Encountering 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums? Not Anymore!

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 09/01/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Tips

At the end of a busy day, the last thing you need is a screaming toddler who will not go to bed. It’s frustrating and exhausting. But here’s everything you need to know about 3 year old bedtime tantrums so we can stop these power struggles and get on the path to calm and peaceful evenings once again.

3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums Featured

Understanding 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums

Causes Of 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums

Whilst overtiredness, overstimulation and big emotions are the main causes of bedtime temper tantrums, they’re certainly not the only reasons why your toddler is upset.

Here are the most common triggers of 3 year old bedtime tantrums:

  1. Overtiredness: Your little one could very well be exhausted from their day, feeling irritable, and moody and unable to fall asleep easily, leading to bedtime tantrums. Ensuring sufficient rest and quiet time in a calm-down corner during the day can help reduce these outbursts.
  2. Not being tired enough: Sometimes, your child may not be tired enough at bedtime, making it difficult for them to settle down. Whilst this is a tricky balance to find, following a consistent daily routine and ensuring they get outside every day can help regulate their sleep pattern.
  3. Emerging independence: At this age, children are striving for independence and may resist bedtime routines as a way to assert control. Offer acceptable choices to balance their need for independence with your boundaries.
  4. Overstimulation: Too much excitement or stimulation close to bedtime can make it hard for your preschooler to unwind and fall asleep. Establish a calming bedtime routine that relaxes your child and excludes screens.
  5. Transition and changed environment: Moving to a new home, starting school, the arrival of a sibling or any significant change in their routine can trigger bedtime tantrums. Offering comfort and reassurance during these transitions can help them cope better.
  6. Developmental milestones: Your 3-year-old may be experiencing developmental milestones that cause them to become overtired, anxious or stressed, leading to temper tantrums at bedtime. They may also struggle to express their emotions verbally, making tantrums a means to vent their frustrations.
  7. Fear and anxiety: If your little one is experiencing separation anxiety, fear of the dark or monsters under the bed this can easily result in bedtime tantrums. Try to identify the cause and then address it with sympathy and caring support.
  8. Hunger: If your little one is hungry, they may be irritable and may have difficulty falling asleep. Ensure they have a filling and healthy meal in the evening. Some 3 year olds may need a healthy bedtime snack to settle them. I love the recipe and snack ideas from the lovely Sarah Bushell at The Children’s Nutritionist.
  9. ADHD: Children with ADHD may also have difficulties falling asleep, which can manifest as toddler bedtime tantrums because they don’t want to stop yet. Consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect your child may have ADHD.
  10. Uncomfortable sleep environment: A too hot or too cold room, tight or itchy clothing, or an uncomfortable bed can easily cause bedtime tantrums if your 3 year old cannot effectively communicate what they’re feeling. Creating a comfortable sleep environment is essential to encourage a peaceful night’s sleep.

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How To Avoid 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums

It’s challenging dealing with 3-year-old bedtime tantrums, but with a few strategies, you can create a more peaceful evening routine.

Below are a few suggestions to help prevent toddler bedtime battles:

Ways To Avoid 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums

1. Understand Nap Transitions

As your 3-year-old grows, their nap schedule may change as they start to drop their daytime nap.

To prevent toddler tantrums, monitor their sleeping patterns and watch out for sleep cues such as eye rubbing, yawning and becoming withdrawn to make sure they don’t become overtired.

2. Have A Sleep Schedule

Establish a consistent sleep schedule which includes maintaining regular bedtime and wake-up time. This helps your little one’s body adjust to a routine, and they’ll be more prepared for bedtime.

Sometimes you may need to gradually move to an earlier bedtime to help prevent overtiredness, but do so by 10-15 minutes per night until you’re toddler is falling asleep at the correct bedtime. Here is my breakdown of an ideal 3 year old sleep schedule.

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3. No Screentime

I know this may seem extreme, but I will stand this ground for as long as I have to!

Too much screen time in the lead-up to bedtime has been proven to have a detrimental effect on young children’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep as the blue light inhibits melatonin production leading to sleep disruptions.

Instead, engage them in calming activities, such as reading or drawing, to help them wind down.

4. Offer Calm Activities

Introduce calm and soothing activities before bedtime, like having a warm bath or reading relaxing bedtime stories. These activities help your child relax and build strong sleep associations that it’s time to sleep.

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5. Maintain A Consistent Routine

Create a consistent bedtime routine for your child to follow at the same time every night.

This should include a warm bath, brushing teeth, putting on pyjamas, and reading a book.

You can add in tasks such as extra toilet breaks, having a drink of water, and putting teddy to bed.

But consistency is king with parenting so make sure the basic framework of your evening routine stays the same and happens at the same time every night.

6. Make Their Sleep Environment Cosy

Ensure your child’s sleep environment is comfortable, quiet, and dark. Consider using blackout curtains or a white noise machine to block out light and noise that could disturb their sleep.

Their room should be between 65°F to 70°F (8°C to 22°C) and they should be dressed in seasonally appropriate sleepwear.

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7. Nurture Their Independence

Promote your child’s independence by giving them two acceptable age-appropriate choices, like selecting their pyjamas or deciding which book to read.

This simple choice can help them feel more in control and less resistant at bedtime.

8. Encourage Self-Control

Help your little one learn how to manage their emotions and develop self-control during the day as this can go a long way in helping them handle the transitions and changes happening during bedtime.

For example, practise teddy bear breathing and talk about emotions with flashcards.

By incorporating these strategies into your child’s day and bedtime routine, you’ll be better equipped to avoid tantrums and create a more peaceful, restful sleep environment for your 3-year-old.

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Bedtime Routine To Avoid Tantrums

As I mentioned earlier, establishing a consistent bedtime routine is crucial in helping your 3-year-old avoid bedtime tantrums.

A daily pattern will help your little one know what to expect, which can reduce anxiety and stress which can often lead to tantrums.

To really nail the bedtime routine do the following:

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Identifying and Managing Anxiety To Reduce Bedtime Tantrums

It’s essential to understand that anxiety is a common factor in 3 year old bedtime tantrums.

Separation anxiety, for instance, can make your child feel worried about being left in their room alone and recognising and empathising with their fears will make it easier to address the issue.

One effective strategy for managing anxiety is to develop calming rituals to help ease your child’s anxiety.

By establishing consistent, predictable, and enjoyable evening routines, you can help reduce 3 year old bedtime tantrums as they will know what to expect and feel a lot safer in a consistent and recognisable routine.

Additionally, offering a comfort item, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, can provide reassurance for your child.

Another important aspect of reducing toddler bedtime tantrums is addressing any potential fears your child may have. This could include fear of the dark, monsters, or other imagined threats. Night lights are ideal to help alleviate these worries.

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I also like to create a monster spray to help with fears of the dark and monsters.

Simply fill a spray bottle with water and a handful of beads and sequins and spray it around the room to eliminate any hidden monsters.

You can also add a few drops of lavender, camomile or cedarwood essential oil to strengthen the illusion. This may create a strong sleep association too.

Reading books together about their fears and concerns can also help.

From the fear of the dark to starting daycare or the arrival of a new sibling, there are books out there that can help you communicate with your 3 year old about what might be causing their bedtime tantrums.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Frequently Asked Questions About 3 Year Old Bedtime Tantrums?

Looking for more information about why your 3 year old is throwing tantrums at bedtime? Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Why Does My 3 Year Old Only Throw Tantrums At Bedtime?

Your 3-year-old may throw tantrums at bedtime due to various reasons, such as anxiety, discomfort, or fear. Overstimulation, overtiredness, and resisting change in routine are also common causes of toddler bedtime tantrums. Addressing these issues can help prevent toddler bedtime battles.

How Much Sleep Does My 3 Year Old Need?

Preschool-aged children need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep a day, which can include nap time. An overtired toddler will struggle to settle so adequate daytime sleep can most definitely help prevent irritability and tantrums at bedtime.

Is It Normal For A 3 Year Old To Fight Bedtime?

Yes, it’s normal for a 3-year-old to fight bedtime occasionally. This can be due to their growing independence, changes in daily schedule, or difficulty falling asleep. Developing a consistent bedtime routine and ensuring a calm, comfortable sleeping environment can help.

What Time Should A 3 Year Old Go To Bed?

The ideal bedtime for a 3-year-old may vary depending on the child’s specific needs. Generally, most 3-year-olds need 10-13 hours of sleep per night. I would recommend a bedtime between 7 and 8 pm.

Your child should not be in bed any later than 8pm to ensure they get enough sleep to support their brain’s growth and development as well as their physical development.

Are There Specific Techniques To Soothe Nighttime Anxiety In Toddlers?

To soothe nighttime anxiety in toddlers, establish a consistent bedtime routine, provide comfort items such as a stuffed toy, use nightlights, and audio tapes and offer reassurance. A calm, soothing atmosphere is important for easing your child’s anxiety at bedtime.

When Should I Seek Professional Help For My Toddler’s Bedtime Tantrums?

Seek professional help for your 3 year old’s bedtime tantrums if they persist despite trying strategies to address the issue if they’re causing severe stress, or if they are affecting your child’s overall well-being, sleep quality, or functioning. A pediatrician or mental health professional can provide guidance for managing these issues.

Further Reading

To learn more about how to handle and reduce tantrums in toddlers and preschoolers, no matter the situation, read these posts:

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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