You might want to establish a rule that your preschooler can't get out of bed except to go to the bathroom. But make sure that your child has a way to communicate with you if she needs a cup of water, and so on. Use an intercom or baby monitor. Or leave the door slightly ajar.
Your three-year-old needs less sleep than she did just a year (or even just six months) ago. This may wreak havoc with bedtime if you don't adjust accordingly. So if your child has difficulty dropping off to sleep, ask yourself: Does your child really need so much sleep or do you just need some time to yourself at night? If your child doesn't need as much sleep as you're trying to force on her, you might have more success if you either shorten (or even eliminate) her afternoon nap or move her bedtime back a half hour or so. After all, if your three-year-old isn't tired, you can't reasonably expect her to want to go to bed.
As with younger children, you will do best to establish a regular, soothing bedtime routine. Make it as pleasant as possible for both of you. Before starting the routine, alert your child that bedtime is approaching. You'll start off on the wrong foot if you try to pull her away from whatever she's doing because, "It's time for bed."
Make a bargain with your child instead: "Just one more puzzle now, and then it's time for bed." Then read or tell a bedtime story. You'll probably have more success in preserving a soothing atmosphere if you hold storytime in your child's bedroom rather than in another room. After storytime, your child might enjoy listening to music as she drifts off to sleep.
If you or your child is uncomfortable with the drop from a big bed to the floor, invest in a removable safety rail—or just put the mattress directly on the floor. When you're both more comfortable that she won't fall out, then put the safety rail away (though not necessarily far away, because you or she might want it back at some point).
Don't punish your child by sending her to her bedroom or by sending her—or even threatening to send her—to bed early. This will ruin all your efforts to make your preschooler's bed and bedroom and bed a soothing and pleasant place for her to be.
In leaving your three-year-old's bedroom, promise to return to make sure she doesn't need anything else in 10, 15, or 20 minutes—or as soon as you've finished up what you're doing. (Your child may be more willing to let you go if you let her know that you have dishes to wash or a shower to take or some other business that demands your attention.) Then follow up on your promise—or expect your child to come looking for you.
If you haven't yet done so, try to make your three-year-old's bed and bedroom as appealing as possible. If you make the bedroom a place where your child enjoys spending time, she will put up much less resistance when she has to go there. So put some effort into making the bedroom her special, private place and honor that privacy. One way to do this is to let your child help decorate. When your child switches from a crib to a big bed, for instance, let her help redecorate the room.
Your preschooler can do a lot to transform her room into her own special space:
- She can help pick out sheets that she likes.
- She can help rearrange the furniture to her liking.
- She can help pick out pictures, posters, and other ways to decorate the walls around her bed.
- If you put shelves next to your preschooler's bed, she can stock them with her favorite books, stuffed animals, toys, and a portable cassette player with plenty of tapes.
- To facilitate storytime (and "reading" by herself), install a reading light above your child's bed.
All of these will make your child's room a place she wants to be. And isn't that half the battle in getting her to go to bed?