Sleep is a tough obstacle to tackle–and one we don’t normally consider when making adoption plans. We are so focused on the adoption process, being matched, raising funds, and more, that we often don’t pre-plan for our long nights once our child joins us. It’s often the same for pregnant couples. The anticipation of adding to our family is so exciting and so all-consuming that many of the details go unchecked–until they become a problem.

Sleep is one of those things that we take for granted, but becomes the most important desire when we’ve been deprived. And many of us are deprived with a vengeance when we’re blessed with a child. Because if our child isn’t sleeping, chances are that we aren’t either!

So how do we help our child develop appropriate sleep habits? And how do we do it lovingly, but firmly? Like all of discipline, teaching sleep, if done with love, will actually make our bonding greater rather than creating a rift. We must make sure our hearts are in the right place. Remember, although we’re really, really tired, this is about our child–not about us. Yes, we will benefit when our child sleeps, but that is icing on the cake.

1. Remember that structure and routine are your friends.

Not only are they your friends, but your child’s friends as well! With routine we are not blindsided. There are no unexpected negative surprises. We don’t have to be on edge because we’ve done this time after time, day after day. So develop a bedtime ritual with your child. And by develop, I mean that you should not give up. It takes a long time to create a habit–the same with routine. Regardless of the results you’re getting or not getting at first, keep it up. Consider the usual–brushing teeth, using the bathroom, clean PJs, etc. But also consider adding a song, a bedtime story, 10 minutes of joke telling or sharing favorite daytime memory, and more. Find your special bedtime activity with your child–something that makes your child look forward to that time of day. Incorporate it into the ritual and stick with it.

2. Make bedtime a time for comfort.

Maybe find an extra fuzzy blanket or a stuffed animal that is reserved just for night time. Or that could be the time when you serve warm, sweetened milk. Or place a little speaker in your child’s room and play Grandma’s voice telling stories. Find comfort things, both tangible and intangible and reserve those just for bedtime.

3. Extra love is sure to help.

Many times sleep is elusive because it’s a scary time. Loneliness, a wild imagination, and more can contribute to a child not falling asleep. So use bedtime as a gift–a special time to express your love. A rocking chair is a nice thing. Sit in the chair and hold your child close, whispering your gratitude, love and acceptance of the child. Maybe sing. If you don’t have a rocking chair, hold your child anyway. It doesn’t matter if your child is 8 months old or 8 years old. Holding and expressing love can go a long way to bonding and to creating a positive sleep cycle.

Remember that love is at the core. You may need some professional help for your child if lack of sleep continues to be a problem, but give these ideas a try first. Good luck, and pleasant dreams!