Getting Foster Children to Sleep
Family Balance and Foster Care - guest post
By: Megan Tucker, RN, BSN (Certified Moms on Call Consultant, Prenatal Educator, and Lactation Consultant), Wife, Foster mom, and mom to 3 www.babybasicsatl.com
As a nurse and someone who has worked directly with thousands of families over the last 13 years to find balance in their homes, sleep is a priority for my family and the children in my home. Recent international studies show that kids with ADD/ADHD reduced medication doses by half OR eliminated meds completely (and were able to manage with behavior modification at home and in the classroom) when the time was spent educating families and helping them achieve the proper amount of sleep for their kids. [Here's what it is like for a foster child to go into care: https://impressingminds.com/what-is-it-like-to-be-in-foster-care/]
Getting Foster Children to Sleep Can be Tricky
While I am not suggesting that sleep is a magic cure for everything in foster homes like ours. I think these studies prove how little many families know about the sleep needs of children and how to achieve [good sleep].
Our family has been fostering for over 7 years now in the Atlanta, GA area. I am no expert on foster care and kiddos in this broken system. We learn with each placement how little we know and often how helpless we are. We are humbled each and every time by how much they teach us.
However, I do know one thing…
To survive, as a family with ANY placement, we must each have our needs met or the family unit begins to break down. We have seen how directly this impacts the foster child/children in our home. I believe 100% that every placement should be viewed through different lenses. I also believe that black/white statements have NO place in foster care. There are so many variables, therefore, so much gray area.
...The first 90 days of a placement are tough. It is ALL about getting a child feeling safe, secure, and settled in your home. We know how much work those first 90 days are. But at some point, I firmly believe that sleep has to become a priority for everyone to thrive.
Let’s start with the psychology of basic human needs.
Nothing can be accomplished until those are met-nutritious food, shelter, sleep, and connection with others. We all accomplish these things in a variety of ways with our foster kiddos but here are some ways our family starts. Set mealtimes and snacks, set bedtime routines and non-negotiable bedtimes (within reason; I don’t want this to sound like we are inflexible, because of course, foster care is all about flexibility and surrendering control of so much).
As a foster parent, I have lived through kiddos that have stayed up partying all night with parents and want to sleep all day. I have sat by kids for hours who were scared the minute the light went out. I have sat and held kids who were tearing their rooms apart. Trauma, loss, fear manifest and so many different ways in these kiddos.
BUT… I stand firm on this:
If you can find a balance and help your kiddos get to sleep, behaviors improve. Families start to find balance. You are able to be a better parent for those kids when you are well-rested.
While we OFTEN are in survival mode for that first 90 days, we all eventually have to find something sustainable for our families. For us, regular sleep patterns are a HUGE part of that sustainability factor. We all function with clearer heads and hearts when we are getting the sleep we need.
How do I do this? Getting Foster Children to Sleep...
Well, as I said, each child is so different. However, I start with routines in our home that help stimulate natural melatonin production in children and help them calm their bodies for sleep. Non-negotiable policy unless we do family movie night is NO electronics or TV once dinner time begins.
Next up, dinner around the table as a family (when schedules allow but at is a priority several times per day; I know, older kiddos have activities that can make that tough).
From there, we have fun but family responsibilities are assigned after dinner no matter the age. This helps create a sense of community and togetherness and establishes that everyone helps out in our home (mom/dad aren’t left to clean up after everyone is settled). I like to say we are Team Tucker and we all contribute so no one person has a heavier load most of the time.
Next, in How to Get Foster Children to Sleep
...we make sure everyone has showers/baths each night to calm their bodies down (and water play is soooo enriching for littles). Every step we make after bath time is towards the bed. We set the mood in the home through the environment (lamps versus overhead lights, dimmer switches, soften music are examples) our tone of voice, and body language.
From there, we have wind downtime with all children in their rooms that often includes readings, prayers, singing, cuddles, debriefing conversations from the day (think to empty out anything from your mind before bed so sleep can come more easily), etc.---whatever is important to your family or to the child. Lights out, however, is non-negotiable. Sure, if one child needs something a little more from us at night but all sleep studies suggest that a consistent “lights out” time is the very best for your brain/body.
As long as it doesn’t scare foster children (you can even start with volume super low), we always turn on white noise before sleep. So many studies are clear about the benefits of it and for children including how neurologically calming it is. Studies also show that sleeping with white noise is a deeper, more restorative sleep (fun fact, studies show that 6 hours of sleep with it, is the equivalent of 8 hours without). [For more information on this, see the link here: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/noise-and-sleep/white-noise#:~:text=Studies%20suggest%20a%20white%20noise,6%20fall%20asleep%20more%20quickly.]
Finally, we try hard to work towards a final goal-we all must remain in our rooms at night. We don’t allow kids to run around the house or come out of their room at night routinely. This communicates sleep or rest; we must keep the environment consistent. Coming into the living room or playroom of a home says, “wake up/playtime.” Kitchen visits communicate, “Let’s eat.”. Think about your actions since they speak more to children than our words in many cases.
What are the average sleep needs of children?
Average 24-hour sleep needs:
Newborn (0-3 months)
Infant (4-11 months)
Toddler (1-2 years)
Preschool (3-5 years)
School-age (6-13 years)
What is so disheartening is the majority of the world’s children DO NOT get the sleep they need to function at their best.
In short for how to get foster children to sleep, find routines in your home that include good sleep for everyone. That looks different for each of us but I firmly believe that we will ALL function better as a family with and FOR our foster kids if we can find that.
Thank you Megan Tucker for guest posting on my blog. I look forward to more collaboarations in my sleep series and in the future. -Kristen