My 3 year old son has suddenly started fighting sleep at every opportunity. He is an absolute angel during bath time and getting ready for bed but will not settle. This has come out of the blue. In a normal situation, we read a story, say goodnight and leave him. He would in a very few instances call out, but I'd consider this normal.

Now, he will call and call and call for us to come and sit with him, and will not settle unless we're there. Even at the brink of sleep if we leave he will wake up and call out. Tonight was even worse where he wouldn't settle with me sitting there.

Any ideas? He has recently (about a month ago) started nursery but didn't have any sleeping issues then.


We've tracked it down to a new friend at school. His teacher told us that a new boy that my son has befriended has abysmal behaviour and it seems to have rubbed off. Since the new boy at school as also quietened down, so has my son's sleeping habits become less of a fight.

  • Does he understand the concept of dreams? Try asking him if he's afraid of bad dreams. Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 22:13
  • We have, and he doesn't understand it yet. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 16:05

3 Answers 3


Starting nursery is a big deal! A significant change in his life, even one that doesn't seem like a big deal to us, can be stressful on a little one.

Does he like the nursery program? Does he show any other signs of stress? Does he have a hard time starting nursery in the mornings?

To me it sounds like he's just adjusting to the separation from you when he goes to nursery and may need some extra attention. The bedtime routine sounds great, I would keep that up. Maybe add bath time before the bedtime story, to give him some added opportunities to connect with you? You can sit next to the bathtub and talk and play and giggle. Excellent bonding opportunity! (though I see now you are already doing bathtime, you may need other 'special time' that you set aside for connecting.

After a bedtime story and lots of snuggles, I think it is appropriate to remain firm and say things like "Goodnight. I love you." and then leave. If he gets out bed, just put him back into bed with "It's bed time. Goodnight." Though it can be unbelievably frustrating, but consistently, and calmly, keep putting him back into bed with a "It's bedtime. Goodnight." Staying in the room with him will teach him the way to get your attention is by staying awake!

As long as he has been fed, watered, and loved, I don't see any major problems here, especially if you don't see any other signs of distress or discomfort.

Try asking him what's going on. "I notice you aren't sleeping. How come?" But he or may not be able to tell you much. Without knowing him it is hard to say, there's such a range at this age!

You could also make a bedtime routine chart with him. Let him do all the artwork and choose pictures to cut out from magazines to represent the different steps. Involving him can help him take ownership of the process. Give him lots of "wow, you are really learning to take care of yourself" and other reflections (not praise).

I am sure it will settle down when he gets used to going nursery. It is a big step for a little one, and some are more sensitive to changes, particularly in routines, than others.

Good luck and keep us posted on how it goes!

  • 1
    Nice answer. For me, when my kids say they don't want to sleep or that they're not tired, I just tell them, "You don't have to sleep. You just have to stay in bed. Good night." I don't let them have toys or keep the lights on, but I don't want to tell them they have to do something that they can't even force themselves to do. Results have been good. Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 23:09
  • Brian, that seems respectful, yet firm. Love it! Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 0:14
  • He loves nursery. He enters the door, turns around and says "Bye Mommy" and runs off. Our current routine is bathtime and then storytime and then straight into bed. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 7:19
  • When asked why he doesn't want to sleep, he says because he wants to be a naughty boy, which is hard not to laugh about, since he is anything but. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 7:19
  • Oops, you're right, you did say you give him a bath. Good! Maybe he heard something in preschool about being a naughty boy? I'm not sure. It sounds like for the most part things are pretty good with him so I wouldn't worry. I'm sure this too will pass. I wonder if he's doing it to get your attention specifically since you are home later than mom it sounds like. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 16:16

First thing is try to reduce or avoid altogether giving them any sort of subtances with caffeine, including chocolate, tea, coke, etc.

  • I'll chat to my wife, because I only get home as they are in the bath, and I'm not sure what he drinks during dinner time. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 7:20
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    I'm guessing his diet hasn't changed much in the last month though, but you could check I suppose. Plus, it could also just be from the over-stimulation of preschool. I'm sure his little brain has a TON of processing to do! Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 16:21

This may or may not be related to him starting nursery, but either way it may be about control. At some point children want to try and control their own lives, and going to sleep is one big bit of control. At some point most children will want to draw out the process because then they feel like they are calling the shots to some extent.

The way I'd play this is rather than to just leave when he calls out, I'd tell him that you're going to come back once, but after that it is time for bed, and then stick to it. Come back for another minute or two, another couple of hugs and kisses so he'll get a bit of satisfaction, then nite-nite and out the door. He may cry but he'll get over it. You can't go back over and over or you'll never be done with it! The extra call back will become part of the routine, and all will settle down. At least, that's the theory!

Starting nursery often stirs up routines for a bit, the important thing is to be loving and supportive while still being consistent in the new routine.

  • The only problem with him crying out at the moment is that he constantly wakes up his 2yo sister, so we've probably been trying a little too hard to keep him quiet. ;) Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 12:39
  • That is so easy to do, unfortunately it could lead you to humor that behavior too much
    – GdD
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 12:48
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    Yes, just like every human on the planet, children want to feel important and maintain their dignity by having control over their own lives. So give them as much control as possible, invite them to help you with chores (little kids love this), ask them questions, give them choices. When they want something they can't have, acknowledge it. "I know you want to stay up, and it is bedtime. You need sleep to grow a strong body." That's it. Mutual respect. Kind and firm. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 16:19

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