7 Things You Should Know about Your Fostered or Adopted Child’s Sleep

7 Things You Should Know about Your Fostered or Adopted Child’s Sleep

As a Certified Child Sleep and a Mom of Two, I am distinctly aware of how sleep, or lack thereof, can impact one’s body; without sleep it is hard to regulate our emotions, or even just make it through the day.  And this is for an adult! Now imagine you’re a baby or child and your life has been turned upside down by your entrance into a new house, whether via adoption or fostering.  Both of these situations are beautiful and exceptional in their own right, but are not without their difficulties when it comes to the child’s sleep.  These children have unique needs due to the history of trauma in their lives previous to their placement and therefore will require specialized steps to get them to sleep better.
  1. Start by focusing on your attachment with them before working on sleep:
    Before starting to work on sleep, it is important to ensure that you have bonded with your child and have a secure attachment. During this time, you should plan on being more emotionally and physically available at night. These nighttime interactions can be thought of as an opportunity for bonding and a way to repeatedly show your new arrival that they are loved, safe, and well-cared for.  The more secure your child feels now the more independent they will be later. In order to develop attachment skills, your child will need:
    - loads of extra affection and kindness
    - appropriate rules, structure, and boundaries
    - varied exercise and sensory enrichment activities
    - cuddling, feeding, and rocking
    - lessons in how families stick together
    - lessons in treating people with kindness and respect (Purvis, Cross, and Sunshine).
  2. Follow their lead:
    Does your little one like to be rocked to sleep? Did they co-sleep previously? Do they like to be fed to sleep? In the beginning stages of having your child with you, it is important to follow their lead, whatever it may be in order to have them feel more secure.  At this stage it is important to try to approach initial nighttime wakings with empathy for where your child is coming from. Which brings us to my next point:
  3. Find out as much as you can about their history:
    In order to help build a bond and support your child at night, finding out as much as you can about their previous sleep habits and environment is important to support them while bonding. For example, children who come from international orphanages often have never slept alone. These children may need to be with you in your room for some time to make them feel more comfortable.

In order to learn more about their history, questions to ask could be: Where did they sleep previously? How were they put to sleep? Did they have a comfort item? Was medication used to get them to sleep?
It’s important to remember that almost every aspect of bedtime and your child’s new sleep environment is different and will feel “wrong” to them at first but finding out as much as you can about their history will be a great step to helping them make the transition to your home.

  1. Create a solid sleep foundation:
    With any child a solid sleep foundation is the best place to start, but especially with adopted children or children who have been fostered. These children in particular will need routine and structure to feel secure in their new home. To create a solid sleep foundation, focus on:
    - sleep environment (white noise, dark, cool)
    - soothing routine
    - morning wake-up
    - emotional stability
    - nutrition
    A soothing environment can go a long way to heal the traumas they may have experienced prior to coming into your home.
  2. Explore your own philosophical beliefs and comfort levels about crying.
    Having your child cry can trigger feelings and emotions in yourself that you didn’t know were there. Before choosing a sleep training method it’s important to explore your own beliefs and comfort levels when it comes to crying.
  3. Recognize that nights may be harder for them due to their trauma
    Many times the nighttime is the first time that the child will have a quiet moment, and at this time their grief at the loss of familiar caregivers may erupt. These children may experience bedtime differently because they may not yet view foster caregivers as sources of regulation.
    As well, nighttime and darkness may be directly associated with experiences of abuse, thus further increasing
  4. Children who have experienced trauma are literally wired differently
    Many, if not all, of children who have been adopted or in the foster system have been exposed to high levels of toxic stress.  This type of stress, which can include child maltreatment can have a variety of negative effects on children’s brains, essentially rewiring them“Children with histories of prematurity, prenatal substance exposures, lack of early responsive, regulating caregiving, and stressful/traumatic experiences can literally be wired differently”.  Effects of this type of stress can cause memory issues, motor behaviour and executive functioning issues, and may have poor emotional and self-regulation.  These children may experience their emotions more intensely, especially at nighttime.

 Although these children may come with obstacles to their sleep, a good night's sleep is attainable - for everyone!  If you need extra help with your little one, book your FREE Discovery Call today!  www.sleepbound.ca

 Becky Longhurst is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant with Sleepbound Sleep Consulting. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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