How to Handle 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums: Defeating Nightime Routine Problems and Ending Battles
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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.
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 Ask?
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.
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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!