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Your 3-Year-Old Won’t Sleep? Are You Making Any Of These Mistakes?

Your 3-Year-Old Won’t Sleep?  Are You Making Any Of These Mistakes?

Your 3, 4 or 5-year-old might smile like a champ in your Facebook pictures… but you know the hidden secret.  The secret sleep challenges that have been driving you nuts for months or even years.  Each night is a horrible groundhog’s day.  The same old battle every night.  The hours it finally takes your child to sleep… Your child is always getting out of bed.  He needs you to stay with him.  He gets out of bed at night… many times.  You have to sleep with him.  You are surviving each day as a mom-bie (part mom part zombie), half in the bag and chugging coffee like it’s your new job.  You’ve had enough that your 3-year-old won’t sleep.  You just don’t know what to do.

Who wears the pants in your family?  There is a good chance that your child does.

#1:  Your Child Craves More Attention From You

Your child needs to fill up in the parenting love department each and every day.  And when their tank gets low, they are going to start begging, pleading, and probably throwing a huge fuss to get what they want.

Bring your relationship to the forefront. Strive to spend quality time with your child each day.

Ideas:  Carve out 10-30 minutes each day of “special time.” It doesn’t have to be expensive; it doesn’t need to involve treats or food.  It just needs to be a phone-distraction free chunk-o-time just dedicated to fun.  Bonus points, this will give your child the attention that they desperately crave.

#2 Your Child Is In Control

I’m right there with you.  My child is for sure the one that since birth has worn the pants in the family.  My then 2-year old ruled our roost. Her mood affected us all.  For sure!  But, that is wrong… so wrong, and I know that I’m here to make sure that you don’t make the same mistake.

It wasn’t until I read Beyond Time Out from Chaos To Calm that I realized that the imbalance of family power was way out of whack.  Our child has way too much control.  She dictated everything.  Like, everything.

It was my job as the parent to take back the control.  I had her best interest in mind, and it was my job to lead.  Not to follow.

Guess what?  Taking control is not yelling – belittling – punishing.  It’s about communicating and setting limits.  And boundaries.

Once you as a parent has those limits and boundaries set (during the day too), you can then work on establishing nighttime limits and boundaries when it comes to sleep.

#3: Your Child Isn’t Getting Enough Sleep

Many children just aren’t getting enough sleep.  They are going to bed way too late and waking up way too early.  The AAP’s guidelines for healthy sleep for a 3-5-year-old is 10 – 13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.

The problem is that many parents of 3-year-olds are complacent when their child is only getting 10 hours of sleep at night and saying “hey, it’s in the range” when in reality that range is pretty large.

So, here’s a good guideline to work with for each aged child:

3-year-old:  12+ hours of sleep (10+ hours overnight + 2 hour nap)

4-year-old:  11+ hours of sleep (including nap)

5-year-old:  11+ hours of total sleep

sleep needs by age | how much sleep does your baby need | #babysleep #toddlersleep #sleep

It’s helpful to get a target and if you are targeting more asleep than less…you are on the right path.

#4 Your Family Isn’t Prioritizing Sleep

Your family isn’t focusing on sleep enough.  Eekk… I said it.  I know it probably didn’t feel good to hear that and I’m sorry.

This one is always a tough one to swallow.  Yes – parents need to focus on sleep to get out of the sleep rut.  It means giving some dedicated time and energy to make sure you’re doing everything you can.

Now is not the time to keep your kids up late to do a family sleepover.  It’s not the time to un-enroll in late night activities (beg for money back).  It’s the time to have a nice family dinner and start working on an enjoyable bedtime routine that can get you enough time to get your child to bed sooner than later.

#5 You Assume That To Fix Sleep You Need To “Cry It Out”

So many parents have the perception that “crying it out,” and fixing sleep is the same.  Oh, friends, that is not even close to accurate!

Let’s talk mom-to-mom for a second, anything that you want to do to help your child learn how to sleep is OK.  You’re the parent; you set the rules.  But as the parent, you need to ENFORCE the rules, and that is easier said than done.  

This is the time that you have to follow through on what you say.  Say what you mean, mean what you say.  

If you want to let your child come into your bed at night sometimes and not others your child is getting mixed messages, and it’s no surprise that they are going to keep trying.  But, if you’re looking for your child to stay in their bed, then you must come up with a solid plan.

If you decide to walk your child back to their room each night, great!  Now, each and every time your child attempts to b-line it to your bed, you must walk your child back for as long as it takes!  It’s not easy, but it’s necessary – since this is when behaviors change.  Even if it means that you are going to walk your child back 1,000,000 times – you must be consistent.

If you’re not going to be consistent, what’s the point of starting in the first place? 


OK, Tell me which mistake you’re guilty of making. We are a judgment free-zone so don’t worry if you’re guilty of doing something wrong (we’re right there with you).  Are you over the fact that your 3-year-old won’t sleep?  Now, what are you going to do to make things better?

Susie Parker

Susie Parker is founder of Sleep Baby Love and a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute. When Susie's not ridding the world of sleepless families, she loves spending time with her two girls that have given her a ton of real world sleep experience head on.

This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. I have fallen into the habit of yelling and punishing. I am extremely embarrassed by it. Some days are easier than others, being a single mom and working. I start to focus on the “right” way of trying to get control back from my 3 year old daughter. Right she turned 3 my sweet little girl literally turned into a different child. Reading above, I’ve realized that since I started working more hours is when this behavior started. She is the boss 100%. Sleep is the other big issue I’m having, and I’m wondering if its because she wants to stay awake to make up for the loss time during the day?

    1. Hi Stacy, For sure being sleep deprived will affect behavior! If you take stock of who is control, you can lovingly get the control back by prioritizing sleep!

  2. So what are you supposed to do when the 3 year old continues to walk out of their room over and over at bedtime and then in the middle of the night?

    1. If getting no attention other than a consistent quiet walk back to bed every single time for a few days doesn’t work (did for my first, did nothing for my second), there’s lots of “kid hack” suggestions floating around. Really depends on your kiddo–you know what’s likely to motivate them best–my first loves her toddler clock that turns yellow when it’s morning but my second doesn’t care. She thinks pennies are the most amazing thing, so I lined a few up on the low dresser, right where she’d have to walk past to get to me. Each trip back, I quietly (no fanfare) removed a penny, and she was allowed to put the remaining pennies in her bank in the morning after a pointedly excited conversation about how many times she had gotten up and how many pennies were still left. It took a few weeks, and (uhg) this was after several other Great Ideas hadn’t fully panned out, but we’ve now moved the pennies on to helping her work on other “Hard Things”–like not hitting when angry and not going outside in her sock feet.

  3. I have 3 year who will not go to sleep at night. She will walk around the house, in the dark, refusing sleep. She will not sleep in her own, just screams and runs into our room … we have tried everything. She currently sleeps on a mattress on our bedroom floor. Trying to get her to sleep at a normal hour (between 7pm and 8.30) results in screaming until 11, waking the other children. Putting her in her own room also results in screaming and waking the other children.
    We have a bedtime routine – dinner, shower, book and cuddles then bed … she is happy to do everything except the bed part.

    1. I hop you ll get an answer because it sound exactly like my little girl… I would love to see the suggestion so I could try them because it s way out of hand here… I m hitting the depression mode!

    2. Ugh, same here. I have a 6 and 2 year old that go to bed fairly easy … my 3 year old screams his head off, dictates and wakes the whole house up at bedtime. Once he finally falls asleep he gets close to 10 hours, but we go to daycare so no option to let him sleep past 7:00. I get so frustrated. He knows it and I feel awful. Sadly our once a month date nights have flown out the window, along with my husbands golf night : (

    3. Hey!
      Reading at your comment, i could see myself cus am passing through the same problem with my three year old daughter, she won’ t sleep , try to put her to be at 7:30 and she will stay up till 11, its getting out of hand. I really need solution fast

  4. My child has not been the same since she turned 3 years old. Literally overnight she became a little dictating tyrant! I feel like all I do is scream and yell at my child. She refuses to take naps anymore and she will only sleep maybe 4-5 hours at night. Yep you heard that right, only 4-5 hours a night and then go all day with no sleep. It’s turned all of us into very grumpy, very depressed individuals. I honestly don’t know what to do anymore. I’m exhausted 24/7 and have almost fallen asleep driving several times which is extremely dangerous. I’m depressed and I’m a bad mood every single day because I’m not getting any sleep and then on top of that I’m dealing with my daughter who’s like the spawn of Satan!!!!! She never use to be like this but like I said, she turned 3 and it all went downhill. Nothing has changed in our family dynamics. Everything is the same! I am at my wits end and becoming seriously depressed because I’m so tired I can barely function. I’m glad reading some of these comments i see I’m not alive in this matter. I’m currently up with my daughter who went to bed at 9:30pm and has been up since 1:15am and it’s currentky 4am….she’s still going strong up running around the house……’s to another day…..

    1. I can confidently say that 3-4 hours isn’t enough. I would start with your pediatrician and reach out for professional help.

  5. I’m guilty of not bwing consistant and punishing. My 3 year old has been fighting bedtime for months now and I’m at my wits end. She refuses to sleep unless it’s with my hisband and/or me in our bed. My husband has esrly work days, so itms typically me fighting with her for hours to go to bed. We stick to a pretty routine bedtime routine, in ned no latercthan 8:30/9, but she still fights. I’m struggling to renain sane and get the sleep I need to

    1. thanks for sharing. I know how hard it is – but you have the ability to change things for the better without using punishment. You just need to come up with a solid plan!

  6. I’m a single father to a little boy just turned 3. I work a full day and have to keep him in daycare from 7:45 until 6. We’ll go home do dinner relax, do bathtime and then it’s already 8-8:30. This past month after we get to bed and I’ve read books sang songs, went multiple trips responding to requests its 9:30 and heres the kicker. He will literally stay awake for an hour by himself in the bed talking. He’s not falling asleep until 10:30 most of the time and that’s hours after we start the bedtime routine. I’m afraid hes not getting enough sleep and I don’t know what to do. I’m thinking of getting a nanny to pick him up from school cause I have such a long commute to get him more settled.

    1. My suggestion would have daycare give him dinner before you pick up at 6. This will allow you to go home and work on your routine. Good luck!

  7. Oh you’re not alone my girls bedtime is 730pm I have to sit with her for an hour and a half till she’s asleep then once I leave she will get up and come into our room at 2am lately she’s been waking up two to three times before my going to bed I’m at my wits end oh great she’s up 1030pm I need a serious coffee habit to keep awake

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