Sleep is important for everyone and for children it is vital. It helps them stay healthy, increases their attention span, improves their mental health, and primes them for a day of learning. But when you get a new foster child, there is a good chance that they will have difficulty sleeping. This is especially true if they have been living in a setting where a consistent sleep routine was not a priority. Here are some tips for helping your foster children get the sleep they need.
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get your foster children to sleep well from the very beginning. They are likely to be dealing with a lot of anxiety about being in a new place and being separated from their family or former caregivers, They could even be struggling with symptoms of PTSD. It may take a while before they can sleep soundly throughout the night.
Set short and long term sleep goals for the child based on their needs. A short term goal may be that they stay in their bed until morning, even if they are not sleeping the whole time, or that they go to bed without a tantrum. A long term goal may be that they wake up refreshed in the morning.
Help Them to Feel Safe
From the very beginning, it is important to give your foster child a sense of safety. Show them where their bedroom is, and allow them to make choices about where to put their belongings. Show them where the closest bathroom is, and where everyone else sleeps. The room where they will sleep should be clean and inviting.
Begin a Bedtime Routine
A consistent bedtime routine will allow your foster child to know what to expect, and will help to prepare his mind and body for sleep. If they had a bedtime routine before, you can stick to it as much as possible. If not, tonight is the best time to start a new one.
Begin with a reasonable bedtime. Keep in mind that infants need at least twelve hours of sleep, toddlers need eleven hours, preschoolers need ten, kids ages six to thirteen need at least nine hours, and tweens and teens need at least eight hours. Plan a bedtime that will allow them to get that much sleep, even though they may not actually sleep the whole time at first.
A snack at least half an hour before bedtime can help children to sleep, especially if they have experienced going to bed hungry. Foods that contain carbohydrates or tryptophan can help to get them in a sleepy mood.
The Four B’s are a classic bedtime routine for children of all ages. The B’s stand for Bath, Brush teeth, Books, and Bed. You could add other pieces, such as a gentle bedtime prayer, kissing stuffed animals goodnight, or tucking the blankets around them in a special way.
Alleviate Their Fears
Fear of the dark or of being alone is common for children, but foster children may have some very real reasons to be afraid. They may want to talk about what they are afraid of. Do your best to reassure them that they are safe, and that you are there to care for them.
A nightlight with an on and off switch can give them control over whether to use it or not. Allow them to choose whether to sleep with the door open or closed. Letting them play soft music or listen to an audio book can help them to relax.
Even with older kids, you might want to include a baby monitor. (You could simply call it a monitor or a radio.) This way, they’ll know that you’ll be able to hear them if they have a nightmare or need help.
Be There for Them When They Can’t Sleep Well
Remember that, especially during the first nights, they might cry or call out. Be there to soothe them if they do. They may even need you to stay in the room with them until they fall asleep. This is okay. It is all about giving them a feeling of security.
Even if children had trouble sleeping at night, get them into the habit of waking up at the same time each morning. The morning routine will provide additional security for them, while letting them sleep in too long will create a domino effect of making it difficult for them to fall asleep at night again. Start their morning with a cheerful greeting, a healthy breakfast, and a plan for the day.
Give It Time
It may take weeks or months before your foster child can go to bed independently and sleep peacefully all night. Think of it as a marathon instead of a sprint. Continue to set new short term sleep goals to get them closer to their long term goal. Making bedtime a positive experience for them will not only help them get more sleep but will allow them to feel like part of your family.
For more information and tips for foster parents, contact us.