How to Handle 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums: Defeating Nightime Routine Problems and Ending Battles
Defeating 3-year-old bedtime tantrums, battles, and power struggles is intensely frustrating. Particularly when all you really want is a few minutes of quiet time before you go to sleep yourself.
When facing yet another night of a 3-year-old screaming at bedtime, you’ll likely find yourself completely exhausted and frustrated at the very thought of dealing with it.
There is a way to get over this terrible toddler nighttime struggle. Let’s walk through it together in the article below so you can get a handle on toddler bedtime battles once and for all.
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So much is going on in a child’s brain development between the ages of 2 through 4. We could spend time talking about why, but what you really need is results.
While there is cognitive stuff going on, what matters right now, at this moment is how to deal with toddler bedtime power struggles. “How can I get my child to get ready for bed, climb in bed without a tantrum, fall asleep, and stay in bed all night?”
So that is what we’re going to focus on here.
Is Ending 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums too Much to A
Ready for bed, in bed, and falling asleep are not unreasonable expectations. It’s completely acceptable to require your child to sleep. And equally acceptable to train your child to go to sleep peacefully!
Bad information about childhood sleep needs ruffles my feathers a bit. So I’m not going to get into it now. If you want to know how important sleep is for your child, go here.
Alright, let’s just do this in a 1, 2, 3… fashion, so I can make sure you have the best and most helpful information and instructions possible for training your child to go to sleep without a battle.
#1. Predictability and routine are a developing child’s best friends.
Set a bedtime. Develop a bedtime routine. Stick to it. (this will mean little or zero social activities late in the evening, and that’s alright. Sleep is the priority right now.) Determine a bedtime that works for your family. The earlier, the better. Create a bedtime routine that may include bath, rocking, reading, and praying. And should always include brushing teeth (go here for how to brush your toddler’s teeth or here for a preschooler’s teeth.)
You should walk through this routine with your child every single night. *** Include anything that may be a potential struggle source in this routine.
If your child always needs to go to the bathroom “one more time,” include a last-minute tinkle, so you can tell her no next time she asks, knowing she literally just went.
Do the same thing for a drink of water, prayer, hugs, and kisses, and anything else she’s likely to want more of. Cover your bases, so you can feel confident walking away when the time comes.
#2. Be clear about your bedtime standards.
Let your child know – regardless of what you think he does or does not understand – that you expect him to lay down, close his eyes, and go to sleep.
If you’re already thinking, “No, Shelley, you don’t understand… we don’t even make it this far! Bedtime is a nightmare!” Fret not… I’ll address that soon. Just keep reading.
Once your bedtime routine is finished, lay your child in his bed. Give one more kiss and tell him it’s important that he go to sleep now. Tell him you won’t be answering any more questions for the day, that your brain needs to sleep too, and that you can’t wait until tomorrow to play with him some more.
Walk away. No more talking. No negotiating. Zero engaging. Regardless of what your child says or does, just leave the room. (Some moms worry at this point that they may miss an opportunity to hear something important from their child’s heart. That’s not the case. You’ll have plenty of chances to nurture your child’s heart. Right now, you should only be concerned with training your child to peacefully get the sleep she needs.)
#4. Stand Guard.
Stand outside your child’s door. When he gets out of bed, get to him as quickly as possible, and without saying a word (this is so important) – lead him back into his bed. Don’t make eye contact; leave the room and go back to your post outside his door. For as many times as he gets out of bed, put him back in. Without a word. Eventually, he’ll understand that he will not get the result he wants no matter how many times he gets out. This could take 15 minutes or 3 hours. Don’t relent!
Your desire to do the best for your child must be stronger than your child’s desire to get what he wants. If he digs his heels in, dig yours in deeper.
#5. Daytime sleep is important too.
Your child needs structure, predictability, and routine throughout the daytime to be successful at nighttime. Read this post here about creating a schedule. Although it’s geared towards babies, you can use the very same system for an older child.
A wake-up time and a nap time that is set in stone will help your little one immensely.
Nope? Not Happening? Doesn’t Work? Do your bedtime struggles start at the mention of the word!
Facing the Worst of 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums?
Alright. I get it. Sometimes, bedtime tantrums, struggles, and battles are so bad; there is no bedtime routine to be had.
From the moment bedtime is mentioned or the sun begins to set, the war is on.
I want you to hear me right now. I want you to listen. What I am about to tell you will work, but only if you understand this one truth.
Here it is,
your goal is not to make your child happy.
Your goal is to create a peaceful bedtime routine, get your child to go to sleep, and stay in bed all night long.
I’m going to walk you through bedtime with a child who can scream to wake the dead, flail about like a wild person, and cry to break your heart.
Determine a bedtime.
Determine what you WISH a bedtime routine would consist of. Figure out how much time that would take (if your child were compliant) 30 mins? 45 mins? Set a timer (on your phone or buy one like this) for that amount of time. For instance, if bedtime is 7:30, and the bedtime routine should take 30 minutes, set a 30-minute timer at 7:00.
Tell your child.
When you set the timer, tell your child something like this, “Mommy is available for 30 minutes to have a fun bedtime. When this timer goes off, I will be walking out of here, and you will be going to bed.” Attempt the bedtime routine you’d LIKE to have – best as possible.
IF YOUR CHILD SCREAMS FOR THE ENTIRE 30 MINS… put him in bed kicking and screaming when the timer goes off and walk out. Then repeat steps #3 and #4 from above. If he refused to use the potty before bed, put him in a pull-up or a diaper. If he didn’t get to have a drink before bed, he will live until morning; he can have a drink then. You didn’t get to give him a kiss and snuggle, but tomorrow is a new day – you can greet him with a smile and lots of snuggles first thing in the morning.
Whatever you do… follow steps #3 and #4 from above exactly and follow through.
How Will Toddler Bedtime Change If You Follow Through?
You’ll be amazed at how quickly your child will learn that bedtime can be fun and special with mommy if you’ll follow through.
You have two options.
You can perpetuate bedtime battles and fuel the behavior, which means bedtime will never ever be peaceful for anyone in the family. OR, you can spend a handful of nights doing some really great, albeit intense, child training so that bedtime can be fun and peaceful for everyone for the remainder of your little one’s childhood.
Final Thoughts on 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums
Finally, I know that you know this bedtime thing needs to be taken care of. That’s why you’re here. You understand that what’s going on in your home at bedtime is not OK. Create structure, be clear, FOLLOW THROUGH, and train your child well. Well-behaved kids, who are lovely to be around, have parents who put in a lot of work. Your kid is capable of the same good behavior and greatness as any other child. Put in the work!
I’m going to try this tonight with my almost three-year-old. Bedtime and night wakings have been a struggle. It started out with her waking up complaining of leg/knee pain in the night and still sometimes is, but now it has become more of needing Mom. We’ve been struggling for over a year with night wakings (related to leg pain – she would scream for over 2 hours a lot of nights without anything being able to console her) so we are seeing several doctors/specialists with no answers yet. I know it’s both two parts: she is in pain and she is also wanting control. What do I do if she wakes with leg pain in the night?
Thank you in advance.
Thanks so much for reaching out and I apologize for the delay in response!
Health problems always complicate things. I am assuming anti-inflammatories do not help?
With the limited information that I have, based only on what you’ve provided I would: strive to consider the leg pain objectively. For instance, how much is she complaining about it during the day? If she is able to mostly function normally throughout the day, that would compel me to lean towards believing she may be able to sleep through it better than what she is communicating. Something else to consider is that lack of sleep will only serve to exacerbate the problem. So while it may feel counterproductive in the moment, sleep training with the goal of a restorative night’s sleep will always lend itself to better health.
I’m sorry you’re going through this.
“Father, touch this sweet girl. Provide answers and comfort as only you can, in Jesus’ name!”
Hi, I did these silent returns with my boy when we were having huge bedtime struggles when he was 3 years old(your blog changed my life 🙌) He is now almost 4.5 years old and just tonight has regressed back to like he was at 3 years old. I decided enough was enough and started silent returns with him. In the end it worked after about a 40 min struggle constantly returning him. However there were a couple things he did during that time that I really didnt know what to do. At one point he was swearing (which is a big no no in my house), he was trying to bite me and the at one point he said he was “going to bite my face off” obviously this is so disrespectful. I just completely ignored him and kept returning him. My hubby disagreed and wanted to tell him off but I felt like that would undo all the work I was doing by silently returning him. What are your thoughts? How should this be handled. I’m so upset we have gone backwards and he is doing this again and the words that he said 💔💔😭
Thank you so much for reaching out and I apologize for the delay in response!
Thank you for the kind words about the impact this space has had on your life. Glory to God!
Backsliding is normal. And yes, it is important and effective to approach those instances in the same manner that you did the first time. In fact, there’ll be many times in your parenthood that you think to yourself, “Wait, didn’t we cover this already?!” But revisiting is necessary.
I can certainly understand your concern about swearing and biting. Those issues need to be addressed, however, being on the same page (at least mostly) with your husband on how to handle these times is vital. So that is your first step.
Without having been there to fully understand the situation, I believe you did the right thing by not rewarding his bad behavior with attention and simply focusing on the sleep goal. Do circle back around to that behavior during wake-time hours – with training and proportionate consequences.
Many blessings and again, I apologize for the delay.
Second night trialing the above and I’m already seen a HUGE improvement with my daughter. Thank you!!
I wanted to ask what you would recommend for early waking. My daughter wakes anywhere from 4am to 6am (6am is a win!)
There is no way she’ll stay in her room, she’s almost 4. Let’s herself out and up to our room then constantly asks for the iPad. We try delay until “morning” 7am but it’s hard so usually give in so she’s quiet and we can get a bit more sleep. I know it’s a habit but not sure how to break it. Also it’s very light at 5:30am now and she obviously have no concept of time yet.
Thanks in advance,
Rejoicing for you! I am so glad to hear of the improvement! 🙌
As for the early waking, I have a few points of guidance – you’ll have to decide which direction you’d like to lean into.
1. Consider an earlier bedtime and hop on board with being “OK” with an early wake-up time. I have a friend who chose this path instead of working to help her kids sleep in later. Her children (4) are all up around 5 am and go to bed at around 7 pm (even the 14-yr-old.) The reason this works for some is because it’s typically easier to push a bedtime up earlier than it is to train sleeping later.
2. Walk her back to bed when she gets up at 4 am the same way and with the same process as I explain in the article above (just as if it was a middle of the night waking.) I know that may seem like a stretch, but again, think of it in terms of the bigger picture… even if you ended up walking her back to bed and standing guard at the door at 4 am (in the same way as described above, for an entire week… you would likely be left with a lasting, healthy new habit that benefits the whole family. You’ll be tired and worn out for a while but the return would be well worth it.
3. Put a digital clock in her room and tell her she may not come out until the numbers say: 7:00 – (this obviously requires some training and obedience.) Put books in her room that she may only look at when she wakes up to pass the time. Then be ready to meet her with a smile and joyful attitude when the day does start at 7. This was how I mostly handled early wakings with my own children. My authority was/is well established and appreciated in my home, so my children rarely attempted to leave before the appointed time if they did wake up early. When it did happen I did with them as I described in point #2 – After which, further disobedience in the matter didn’t occur to them (at any age.) If Mama said “wake-up time was 7” – then 7 it was. This is important because if you know she needs work with obedience and this type of training, you can work on establishing healthy authority during waketime hours, greatly limiting the likelihood of disobedience at bedtime.
4. Implement a reward system and allow her to earn some type of points or prize for staying in her room until you come to get her. This works best when used in conjunction with #3.
One last thing: In your comment, you said, “We try delay until “morning” 7am but it’s hard so usually give in so she’s quiet and we can get a bit more sleep.” I know it’s difficult to remain steadfast and follow through when you are so tired. However, you can’t get to the other side of the tunnel if you don’t walk through it. Set yourself up with success by planning ahead, get a good night’s sleep yourself, and commit!!! You will be so glad you did and I believe in you!
One more last thing 😉 : It is OK that she doesn’t have a concept of time yet. That is what you are attempting to train her. And you set the tone, rules, and standards for your home. It’s completely reasonable and healthy for you to work towards a 7 am wake-up time if that’s what you decide.
Proud of you!
Thank you for these steps! I totally agree with your methods and reasons. However, what do we do when our three old isn’t the only child, and all of her screaming and tantrums constantly wakes up the other two children when I try to follow through no matter the amount of screaming or time?
I constantly feel this pressure to make her screaming go away as soon as possible for the sake of keeping my younger baby asleep. The 3yr old also shares a room with her older sister. It feels so unfair for everyone to have a horrible evening because of one person’s tantrum.
What should we do? I’ve tried all the methods I know at this point.
Thanks for sharing!
I understand your concern over the rest of the family.
Family is meant to be a team. You win as a team and lose as a team.
If the goal each night is to do whatever you can to get the screaming child to stop screaming, she’s certain to scream the next night. So, in essence, you’re serving up the other family members’ endless nights of screaming. Meaning everyone loses night after night after night.
Follow all the steps as outlined in the article with the following additions:
1. Temporarily move the baby to the farthest distance from the house, wherever that may be. Use a sound machine (or loud box fan) if you don’t already, to buffer the noise.
2. Start the 3-year-old’s bedtime much in advance of the older child’s. Be honest and transparent about what’s happening.
Say to the older child: “Sister is going to go to bed at 6:00 p.m. until she learns to obediently go to sleep. Your bedtime will be 8:00 p.m. We will be brushing your teeth, reading, and praying far away from your room so that at bedtime, you must simply walk to your bed and go to sleep without interacting with or disturbing sister in any way.” (Or something along those lines.)
You to the 3-year-old say: “Your bedtime behavior is unacceptable. You are preventing other family members from getting the sleep they need and I won’t allow you to continue. You will be going to bed by yourself at 6:00 p.m. At which point, there will be no more talking, potty trips, water drinks, talking, etc. We will do this until you show bedtime behavior that is healthy for you and all family members. When you do, we can adjust bedtime so you and your older sibling can go to bed at the same time.” (or something along those lines.)
(You could also move the older sibling to the farthest part of the house along with the baby.)
Another completely acceptable option is to have a conversation primarily only with the older child (depending on that sibling’s age) and tell her: “Sister needs help. We can help her, but it’s going to take some extra work from us. (explain that she’s going to cry, etc but that it’s necessary and that everyone will make it through) We are going to be inconvenienced and trade a bit of sleep for a few days to get years of good sleep, and healthier happier children.” – Then proceed with older sibling on-board understanding what is necessary.
In sum, the healthiest families work toward a bigger goal, which often means putting each other’s needs ahead of their own. But they are clear about what the real need is.
In your case the need is not to stop the screaming each night, it’s to train joyful bedtime behavior for the whole family to enjoy. It doesn’t have to be fair. Everyone is going to lose sleep for a few nights while you train the 3-year-old. That’s alright. It’s simply best.
And in reality, it’s far fairer to train her as necessary and be inconvenienced for a week or so than to live in perpetual nighttime frustration (which hurts everyone.)
Bless you, Missy!
Your family is going to do great!
Hi. Thank you for all the great information. I don’t usually post in these forums but I am desperate. My 2 1/2 yr old has been having bedtime tantrums and meltdowns on and off for the last several months and steady every night for the last 2 months. She gets plenty of exercise and eats pretty well. Regular nap and bedtime routine. I have followed your bedtime routine steps for 2 weeks and we have not had any improvement. She screams and cries for 20-30 min every night after I leave. She is sleeping in converted crib and rarely tries to get out but I have followed your recommendation when she has gotten out. Any advice for what to do next? Thanks
Thank you for sharing your struggle here!
Just to clarify… is your question how to get her to stop the 20-30 minute screaming session she displays after she’s in her bed?
If she mostly stays in her bed when she’s placed there, takes decent naps, and has simply adopted a habit of crying herself to sleep:
1. Double down on making sure you are not engaging in any way during this time.
2. Consider adding in an incentive. Rewarding her for a job well done (as in no crying or less crying) at night time. For instance, no-cry nighttime may equal a smiley face for that night; producing a treat, special activity, etc for the smiley face the next day. Children this age need immediate reinforcement so it likely wouldn’t be very effective to have to accumulate a week’s worth of smiley faces, but you can think through how you can provide incentive in an immediate way. As a side note, just be sure to communicate the opportunity to earn the reward before bedtime and before any crying so you are indeed providing a reward and not a bribe.
3. Keep going. If you are following the steps, you are doing the right thing. Hypothetically speaking, she may cry 20-30 minutes at night for another month, then stop when the neural pathway finally clicks that doing so is non-advantageous. Alternately, if you glorify or lean-into her crying, then it’s producing a positive result for her and she’ll most certainly continue.
Shoulders back, chin up. You got this.
Hi Shelley! I’m the process of this now for nap time and plan to continue it for tonight as his sleep regression has evolved in the past 3 weeks. To now no naps exhaustedly passing out at night but still waking up in the middle of the night and extremely early in the morning. For steps 3 and 4 I am totally on board with but my sweet…sweet son will throw up on purpose like stick hands down his throat every single day. We’ve done it all from making him clean it up to not saying a word about him doing it and getting him in bed after getting him and where he threw up cleaned up. But what if with this method what if he throws up some in bed? He also pulls the I have to pee and poop trick and we will throw a pull up on but he just takes it off then will force himself to pee a bit in bed asking for us to change the sheets. I can see the no more drinks or kisses and they’ll live but what about bodily fluids? Thanks so much I’m advanced!
Sorry I couldn’t get to this sooner! To answer your question; Yes, he’ll live through bodily fluids too. Your little guy is pulling out all the stops. This type of behavior is a red flag that your authority is being forfeited in other areas of parenting. Not bedtime alone. I’d recommend some objective evaluation of the daytime hours.
You can do this,
Routing for you!
I’m still posted up 50 min later. I kept
My cool. Ignored them put them
Both back in bed probably 35 times (no joke) the younger one (2 yrs) fell asleep first and the older one (3.5 yr old) kept it up Laughing. Eventually turned into tears.
Now you can hear crickets.
Thank you 🙏
Doing a literal happy dance over here for you! Way to stick with it! Great, great job!
Thanks for the tips. Like most parents on this site we too have a defiant three year old who gets up multiple times with various requests, fears, questions, etc. This has been going on for the last 2.5 weeks and lasts for 3 hours a night. It started right after a family vacation where he slept on an inflatable twin bed first time (no longer fits in pack and play) in our hotel room. We have not been implementing the “walk back to bed quietly” but will start right away! Question, when we walk him back to his converted crib quietly do we tuck him in again with his blanket? Also, in your opinion how long do you think it will take to curb this….we are exhausted! I appreciate your help so much and glad I found this site! Amen!
Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment and questions!
1. Do not tuck him back in each time. One tuck-in with bedtime routine only.
2. If you adhere to the procedure rigorously, I’d expect you to see significant results in as little as 3 days. Although, it could take up to a week.
Everyone will be so much happier and healthier!
Thanks Shelley! We will start implementing tonight. So even if we ignore and he tantrums we take him back to bed, right?
No words, no eye contact. Straight back again and again and again.
Hi there – your post makes a lot of sense, and to be honest, a lot of things we’ve already done in the past. I have two daughters; Emma is 5 1/2 and Zoe is 3. Zoe is our “challenge” at the moment. Zoe has always felt sleep regressions etc very fiercely. We worked with a sleep consultant (here in Australia) when she failed to bring sleep back together after the 4 month sleep regression. She always goes back to sleeping through but every blip along the way is brutal.
Our problems at the moment is this – she 10000000% prefers mummy – daddy barely gets a look in and it has been like that from day dot. She is a very, very smart, switched on child, with an amazing vocabulary, but she is very strong willed, sassy and defiant in every aspect of daily life as well. For going on two weeks now, bedtime has been a challenge (she no longer naps and hasn’t for a while, but prior to this current issue, we would put her into bed, say goodnight, walk out and that was it until the next morning). We put her into bed, talk about going to sleep like a good girl, mummy and daddy are right next door etc etc… “okay mummy, goodnight”…. shut door “mummy??!” – I open door – and then alllll the excuses begin, she will start telling a joke. I then go out, say good night, shut door and it happens again, “my tummy hurts”, “i need to vomit”, i need to blow my nose, i’m not tired.. alllllllllllll of the excuses. If I say “okay, that’s it no more now, go to sleep” etc etc – she will start screaming… she will scream blue murder…. and it escalates…. and escalates… no amount of staying calm and taking her back to bed works. I know you say if they dig their heels in, dig yours in more – she has longevity!! she gets so worked up…. bedtime is 7 pm – the other night she was still carrying on after 9 pm…. i was in tears…. daddy was fed up…. i ended up having to sit on her floor and hold her hand until she went to sleep. This isn’t practical but her big sister has just started big school – she needs her sleep….. We don’t know what to do anymore….. We are afraid we’re going to “ruin” her, but we just want her to go to sleep…. help!
This is where she won and why it’ll continue happening: “i ended up having to sit on her floor and hold her hand until she went to sleep”
Commit to breaking the habits beginning on a Friday night so big sister doesn’t have school in the morning. However, also know that sometimes the other family members simply have to take one for the team. A few sleepy days are worth years of peace.
We have always had a consistent bedtime routine, structure, etc. Our 3.5 year old is now to the point where bedtime is a two hour process now, results in crying and frustration for everyone and tantruming. We do have to lay down with him to fall asleep, it used to take 5 minutes, not anymore! I am worried because I know the late bedtime is affecting his nighttime sleep (night wakings, early wakings, etc.) and he has always been borderline on getting enough sleep and it stresses me out! So we tried everything. Walking him back to bed was taking three hours and he was crying and tantruming the whole time, would not even go near the bed, would run and throw when I tried to lay him down again, and then started even repeatedly slamming the bedroom door. None of this is typical behavior for him. I tried to wait it out thinking it would lessen. It didn’t. Night after night of this was three + hours of tantrums and this resulted in him being exhausted and then waking up way earlier than normal and several night wakings. He is clearly overtired now and our entire schedule is messed up. We were hopeful the time change would sort things back out, But even if we lay with him now, which is what he wants, he gets out of bed, doesn’t listen, and it is taking him way too long to fall asleep. We tried the timer and then having mommy leave, prepped him for this change and everything, and he just got obsessed with the timer and it did not work. I feel like we have tried everything. He is 100% a strong willed child. I was fine laying with him for him to fall asleep if needed, but not when it takes two hours and he isn’t listening. That’s frustrating for everyone. I can keep trying to walk him back to bed, but it is a giant fail. He doesn’t give up and cries ands tantrums and throws and runs out of bed the whole time. It seems unhealthy for him. I would have kept going with that method but we were not getting anywhere. I don’t know where we are at now and what we should even do. We have tried everything.
When you say, “I can keep trying to walk him back to bed, but it is a giant fail. He doesn’t give up and cries and tantrums and throws and runs out of bed the whole time. It seems unhealthy for him. I would have kept going with that method but we were not getting anywhere. What makes it a fail and why do you say you weren’t getting anywhere? Did you stop taking him back to bed at some point and thus labeled it a fail? Because if so, the method didn’t fail. You gave up too soon. It’s only a failed attempt if he outlasted you. You said he is a 100% strong-willed child. That alone tells me you understand that your will must be stronger. Follow through and be consistent.
You can do this.
my daughter is 3 years old and bedtime is always a struggle. we will try to set a new calming routine. BUT when she gets to the point where she is screaming bloody murder i have such a hard time leaving her cry only because her little sister is usually already sleeping next door and i really don’t want her to wake. I’m assuming i just have to let it happen a couple nights in a row and hopefully the oldest learns quick?
Yes, you got it. As a family, you all just have to take one for the team. Your comment brought to mind a time when I coached a young mom with a 3-year-old autistic child and a newborn baby. She wanted the baby to sleep well at night; however, she was concerned about sleep training disrupting her older son because routine is SO important for his well-being. She found that attempts to do whatever she had to to keep her baby quiet at night to avoid fallout with her older child were counterproductive. She was sleep-deprived, felt awful, and her baby still cried during the night anyway. She committed to sleep-training, did all she could to set her oldest son up for success with a sound machine, as much physical distance and noise barriers as possible, and dove in. Within 2 nights, her baby, her older child, and she herself were sleeping soundly all night!
Take whatever steps you reasonably can to accommodate the littler one, have a little chat with her about how big sister needs some help sleeping. Then dig your heels in and get it done. Everyone will be better off in the long run. Think of it this way: One week of large inconvenience to achieve a lifetime of great results or a lifetime of perpetual frustration, sleep deprivation, and anger?
You can do this.
Hi what about a 3.5 year old who for past 3 nights has had monumental meltdown/tantrum at bedtime even though told 5-10 minutes before bath time so i end up no bath just stopping her hitting pinching or hurting herself by climbing over stair gate etc i do try and hug when i can. Eventually an exhausted sad looking toddler emerges for a story and bed. All started since incident at pre school of hitting another child and coming out beside herself upset!!!! She told the teacher she felt angry. We have been very soft parents and yes she has often got her own way when we have originally said no but previous to minday we were able to divert a melt down for a busy but ok bedtime.
I think you already know the source of the issues, “yes she has often got her own way when we have originally said no.”
Hi, we have a 2yr old and almost 4yr old sharing a room. We’ve been trying your method for a few nights and it’s just become a game. Tonight both my husband and I cracked and engaged through pure frustration. Any guidance on stopping the ‘entertainment’ side of this for them? We get very little down time to ourselves cos we spend the whole evening fighting bed time!
Problem #1 “both my husband and I cracked and engaged”
Do not engage in any way shape or form. No eye contact. No smiles. No conversation.
Evening time together is vital!
We have a very defiant 2.5yr old who fights sleep to all extremes.
Hubby & I are going to try your standing post & no talking technique but wondering if you would recommend we do it together? Like do 10mins each? Or just one parent persist for each night?
One parent per night, but do take turns so your child knows both parents mean business.
I gVe z 3 yr old, who from the very beginning has NEVER slept like he should. Now I’m back to pure exhaustion….he won’t go to sleep until 10p-11 and up anytime between 730-9a. I’ll give this try and see if we can normalize bedtime so I can get sleep again
My issue is that my 3 yr old shares a room with my 5yr old. If I let her scream and scream (after making sure all needs are met) then my 5yr old can’t sleep. We’ve tried moving the 5yr old to our room until we go to bed, but then, when we move her back to bed, it wakes her up and she has trouble falling back to sleep 🙁 and now my 5 yr old is also starting to get up with her. It’s no fun!
Hi Mary Beth!
Sometimes other family members have to take one for the team. A few sleepy days for the older sibling is worth the years of peace it can bring.
My three year old uses the bathroom to get out of bed after we put him to sleep. We have him use the bathroom before we go in to read a story. Then without fail he gets up three min after and says I have to go potty. He will pee and poop lay down. Then still get up to go again so he can get out of bed. Help!
One potty break before storytime, then another immediately before tuck-ins. Then no getting out of bed again. Don’t make a big deal out of accidents if he has one. Just clean it up and tell him the next night, “Better get ALL your pees and poops out before tuck-ins this time so you don’t have another accident!”
I love the idea of standing at your post and not saying a word. I will try this. My 3 year old boy doesn’t scream at all, and goes down peacefully, BUT he gets out of bed at least 15 times before he falls asleep. This is for nap time and bedtime. He says he can’t sleep but it’s clear he is sooooooo tired. I don’t think he can shut his mind off. We keep making him go back to bed but we are always talking to him while we do it! I’ll give this a try. It’s so frustrating.
But he also wakes up early- he needs more sleep than he’s getting – but regardless he is always up early. We have an “okay to wake” alarm which totally helps with him staying in his room; but not with his getting enough sleep!
Yes! From what you’ve stated here, standing at your post (or even right beside his bed) is a great next step for you. Standing not far away, ready to gently and firmly defeat his attempts to get up will help him understand the cause and effect of his bedtime boundaries.
Sleep begets sleep, so you may find that once you conquer this first battle, he’ll start sleeping longer as an added benefit.
Let me know how it goes!!
Thankyou so much for this!! My mum actually found it for me as I am struggling with my 3.5 year old son tantruming at bedtime once I leave throwing things and constantly wanting something either a cuddle, drink, another teddy etc etc. Did the silent returns tonight and after 45 mins of constantly putting him back not saying a word he finally went to sleep!! It was extremely hard and I felt guilty but I dug my heels in. I’m proud of myself now. So will do this again tomorrow. My question is though, if he wakes during the night which sometimes he does what should be my reaction? No talking and silent returns again? Usually if he wakes he comes down and says he wants a cuddle so I put him back in bed and give him a cuddle and kiss and usually he will go back to sleep.
Yay Kelly!! I am literally beaming from ear to ear reading your comment!!! Yes – no talking, no engagement of any kind during nighttime wakings as well. Silent returns as much and as long as necessary. You are giving your son an enormous blessing with this. You felt guilty in the moment but only because a poor habit had been allowed to form. A habit, that if continued, would have led to frustration, anger, and even poorer parenting, or which you would have justifiably felt worse about. What you are doing instead is choosing to train that nighttime is for sleep only. ALL the cuddles can be had during the day. Way to follow instructions to a T! So So very proud of you and rejoicing with you! Thank you for sharing.
My daughter goes to bed ok for us but wakes up multiple times a night and walks in our room. We put her back I to her bed and that’s when the tantrums start. I know she is not getting enough sleep, none of us are because she wakes the whole house up and take a sometimes up to an hour to get her back to sleep. Any suggestions, we are desperate?
Be extra certain you are not engaging in any way when you put her back to bed.
Hey there. Great piece and in reading it totally makes sense. My 3 year old has been an angel when it comes to his sleep until now. He absolutely refuses to stay in bed and I’ve been using your strategy for a couple of nights.
What’s actually happening is he’s interpreting this as a game and I laughing hysterically every time I come into the room and put him back in bed. This continues in for about 1.5-2 hours and is driving us up the wall.
DO NOT ENGAGE! In any way. No smiles. No talking. No eye contact. Follow through and be consistent!
What about the next day? Right now my 3.5yo is screaming at bedtime after dragging it out for 45 minutes and ultimately going to bed screaming for over an hour. We have tried not mentioning bedtime at all until it’s time, in order to alleviate stress and anxiety around it all. We have also tried bringing it up or he does and how he’s going to cry in his bed or wants to sleep in our room. The next morning after he finally screams himself to sleep, how do you address it or do you not? This is night 2 of letting him scream it out. We’ve been playing around with things to save our sanity but now we plan on sticking to this. I just don’t want everything to be about bedtime. He has pooping issues so I feel like these giant elephants in the room 24/7.
Thanks for reaching out!
Q: “The next morning after he finally screams himself to sleep, how do you address it or do you not?”
A: Do not glorify poor behavior by shining a verbal spotlight on it. If you choose to mention bedtime at all, do it only once by stating your expected standard of behavior and nothing else. Don’t talk about the past night’s experience of behavior from one day to the next. For older children, a parent can discuss behavior during a family meeting (once a week) and steps that will be taken, but at 2.5, a child is almost entirely cause and effect. Therefore, explanations and overcommunicating unnecessarily only serves to exacerbate an issue. Everything does not have to be about bedtime unless you make it so.
“We’ve been playing around with things to save our sanity but now we plan on sticking to this”
By following through for a handful of challenging nights, you’ll save yourself years of frustration. Vs continuing “playing around” falsely thinking you’re saving your sanity when in truth you’re prolonging the problem.
You can get through the tunnel and things will be so much brighter on the other side. Just have to walk through it and trust the process first.
I believe in you.
My toddler is 2.2 years and he throws tantrums while I take him to nap! He refused to take nap and at night he takes only 10 hours sleep! I m so concerned about his sleep! He is so active and not sitting for a minute! So that hyper activity may intrupt his sleep?
Do not engage. Take him to nap regardless of his behavior. Follow through and be consistent.
My 3 year old son used to be a great sleeper and bedtime was relatively easy. Now the mention of bedtime or anything related to bedtime (going to the bathroom, watching our show, etc) causes a full on meltdown. We are very consistent with what we do, and it never changes. It’s to the point where he won’t stay in his room let alone his bed. He races me to the door, screaming and crying. When I try to lay him back down, he kicks me and hits me. The minute I step back from him, he’s up and at the door. I don’t even get a chance to close the door. I’m at a loss as to what to do at this point. Any tips would be appreciated.
I’m in the same boat as you Holly. Bedtimes were a breeze for my now 2.5 year old. He was always excited to get upstairs, bush his teeth and get in his crib. for the past 4-5 months it’s been a nightmare! He screams to no end and anytime he thinks we are getting ready to put him down starts crying and saying “no nap”. We haven’t changed anything with our bed time schedule. He’s always gone down at 8pm, brushing teeth before hand. Right now the crib is the only thing containing him and his tranturms of kicking, hitting, screaming, etc, even though we want to put him in a toddler bed, I just can’t see doing it right now.
Did you find any resolution? This is exactly our son. He’s a little over 2.5 and slept perfectly up until October. Then he started what seemed like separation anxiety and thinking it would pass, we coddled him a bit. Now it’s January and I’m currently sitting here typing this as he kicks at his door. A 30 minute tantrum, then I’ve put him in his toddler bed 3 times and finally just stopped because he can practically beat me to the door. WHAT DO I DO?
Thank you for taking the time to jump over here to respond and share your struggle! A couple of things. If he is running to the door after you put him in bed, I would instead stand like a blockade at his bedside. Stepping in front of his attempts to get out. Say something to the effect of, “It is bedtime and you must go to sleep now” a few times, then stop talking. Continue to do so until he stays in his bed. He will likely get quite mad, but he is already tantruming, so just prepare yourself, be consistent, and follow through!! Keep in mind, the first time I trained one of my children how to sit in time-out, it took nearly 75 minutes to get him to sit in a chair for one minute. However, it got easier and easier, until he immediately responded every time without fail. Persevere and follow-through! Praying for you and your precious boy.
My son has slept by himself in his own room for quite a while now but recently he started throwing tantrums and soon as I leave the room. He begs to stay and cuddle and he needs me. Routine beforehand hasn’t changed and he isn’t upset until I get up to leave the room. The last couple nights I slept in his room for a few hours and when I get up and leave, it’s like I have a huge cowbell around my neck, he wakes up immediately and starts crying. He sleeps well as long as he’s in the same room or my bed.
I’m sorry you’re having trouble with this. Unfortunately, this is a common thing among children his age (which is why I wrote this article.) Around your son’s age, a child begins to more fully understand the world around him. Leading to the birth of new fears, increased awareness, etc.
That means he may need some extra assurance that he is safe, additional training (or retraining as the case may be) and many reminders that you’re never far away. With those added measures the training process laid forth in the article above is still effective. Work to reinforce good habits and be conscientious that you’re not perpetuating bad habits.
Thanks so much for reaching out and many blessings as you work through this time with your little man.
My son’s (3 years old) sleep troubles I believe stem from new baby related regression. The baby is only 3 months and she is still in our room. He seems to only be satisfied if he can sleep in the bed with us. Last night I even had to put him back in the crib to keep him from leaving his room multiple times through the night. It is frustrating. The only thing on this list that I haven’t done is the not talking when putting him back in bed. That’s what i’m going to try.
Having a new baby in the house can certainly throw an older child off track! In addition to everything that you are already doing, provide incentive for good bedtime behavior. Your older child needs one on one alone time right now anyway, since becoming a big brother, so offer an extra 15-30 minutes of alone play with a parent as a reward for outstanding bedtime behavior.
While I know this is certainly frustrating, the more you follow through and do not allow the behavior to snowball, the quicker you’ll train out of and correct it. I have dozens of free parenting resources in my resource library, be sure to check it out here.
Our son has had the same bedtime routine for over 6 months. He sleeps in a big boy bed and doesn’t get up, but instead screams and wails like a banshee. The no one ese can sleep because he is able to do this for hours. I understand the not relenting or giving in, but hours of top volume screaming doesn’t work for our family, especially with our other child – a baby – any tips?
If you give in and attend to the screams and wails, they will continue. Bottom line. So as uncomfortable and inconvenient as it may be, he needs you to follow through. Work on his sleep first, then you can revisit baby’s if it gets skewed. Sometimes one family member will need to take one for the team. Better a few sleepy days than years of frustration.
We have been going on approx 1 month maybe more.of trying things to get my 2.7 year old to sleep. Ever since we got rid of soother.
I tried sitting on floor and realized I cannot do that anymore. Now i try to lay him down, and walk out and keep bringing him back, he throws everything in site. So tonight I removed his book shelf which made him upset but I needed to show him mommy’s not joking when I say bedtime. Any other tips would be great!!1
What are you referring to as “soother?” A pacifier?
Removing his bookshelf was a great idea! Remove every thing in his room if necessary. He may be upset for a few days but the benefits will last for years. Well worth the effort and trade!
This is a fantastic opportunity to display the firm and loving authority he so desperately needs. The success you commit to with this one act of parenting can positively set the trajectory for much future behavior. You are doing a great thing for him! Keep going. Proud of you!
My daughter just turned three. She has had great sleep ever since she was an infant, up until a few months ago. Her tantrums have gotten more and more elaborate. We have only been doing about 80% of what you recommend here. We are committed to doing the remaining 20%, which includes consistency.
The question I have is regarding naps. Should she be napping still? I thought she was growing out of naps, but now I’m not so sure.
Thanks for the great article!
Consistency is certainly key! Well done with your commitment. It is best for your child’s health to maintain naps through 5 years old, and sometimes longer. However, some families can find this difficult due to their schedule. For instance, I am adamant about a long nights sleep. My children sleep 12 hour nights. So at 3 years old, a child (who still needs up to 13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour time period) may be getting 12 hours of sleep at night and find it more difficult to nap during the day. (this is the problem we face sometimes)
On the other hand, if your little one only gets 10 hours of sleep a night, she definitely needs a nap. Some often over-looked elements to good sleep are our bodies need for sunshine as well as physical excertion. Check this post here for more on that.
I would recommend finding a 13-hour sleep schedule that includes a good long nights sleep and a nap. Work on the night time first, then tackle child training for naps. The good nighttime sleep will lay the groundwork for the daytime!
What about waking in the middle of the night? I have a school aged child and my toddler waking (1 to sometimes 3 times a night) interrupts her sleep too…
HI there! This is really too meaty of a question to answer here. In truth, this question needs it’s own post. I have a sleep training guide available here, and a post about sleep here, that would help. Spending some time training your toddler to sleep through the night (even though it’ll be a greater disturbance that it already is for a few nights) would be the first step. Thanks so much for the question!