When your three year old refuses to sleep

You may or may not have read that we have had sleep issues with my youngest.  From the newborn days to the exhaustion of 18 months.  Sleep issues that made the broken nights with my eldest seem like a walk in a park, ones that made me look back fondly on what I thought were broken nights.

And so began the ways we tried to get the boy to sleep without moving to any form of crying.  We’ve tried a Whisbear – which worked for a time when he was tiny, maybe a week, maybe less.   I tried the Rabbit who wanted to go to sleep, again it worked for a day and then it made me sleep.

the rabbit who wants to fall asleep

Eventually it got to the point where I could generally count that he would sleep through the night, if he woke up he came and got me to come stay in his room.  It was doable except for one thing.

Every night I had to lie in his room until he fell asleep.

Every.  Single.  Night.

Some nights it was five minutes, other nights it was hours depending on whether he had snuck a nap in.  Whatever our day was like it always ended with me lying on an air mattress next to him as he drifted off to sleep before sneaking off downstairs to eat my dinner.

It was eating into my evenings, into my time to unwind and reset for the next day.  Some nights it meant I was cooking dinner when really I wanted to be asleep in bed myself.

We had resigned ourselves to doing this for the next however many years, after all he was our last baby, and then came the gamechanger.  The baby sibling arriving in December, the pregnant bump, the heartburn and the crippling exhaustion that came with the first trimester that meant I was falling asleep on the air bed at bedtime instead of eating dinner.

Something had to be done.  We had to move away from us being there at night.  It was time to consider professional help.

Enter Katy from Slumbertots

Just before I headed back to the UK to escape the summer heat I got in touch with Katy from Slumbertots.  A sleep consultant based in Surrey with two small children of her own – she knew the score.  Coupled with the fact that she works with parents from all over the country (and world) I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem me being based out in Qatar when we first started speaking.

More importantly she understands that not only is each and every child is different, so are each and every parent.  What works for one might not work for another.  There is no blanket cure to fix your bad sleeper – you need a plan that is tailored to you and your style.

It was never going to work for me to leave him in his room alone and crying.  (Not that Katy advocates this!)  And I had always, wrongly, assumed that this is what would be advised.  Some tough love to get him down.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A personalised approach to sleep

Thinking that my baby was too big for any traditional “training” I was apprehensive during my first early morning Skype with Katy.  Would she declare us a lost cause?  Tell me that there was no way I’d ever get to leave the airbed again?

After sending over a detailed sleep questionnaire Katy talked me through what we were currently doing, what changes were happening in our life (new baby anyone!), what we felt comfortable with and most importantly – what we wanted to achieve.

Which was to be able to walk into his room, put him to bed, read a story, have a cuddle – then leave!

Armed with all those details Katy went away to set me a two week plan to GET OUT OF THE ROOM!

First steps towards freedom

First things first, we needed to get the little one on board.  He had to be a willing participant, he had to be ready to sleep in his bed on his own.

Being three meant it was much easier to talk to him about what was happening, coupled with Katy’s tools such as a “big boy colouring book”.

The plans were in place, we were talking about when he sleeps like the big boy that he is.

It was a go.

Fourteen Nights to leaving the bedroom

Could it be done?

Reward chart at the ready and the super important Foxy the ultimate in keeping a 3 year old safe in bed, it was time to go.

With a solid bedtime routine in place and a plan I held my breath and began.

Night by night, inch by inch, I moved out of the room.  Until before I knew it at bedtime I was no longer lying beside his bed but instead out of the room.

Yes.  Actually out of the room.

The impossible was achieved, in just two weeks.

And the thing is, it wasn’t that difficult.

Yes it was tough to do, but the hardest part was actually getting a plan.  For too long I have just wanted it to go away and taken the easy route.  Sleeping on his floor while he needed me?  No sweat, I’m sure I won’t be doing it at 18.

I just didn’t want to leave him to cry.  I didn’t want to train in the “traditional” sense.  And I most certainly didn’t want tears.   From me.

What I learnt was that it doesn’t have to be like that.  That I can help him sleep on his own without compromising the parenting I believe in.

That consistency was key, and keeping him involved at all stages.  That it’s never too late to work on your sleep routine with your children.

And that helping him to sleep on his own was the best thing we could do.

You can get in touch with Katy for a free 15 minute consultation via the Slumbertots website she works with all ages from babies to seven year olds (it really is never too late) and as I said – it doesn’t matter where in the world you are as she is happy to do Skype appointments at your convenience – ours was at 6:30am UK time!


Sleep training older childen, our experience and tips when we hired a sleep consultant to help sleep train our three year old.  From sleeping through the night to being able to leave the room at bedtime - tips and tricks for child sleep.

this is a collaborative post with Slumbertots - all opinions and non-sleeping children are my own

1 Comment

  1. August 21, 2018 / 4:12 pm

    This sounds EXACTLY like our son. I always have to sit in his room until he falls asleep. It could take minutes but it often takes hours. And it’s exhausting and eats away at our evenings and our lives. I really need to see a Katy. And I LOVE the idea of the colouring book to get your little one on board with the ideas. Hugs Lucy xxxx

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