My 3 Year Old Won’t Go To Bed: What To Do

My 3 Year Old Won’t Go To Bed: What To Do

I’m guessing you are here because you are in the same boat we have been at our house the last few months, your 3 year old won’t go to bed!

It just seems like every night bedtime is a constant battle and it’s exhausting.

Some popular tactics for 3 year olds include:

  • Taking a long time to get ready for bed
  • Getting out of bed after lights out
  • Won’t stop talking at lights out
  • Throwing a tantrum while getting ready for bed or after lights out

Sound familiar? In this post I will be sharing my best tips and firsthand knowledge, for getting your 3 year old to go to sleep and stay asleep.

Naps At 3 Years Old

Before we discuss getting your 3 year old to sleep, we should look at some of the reasons your 3 year old isn’t sleeping.

The first thing you need to consider is the total amount of sleep your 3 year old is getting. Typically a 3 year old requires 11 to 13 hours of sleep.

Around this age sleep patterns and the amount of total sleep starts to change. It’s not unusual for 3 year olds to have a sleep regression because of this.

Next, you will need to look at how long and how late in the day your 3 year old naps. If you think your toddler is getting too much sleep, then consider shortening his nap and making sure he wakes up before a certain time in the afternoon.

I always try my best to have the nap end by 3pm at the latest when using a bedtime of 8pm and a wake up time of 8am.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, your toddler could be overtired if he’s not napping. Kids typically stop napping between 3 and 5 years old, so that is a pretty big range.

If your 3 year old has stopped napping, but is still giving you trouble at bedtime, and is not sleeping a total of 11 to 13 hours, then he’s probably overtired.

I recommend not giving up on naps yet. Even if you just put your 3 year old up in bed and he has quiet time, at least he gets some down time.

In my experience, sometimes my kids would nap at this age and other times it would just be quiet time. If they needed a nap that day, they would end up eventually falling asleep (most of the time).

3 Year Old Bedtime

Another thing that could be starting to evolve at 3 years old is bedtime. For instance, if your child recently stopped napping, then you might try moving bedtime up an hour.

Dropping a nap is a big change. It’s a lot to ask your kid to suddenly stay up for 12 to 13 hours straight. Moving bedtime earlier, could help avoid one of those epic tantrums due to being overtired.

Now, it’s entirely possible that napping might not be the reason your 3 year old won’t go to bed, or maybe it’s only part of the reason.

Fixing Toddler Sleep Problems

If you think your 3 year old has a napping or bedtime problem, I would definitely start by addressing those issues first.

Besides, sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, your 3 year old might refuse to go to bed because he is afraid of the dark. Or, he could just be stubborn because he has too much fun when he’s awake. Hey, even 3 year olds can have FOMO.

Whatever the reason your 3 year old won’t go to bed, there are things you can do to correct the problem. That is what I will spend the rest of this post discussing.

3 Year Old Stalling At Bedtime

All three of my children have gone through this phase. Let me tell you, as they get older it doesn’t necessarily change, but it’s easier to put a stop to their stalling.

So, what do you do if your 3 year old just refuses to get ready for bed or refuses to let you leave the room and turn off the light?

I have a couple recommendations. First, I would start with telling your child that if they get ready for bed quickly, they will earn an extra treat the next day.

You can decide what you want that to be. Maybe it’s a special food he likes or extra time to do something fun like playing outside or watching TV. Pick something that you know will provide motivation for your child.

Next, something that has been effective for me is to make a game out of getting ready. For each step of getting ready for bed, I count to 10 and I challenge my 3 year old. I tell him that I don’t think he can, for example, sit on the potty, within 10 seconds. And then, I start counting.

I continue counting to 10 seconds for each small step towards bedtime. He knows if he doesn’t complete his tasks that he won’t earn that extra treat tomorrow.

I will also say that I have found yelling to be completely ineffective. If anything, it just makes my kids shutdown.

Now, you can also tell your child that if he doesn’t get ready for bed in a timely manner he will lose something he likes doing.

In order for this to be effective it is absolutely important that you follow through the next day.

What If My 3 Year Old Won’t Stay In Bed?

What if your 3 year old won’t stay in bed or has a tantrum at bedtime? Well, solving these problems will be similar to what is done when your 3 year old stalls at bedtime.

I would offer an incentive like earning something extra the next day. But, if your child doesn’t listen and cries, or gets out of bed, then he loses something he likes to do.

Just make sure it’s clear what he will be earning or losing ahead of time. And, that you follow through with it the next day.

I tried something recently that has helped to stop by 3 year old from crying after lights out. Before I left his room, when I was tucking him in, I asked if he wanted to know a secret. And, of course he said yes.

So, I whispered in his ear, that if he stayed in bed, we could make chocolate chip cookies together the next day. To my pleasant surprise, this worked like a charm.

As you can see, when you are able to add a little bit of fun along with your child trying to accomplish their goals, it seems to be more successful.

How Handle A Child That’s Afraid Of The Dark

I wanted to mention this common sleep problem here because it’s potentially a reason your 3 year old won’t go to bed.

Some things you can try are making sure there is a nightlight in your child’s room. We also leave the hallway light on in our house. You could leave a hall light on with the door open.

My kids have not been truly afraid of the dark to date, but this post has a lot of great tips on how to deal with toddlers that are afraid of the dark.

Bedtime Success With Your Child

To summarize solving the problem that your 3 year old won’t go to bed. Start by analyzing your child’s total sleep for the day. As well as, the timing of his nap and bedtime.

If any of these things are off from the 3 year old sleep guidelines discussed above, then start by addressing those.

It wouldn’t be unusual if your 3 year old still fights you at bedtime. In that case, you can offer incentives that will get your toddler to listen. On the other hand, you can tell your child he will have something taken away, if he doesn’t listen.

This will only be effective if you follow through the next day. Be sure to explain why your child has earned or lost something. Then, on night two, you can remind your child of what happened the previous day.

Continue to offer these incentives until your 3 year old’s bad bedtime habits have disappeared.

I hope this post has given you some good ideas for solving the problem of your 3 year old not going to bed. Good luck and I hope soon enough you are on track to good sleeping habits with your 3 year old.

Need more toddler sleep help? Consider hiring a toddler sleep consultant to return to peaceful nights of sleep for the whole family. 

What to do when your 3 year old won't go to bed.