It does not work well to tell children to sleep in their bed and then relent when they act up. This only teaches them that their persistence will be rewarded with a trip to your bed.
The best approach is to discover the underlying cause or causes for your child’s behavior. At some level, your child knows why they don't want to sleep in their own bed, even if they aren't able to articulate what they feel. If you ask outright what they are feeling, you may not get any valuable information.
A great way of discovering what your child is feeling is to play with her using dolls or action figures to represent members of a family. Have the characters act out several typical family situations: mealtime, going to the park, driving in the car, etc. Enact several of these non-threatening situations, and let your child put words into the figures’ mouths. When you get to bedtime if your child is hesitant to talk, you can try speaking for the characters. If your child has gotten into the play, she will correct you if you give the characters motivations that are inaccurate from her perspective.
Another approach is to encourage your child to color or paint while she tells you about what she is creating. Be sure to allow her lots of time to open up and don’t react negatively if she says something you don’t want to hear.
The things you are most likely to find are: your child has night time fears, i.e. she is afraid of the dark, being alone, closet monsters, etc.; she is jealous of one parent or sibling; she is afraid of losing your affection if she “grows up”; or some variation of one or more of these.
If your child is suffering from night time fears, give her tools that empower her to overcome her fears:
- Give her a flashlight to play with (especially during the day in a darkened room) to help overcome fear of the dark.
- Give her a spray bottle filled with “monster spray” so she can shoot the monsters if they come out.
- Record a tape of her favorite stories and songs that she can turn on whenever she is feeling alone or afraid (it is best if the recording is of your voice).
- Give her a stuffed animal as big as she is to sleep with.
- Ask her for suggestions.
If the primary reason your child wants to sleep with you is night time fears, you should be able to switch her into her own bed as soon as she has the tools to cope with her fears.
If you discover that your child is jealous of one parent or sibling, evaluate the situation and determine if she has reason to be jealous. If she has a younger sibling who is getting most of your attention during the day, she may feel the only time she “gets you” is at night. The best way you can help overcome her jealously is to pay special attention to her when she is not asking for it.
If your child reveals that she is afraid that she will lose your affection when she grows up, take stock of what you are communicating to her regarding growing up. You may inadvertently be sending her the message that you want her to stay a baby. If this is the case, consider how you can change her feelings by the way you communicate with her.
You will need to take some time for your child’s feelings to change before you can move her into her own bed. When you do, you may need to make the change in several stages. The first few nights, she might sleep on the floor beside your bed. The next move might be right outside your door, then into her own bed. The large stuffed animal or the tape recording of your voice may help ease the transition.