Q&A: Any tips for a 3-year-old who doesn't want to go to bed?
I have a 3-year-old daughter that is driving us crazy at bedtime. She simply will not go to sleep without an elaborate routine that is exhausting us. Problem is that we don''t really know what she wants, most times I believe they are just stalling tactics. The temper tantrums that come from us refusing to do all the little things she wants (up to the bathroom many times to "try to pee", certain stuffies that she can''t find, covers on at least a dozen times, sox on, sox off, etc.) become so monumental that we think the next door neighbors can hear it all. She can get so worked up that she bangs her head on the wall and screams at the top of her lungs. She really isn't like this during the day, and even though we start the bed time "routine" at about 8 PM, she is rarely ever asleep before 11 PM. We are losing our patience because of lack of sleep ourselves. We are expecting our second child in about two months and they will eventually have to share a room, that panics us.
Routines are a good way to transition into bedtime. Teeth-brushing, a book and a snuggle create the downtime needed to settle into the night. But, your issue isn’t as much about routines as it is about limits, and, yes, it seems like your daughter is stalling to stretch those limits beyond what is necessary. The fact that you are exhausted means its time to change the goalposts and impose a tighter, shorter bedtime routine. Do this first by deciding, with your daughter, the most important elements of your goodnight routine. Take the top few from the list, or what will fit into 20 to 30 minutes, and make a firm committment to complete that routine and no more. When you are done, you are done. Answer pleas with a reminder that you are done. Don’t respond to temper tantrums at all. If you have to intervene in a tantrum, do so calmly and briefly, but don’t go back to the routine. On the days that go well, give your daughter lots of praise for a job well done. If you are absolutely consisitent with what you know is best, you will eventually regain control over your evening.