Me and my husband have a 3-year-old son. He always had a little bit of trouble going to sleep, but in the last 3 or 4 months it has become nightmarish. I do not like who I am when I get to the point of being so frusterated I cry. My husband's method is just to baby him for a little bit and then yell at him because he gets so frusterated too... I do not like that! I don't want to yell or scream or have to have arguements with a 3-year-old who cannot begin to comprehend what we're going through.

We have a set bed time routine that starts at 730 with him including dinner, playing afterwards, bath, teeth, reading, potty, praying and then we both tuck him in. Within 2 or 3 minutes of us walking out of that room he will be getting right back up and stating that he wants to play or read or have us sleep with him. He gets bolder the more time we put him to bed, telling us "NO" when we tell him it's time for bed and sleep. I tell him he needs his sleep to grow, that I will snuggle with him after he's laid there on his own for a while, even telling him if he gets up again he will not get his toys back. He is so resistant after the 4th or 6th time that he is tired, he knows he's tired but will start to get aggressive. I sometimes swat his bottom when I am at my end of the rope, but he gets so angry as well and hits me back! I am all out of ideas. He is a very smart and bright boy and plays and is very active during the day. I just want to figure out what's going on with him.

How I can help to help him achieve a better nights sleep?

  • 1
    Could you tell us what time he wakes up in the morning, and if he naps in the afternoon, from what time to what time his nap is?
    – adipro
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 9:54
  • You mention last 3 or 4 months - could it have coincided with later sunsets? I think the answers below are good, but one thing that comes to my mind, could he be overtired? Our boys (3+5) are both in bed alone at 7.30, our routine starts with eating at 5.30. In between start and end they will have a bit of time to go nuts, then stories and bed. The 3yo is resisting, and sometimes it comes to him screaming at the top of the stairs until he falls asleep (usually 10 mins). Like I say though, it's summer, even I don't go to bed normal time.
    – Jim W
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 3:04

4 Answers 4


It seems to me from your question that a few things could be going on.

Is he not tired?

If he is still taking naps, he may not need them any more, or his bedtime is too early. He might need less sleep than he used to.

Does he have any choices?

The second thing it sounds like could be going on is that he wants to run the show. I find that at 3 years, their independence is really starting to show, and I love my son's independence - but he needs to know some things he cannot decide.

It may help to let him ham meaningful choices, such as reading before or after brushing, which book to read, which prayer to say, which pajamas to wear - anything but what you find non-negotiable (such as bedtime).

Can he be allowed to do something on his own after 'bedtime'

In the same vein as meaningful choices, sometimes it helps to let them perceive they get to do something 'special'. I don't think it undermines the parent's authority, as long as it is within the boundaries you set.

If our son wants to read another book, for instance, I tell him that I can't, and he needs to be in his bed, but he can read the book on his own. He quietly flips through it and goes to sleep. Sometimes he is allowed to take a toy to his bed. I tell him that his head and feet need to stay on the bed, but he can drive his car around. I leave the room, and he usually stays.

I think this does two things: he feels in charge since he decided not to sleep, but staying in his bed helps him fall asleep - and we can get around to doing our adult things.

Bedsharing: A solution to endless snuggles

The last thing that stood out to me in your question was that he wants to snuggle with him. Maybe he really misses you? have you had any big changes recently? New pre-school, new house, new baby, new pet? Even things like change in parents' routine such as a new job?

The things above help us with our strong-willed 3-year-old, but only sometimes. We also lean more towards attachment parenting, and lets him sleep in our bed. We really tried not to at a point, but right now he can just choose our or his bed, and he walks to our bed at night sometimes. It lets us all get sleep, and gives him another choice while also feeling close to us (we really ended up allowing him this when we had a new baby last year).

Bedsharing may not be something everyone want to do, but I am just throwing it out there as well, since that is what really helped with our sons' request for us to stay with him in his room.

Consider: Limit snuggling

I understand your frustration, since we have been through some of the same. One thing that happened to us before we let him sleep in our bed, was that the snuggle time got longer, and longer, and longer. We ended up doing was to say: "I'm going to sit here for one lullaby", I sing, and then I leave. It had an end, so he knew we were going to leave, which is more tangible than "I'm going to leave in 5 min".

  • Thanks for your ideas. I'm experimenting with limiting snuggling to a few minutes. (If I'm sufficiently overtired, snuggling can last an hour or more, zzzz.) Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 19:52

Does he take naps during the day? That was the main problem here.

We put him to bed in a normal manner 3 or 4 times, after that we just lay him in his bed and leave the room. All without talking or tucking him in. In my opinion the less attention you give him the better. He knows what is expected and eventualy it will get easier (in our case the problem was solved after 3/4 weeks and not letting him sleep during the day).


My older son, also age 3, is afraid to be alone and has had similar difficulties going to bed. I found that firmness and absolute consistency were the key. Otherwise, that small amount of random attention you give him (an extra snuggle, some extra conversation, etc) ends up being as addictive as a Las Vegas slot machine, and he'll keep pushing your buttons over and over again, every day, trying to "win the prize" just one more time. The only way to stop that behavior is to NEVER, EVER let him win some extra attention at bedtime.

Try this: explain to him one day, before you start the bedtime routine, that you have some new rules at bedtime. After you pray and tuck him in, he has to stay in bed. It's important for his health, or whatever you want to say. Then follow through: If he gets up, you'll carry him back to bed without saying a single word to him. And over and over again. No other consequences, no taking away toys, just put him back in bed and close the door.

Be prepared to carry him back to bed over and over again for literally 3 hours or more the first night, and you will probably see a complete turnaround within 3-5 days.

[Note: my younger son, age 1.5, is the complete opposite. He asks to go to sleep around 8:00 ("up. bed.") and his whole routine lasts about 30 seconds: give him water and a stuffed animal, then lay him down and he goes to sleep. Nature over nurture.]


Good ideas from Ida above.

I would add that maybe your child don't need to sleep as much as you think. If he doesn't have a nap any more, then maybe it is still too early for him when you put in to bed. When my kids were about that age, there has been a year or so when we had to put them to bed around 10 or 11pm. It sounds awful, but we couldn't do anything else. I am talking about my two eldest children who were 15 months apart, so they always had quite a similar sleep pattern. So we would try to put them to bed at 8 or 8.30pm (like in the books :p), and they would stand up, sing, call, cry, get us upset and every possible things, until it was about 10pm - at which time they would nicely fall asleep on their own! So we decided that, well if it doesn't make a difference whether or not we spend two hours asking/singing/demanding, we may as well skip that awful time and just put them to bed at 10pm. It worked greatly, we were all much more happy, we didn't feel bad, the kids have always been happy healthy good sleepers. Before that weird 3-4yo, they were great sleepers and after that they became good sleepers again. Now they go to bed nicely at 8.30pm and we never fight for these things. Of course, when they were indeed awake from 8 to 10pm, they would have only quiet activities, no screen, no music, no food, dim lights and mummy-daddy doing their own things. Sometimes I would even say "OK I am going to bed now", both children still playing in the lounge room and they would look at me like that O_o and go to bed because they didn't want to be left alone.

It prevented us from watching movies for a while :), but that was worth it anyway.

A few things that you could think about too: what does your child do before bedtime? does he have time to finish what he was doing? isn't he too excited anyway? Things that I do in my house: - no screen after 6pm (and limited screen anyway - like 20 minutes 3-4 times a week!) - diner not too late (I'd say at least an hour before bedtime, possibly two hours, 7.30 diner as you mention would be very late for a 8.30 bedtime...) - warnings (you finish your drawing and then...) - bedtime chores regular but no rushing : we read books, brush our teeth, put on our PJs (no stress but strict enough about it).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .