Sleep, baby, sleep, or so the poem goes. Chances are if you are a parent, the simplicity and ease of the poem can be frustrating to say the very least. When you add adoption to the mix, your child’s recipe for sleep can seem like an endless quest of trials and tribulations. From natural methods, melatonin, music, or tips from the all-too-well-meaning communities we live in, finding the magic sleep strategy can be our all-time goal in life.
My son is 9 months old. At 5 months old, as a mother who was the only parent waking up to feed our ever-growing child, I decided my mental health was destined for destruction. I began my own quest for any saving grace in the sleep department. As I slew the sleeping dragons, I thought of my own mother and father. My parents were foster care parents in the state of California for over a decade. I came to them from foster care at a young age of just 3 months old.
Sleep never seemed to find me. I was diagnosed with insomnia. I had sleep therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists as a child. Nighttime routines and a full eight hours of sleep were critical for me during these times. Growing brains need to have enough sleep for their development and growth.
The foster children my parents embraced ranged from all ages. When I prompted the question to my mother of what strategies helped her with every child who found their way into our home, the answer was many, and age did not seem to play a factor.
1. Routine – The overwhelming consensus that I have stumbled upon is, unequivocally, routine. Any child of any age can benefit from the patterns and overall harmonious effects of routine. Whether it be reading a book before bed, taking a bath, putting on lavender lotion, saying prayers, snuggling, or having a bottle, consistency of daily and nightly routines can have your child finding themselves become a sleeping beauty. My love of reading came from our nightly routines as a child. Every night before bed, we would all climb up on my parents’ bed and listened to them read to us. We read Laura Ingalls Wilder, Disney stories, lullabies, and more. While my mother and I talked, she said routines also meant sacrifices. There were many times my parents would have to decline invites for evening activities. They knew that the family would pay a price for not sticking to their routines. The rewards of events did not outweigh the chaos that would ensue that night or the following day.
2. Sound Machines and Music – For a lot of children who have been exposed to substances in utero, sound machines and calming music has been found to have peaceful and restful results. In a forum thread from 2010, a mother shares her experiences with white noise and how it has benefited their two daughters, both substance affected. My younger sister and I were born affected by cocaine and methadone. To this day, I use something to produce white noise. I can remember vividly the tapes of the running creek water; the howling of the wolves in nature with the running waterfalls behind them. I recently found a rainwater app that I was able to download for free. I suggest to everyone who will listen to try one of these apps. There is also an ocean waves app. Both apps have timers on them as well as customizable features. For example, the rainwater app allows you to choose rainwater on a tent, a creek, an ocean, in the lake, or on a tin roof; while the ocean app allows you to choose waves during a sunset, storm, sunrise, or low winds.
3. Listening to Your Child’s Needs – Another trick to the magic of sleep is listening to your child’s needs. One mother I interviewed said her child would ask for a glass of water several times during the night. It eventually became routine. She took a deeper look at what was going on and was able to discover her child was struggling with anxiety. The therapist, she and her son, were able to implement a plan and compromise of only having one glass of water before bed. She listened to her child’s needs and was able to come up with a solution that benefited both of them. Every child is different; so our children’s needs will be on a complete spectrum. Some of our children may need a fuller belly for comfort. Some of our children may need melatonin. Some of our children may need to rock themselves or be rocked as a form of comfort. On another forum thread from 2006, several parents have experienced their own children who have required to rock themselves to sleep or be rocked. By listening to your child’s needs, you are validating them and providing reassurance that their needs are heard and important.
Sleep is just one of the many journeys that parenthood gifted us. It can also be a struggle to help your child adapt to their new home, family, and environment. I am just one of six girls who were adopted. We all came from very different backgrounds with different starts to our stories. There is no magic pill that my parents found in their quest for adaption. There were, however, methods or tools they found that helped ease the process and make it one that was more welcoming.
4. Calm Transitioning – Let’s set the scene first; a child has been placed into your home. This will now be your child’s second or third home that they have entered into. From each one of these homes, there have not been many similarities. Different foods, different expectations, different rules, different routines, different smells, different sights, and more. The possibility that your child has experienced trauma and/or anxiety is very likely. What can you do to help your adopted child adjust? That is where calm transitioning steps in. Making the new transition into a home the least stressful and overwhelming is the goal we should be pushing toward. Being calm in your actions, mannerisms, verbal communications, and daily outings is crucial to your child’s well-being. I am certainly a creature of habit. Even as an adult, slight changes to my daily routines can throw me off balance and affect me. It is certainly not any less stressful, if not more, for a child. Some tips are talking to your child and having conversations about their comforts—helping them advocate for themselves. Have simple dinners and simple conversations. Listen to their cues and watch their reactions to their surroundings. If you notice they tend to get more anxious during certain activities or discussions; eliminate it for the time being if possible or ease up on it.
5. Have As Much Knowledge as Possible – “You are a world-class genius and know everything there is to know,” is not what I mean by this next tip. Knowing as much about your child as possible is what I mean by that statement. Speak with the foster care agency and gather as much information as you can about your child. Where have they been? Why was your child placed for adoption? What struggles might they have encountered? Do they have a special nickname? What are their likes or dislikes? Being able to assess where your child is coming from is critical when calling to action the act of transitioning.
6. The 1-2-3 Method – I am sure we have all heard it before, “I am going to count to three. One…Two…” I will be honest, I probably made my mother count to three most of the time. The 1-2-3 Method, as cliche as it might sound, is a surprisingly direct and practical tool. When I asked my mother about her own experiences with implementing it, she said she used it on all of her children and they responded to it. It is a concrete form of expectation. It is followed by the opportunity for your child to think about their decisions, then it allows them to act upon it. It also presents a neutral position to the issue at hand. Instead of raising your voice or involving too much discussion into the behavior or expectation, simply verbalize your expectations and what is needed for this expectation. You, as the parent, remain in charge. For example, “I need you to get ready to go outside. Please pick up your shoes and put them on. I will count to three.” Oftentimes, parents can talk too much. The goal of this discipline method is for positive parenting and effective parenting by keeping things simple.
The bottom line is, getting your child on a consistent sleep schedule and learning how to help your child adapt to their home can be daunting. With so much advice given from every corner of the world, it is easy to become overwhelmed. I was recently doing a presentation on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to the Department of Human Services in Portland, Oregon. The target audience was caseworkers, foster care parents, and parents of adoptees. I had a caseworker approach me at the end of the training. One of her cases was a 10-year-old girl. The home she was placed in currently was her fifth placement. The foster mother of this girl was frustrated because the child would not practice good hygiene. The foster mother was at the end of her rope and at a loss on what she could do. I explained to the caseworker that this girl had been placed from home to home. There had not been consistency, she had not had adequate time to earn the trust of anyone and was probably struggling with self-esteem. I could imagine she was also probably growing tired of people nit-picking her or having a lot of expectations. I asked the caseworker to have the foster mother approach it differently by easing off about the hygiene. I suggested she give the girl time to trust her. I suggested she have conversations with the girl about how her body is a temple and a flower and deserves to be nurtured and cared for. I also suggested she promote hygiene as a beautiful and positive activity instead of one that’s discouraging.
This goes back to helping your child adjust and sleep. Calm transitioning and knowing as much about your child as possible are marvelous steps to begin with. Routines and listening to your child’s needs are awesome steps to begin with as well. By understanding and having compassion from where your child has been, you can then build roads to a healthy and trusting relationship. Every child wants to feel loved, safe, validated, secure, appreciated, and comforted.
The beautiful thing about our community is that we understand just how important community is. Years ago, my mother would travel hundreds of miles to try and get support groups together in the state. It was exhausting, and she would often find the attendance to the support groups was minimal. She and I talked about the very real and beautiful impacts online forums and groups like this have. Suddenly, you have support at the tips of your fingers. I have been a mother for nine months and I can already tell you, I have missed many events. Parenting is a full-time job. There are a million and one things that stretch your time every which direction. Surrounding yourself with your tribe of people who will influence in positive ways on your own path to parenthood, is the ultimate goal. We understand the struggles and successes. We want to empower parents to be the best version of them that they can be. Parenting can feel isolating at times, but you are not in this alone.
I challenge every parent who reads this to comment and let us know what’s worked for you! Is there something we missed? Do you have an old wife’s tale that has worked? We would love to hear about it. Our community is what it is because of you. So, what are you waiting for? Share your tips and tricks with us now!