routine, follow it every night.”

– Mayo Clinic, Child Sleep: Put Preschool Bedtime Problems to Rest

Take It Slow

Change can be hard on a 3 year old. When transitioning your child’s bed, take it slow. Baby Center suggests working in 15-minute increments. “Don’t expect to be able to change his sleep patterns overnight, so to speak.

On your first night of trying, aim for him being in bed at 8:15 instead of 8:30. Once you have that new bedtime established – which, with persistence, should happen within two or three days – shift it to 8:00, and so on, until you hit your target of 7:30.”

Stay Active

It can be difficult for young children to fall asleep when they’re not tired. By keeping your child active during the day, he will be more likely to fall asleep come bedtime. If your 3 year old still takes nap, you’ll want to try to shorten or omit it.

In the morning and afternoons, try to fit in periods of physical activity. KidsHealth recommends that 2 to 3 year old’s get at least 30 minutes of structured (adult-led) physical activity and at least 60 minutes of unstructured (free play) each day.

Wind Down

Too much chaos before bedtime can make it difficult for preschoolers to settle down. Create a bedtime routine that is quite, soothing, and promotes a restful night’s sleep. Avoid stimulating activities such as watching TV, playing video games, or eating surgery snacks.

Instead, wind down by giving your 3 year old a warm bath, providing a nutritious snack, and telling him a story. Directly before bed, follow the same routine which should consist of putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, and lights out. By doing this every night, your child will get into the routine and bedtime should go more smoothly.

If bedtime is a battle with your 3 year old, introduce new tactics into your nightly routine. By establishing and enforcing bedtime rules, you can help your preschooler achieve restful slumber.

Liz Coyle

Liz is a Scottsdale-based writer and mom of two young children and one not so young Boston Terrier. She is a lover of cooking, travel, and any activities she can do with the kids. She loves to share her experiences of being a high-strung, type a mom in an imperfect world.

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