emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1) – (adoption/foster)

Some of you see the title of this post and scoff, “Well, that’s never going to happen, I guess there’s no hope for me.” Others see it and say, “Of course, that’s why I’m so calm.” And yet others fall in the middle, and I am one of them, or I hope I am. I really don’t want to be a raging lunatic, but there are some moments that bring on a sort of nonsensical state. Not one of us is perfect, so rest assured, that’s not what this post is about.

This begins a four-part series on feelings, given the length it’s probably obvious that I believe feelings and emotions are an important aspect of helping our children heal. Todays post is about our specific role in being a catalyst for our child’s emotional health. We take a significant role in each of the sections I will go over in this series, but we must first look at ourselves.

Our children’s success begins with us. They won’t be able to do this on their own. As a friend of ours once put it, “Parenting is a verb.” It takes action, and part of that action, as scary as it may seem is to look at our own emotional health. We will need to look at our feelings, we’ll need to identify them just as our children need to, and we will need to deal with them, not shove them under the mud caked rug.

In The Whole-Brain Child, Siegel says, “As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.”

How do we stay emotionally healthy and keep aware of the feelings we have? Frankly, this is a hard one for me to answer, because I am not good at staying in that “happy place.”

Here are some ideas (add whatever else might help you stay sane and in tune):

  • Alleviate additional stresses. When you have a child with attachment issues, RAD, ODD, or PTSD, every day is filled to the brim with monumental stress. I can’t believe we don’t all die of heart attacks after the first months. So alleviate that extra stress as much as possible.
  • Spend quality time with your spouse. For you singles, spend time with friends who encourage you.
  • Spend time in positive relationships.
  • Pray a LOT.
  • Spend time doing something that fills your bucket, but be sure it’s not at the expense of your family. It’s great to have hobbies, but investing too much time in them can cause your family to crash and burn.
  • Find joy in the small things. You can see my post on Finding Joy here. While the kids are playing in the backyard, I love looking at the sky. It seems so simple, but looking at a blue sky, or one bursting with clouds can make me feel a little better. What makes you feel more peaceful?
  • Be aware of what sucks your energy. I’m not saying to get rid of relationships or jobs, but your family needs all you can give.

~ “When we parent…from an emotionally connected place where we’re aware of the feelings and sensations of our body and emotions, so we can lovingly respond to our children’s needs.” The Whole-Brain Child

Although our children struggle with the emotions and feelings of life, it is important to recognize that we can help them. By being aware of our emotions, and dealing with them in appropriate ways, we can guide our children towards inward understanding and outward empathy.

You can find the second part of this series here:
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

Some other posts that may help you in this area are:
does your child make you mad?
staying calm in the midst of a storm

Any comments or ideas you have for staying emotionally centered? I would love to hear them!
If you haven’t yet, you can receive any updates from my blog right in your inbox, just visit the upper right corner. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.  See you later this week for the follow up posts to FEELINGS. 🙂

the magic word (adoption/foster)

What’s the magic word? Well, truth be told, there isn’t one. Sure, “please” and “thank you” are magic words that might get you what you want, but when it comes to parents trying to convince their adopted children that they will never leave, there is no magic word. Parents try to tell their children, “I won’t leave you,” “I’ll always be here,” but do those words sink in? We wait for them to, but it never seems to go beyond that top crust where it washes off in the bath.

Our children’s experiences have taught them so much more than what our words ever can, and those first experiences shape their mind, literally. Maybe your child was left with strangers, or the one they trusted most beat them, or their mother deposited them on the steps in the freezing cold. The stories can be listed by the thousands, but they all have at least one common thread, and that is, they learned their mother/primary caregiver couldn’t be trusted. Whether that mother knew better or not, it’s what our child perceived from their experience.

As a writer I constantly hear the words, “Show, don’t tell.” We are supposed to show our readers, especially in fiction, what is happening, not tell them. The same thing goes for us as we help our kids form attachments. Our words will mean nothing to them, we have to SHOW them with actions that we’re there and will never leave. A great time to do this is at bedtime. They will SEE that you are present. It won’t be your words (which they have difficulty believing), it will be your actions showing them day after day that you are present.

We still use our words every day, we don’t leave them out, we just have to pair our actions with them. As I’ve said many times on this blog, my daughter has made significant bonds with us, yet she still has a hard time believing us, and we  make great efforts to stick to what we say. It’s still lingering though, this inability to completely trust that mom and dad know what they’re talking about.

Most children pop out of the womb thinking their mom and dad know everything, but our kids find this nearly impossible. Is that because they weren’t able to trust their first caregiver?

Because it’s difficult for my daughter to believe everything I say, I make sure and kindly point it out whenever I’m proved right. It’s not an ego thing, it’s that I want my daughter to see that she can believe in her Mommy. Last month I needed to take my daughter to the dentist, and prior to leaving we had a discussion about this fluoride they put on the kids teeth. I knew that she could eat afterwards, but she wasn’t supposed to brush her teeth that day. Payton believed that she wasn’t able to eat or brush her teeth after the fluoride treatment, and no matter what I said, she wouldn’t believe me. In the end, guess who was right? I made a point to kindly say, “See, I was right.” I’m sure the hygienist thought I had an ego complex the size of Texas, but I just needed to point out to my daughter AGAIN that she could believe me, and I could be trusted.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We must have actions to pair with those words. One overwhelming concern our children have is that they can’t trust anyone. We can help them by being there for them, listening to their worries, and being present at a time that matters most to them; bed time. They are laying there awake, their mind is wandering more than ever, they don’t have anything to distract their brain. It’s dark, they’re lonely, and they are scared. No matter how old your child is, be sure that you meet them where they are. If you sense that they don’t want to be alone, one way to begin proving that you are committed is to be there for them at night. (See the links at the bottom of this page for helpful tips to use at bedtime.)

I would also encourage you to find other ways where you can physically show your child that you are trustworthy. Some ideas include keeping consistency between what you say and do (stick to your word as much as possible). Being calm when they are out of control, or have negative behaviors can help them see that you are different from the other adults in their life. Sharing with them how you keep them safe will produce a feeling of security for them. Hold hands if they are willing. Give hugs consistently. Have family time with every member of the family. Sit down for meals as a family.

If we continually pair our actions with our words, our children will eventually trust those words. They will recognize that they can trust us because we’ve proven ourselves. Remember that those first months and years of life transformed their brain, and they are on guard against all outside influences. They are protecting themselves. Really, it’s quite amazing if you think about it.

You may find these posts helpful in showing your child you will be there for them when they need you:
the lies hurting children believe
why “good nights” are illusive (sleep issues part 1)
no really, good night (sleep issues part 2)

How will you work to have continuity between your words and your actions? How will you SHOW your child he/she can trust you beyond using your words?

If you have more ideas about how to instill trust in your children, please share them. I’d love to hear from you!

make this school year exceptional (adoption/foster)

This article originally appeared in Adoption Today magazine.

Make This School Year Exceptional
by Tracy Dee Whitt

The kids have enjoyed swinging, swimming pools, sidewalk chalk, and scrumptious mud pies, but now it’s time to think about school. Some kids are excited about the new year and some are wary and worried.

My daughter, Payton, is a mixture of both. She has looked forward to kindergarten since she began uttering her first words, it has seemed to constantly be on her mind. Yet, despite the excitement, there is always trepidation when she enters a new situation; a new Sunday school class, another year of preschool, or Vacation Bible School. The jitters are fairly pointless, as she walks in with her fingers in her mouth, barely moving her feet forward, but when she is among the new kids, it all flitters away because she soon has friends, who she just met, following her every move.

I still have to pay attention to her worries and concerns, because in her mind they are real. We try to prepare her as best as we can. In the past months we’ve talked with her about what the new year, at a new school, will bring. At Kindergarten Roundup we found out class time would be vastly different from what we told her. Whoops. There are now so many requirements for teachers, they don’t have time for recess, indoor playtime, or snack. You’re most likely responding just as I did, “What?”

We made sure to share this with Payton right away so she wouldn’t go through the summer imagining something different. Many children like to know what’s happening in their world, and this is especially true for adopted children, and kids with attachment issues. The more you can prepare them for, the better it will go for them.

As school approaches, you will also want to consider what you want to share with your child’s teacher. Does your child have any behavior issues that you need to notify them about before school begins? Is your child ahead or behind academically? Do certain situations set your child off? If there is any information that will help your child succeed and the teacher to keep her hair intact, consider taking some time communicating this with them. Most teachers will be open to hearing what you have to say, will be willing to work with you, and will be happy you care about your child’s education.

Our daughter, Payton, had a very difficult time in preschool. Part of the issue was that she wanted to be in control. She would rush through her work and begin helping other kids with theirs. Most days she is a blessing at home in how she helps with her brother, who has Autism, but this proactive spirit of hers proved as a detriment in a school setting.

There were other behavior issues, many stemming from inconsistency in discipline between home and school. She was getting away with far too much in class, and most of the time it corresponded with having free time. She knew she would be warned several times without consequences, which reinforced the idea that she could manipulate her environment, and by the time consequences were put in place, she was out of control.

“After all, one of the defining elements of a traumatic experience…is a complete loss of control and a sense of utter powerlessness. As a result, regaining control is an important aspect of coping with traumatic stress.” Dr. Bruce Perry

We waited far too long before sitting down with the teachers to discuss what our daughter would need to succeed. We thought we had explained enough, but months later it was evident we hadn’t.

This idea of communicating with your child’s teacher applies to any parent of any kids, but it’s particularly important if you have a child who has behavior issues. We went to Payton’s preschool teachers with a printout they could keep and refer to. We laid out where she had come from, and what her life had looked like, they knew she had been adopted from foster care, but I don’t believe they understood the logistics of it all.

We didn’t write out all the specifics, just letting them know that your child was in an orphanage or foster care, and that they experienced neglect, abuse, and trauma is enough. On the paper we wrote what her triggers were, what behaviors might pop up, why she acted and reacted that way, and then we listed what to do about it.

I then asked the teachers to focus on what Payton did well, because there is so much negative in our kid’s lives. You can give the teacher specifics on what your child does well, where they can see them shine. At the end I wrote in bold letters, “If we are all on the same page, her behavior will get better!” You can add a little smile emoticon there if you’d like. Then welcome their questions, but try not to be offended by what they ask, as this may be something completely new to them.

I would suggest letting the teachers know that you want to hear about how your child is doing in class. Don’t wait for parent/teacher conferences to come around, continually keep yourself updated. Ask them how your child is doing at least on a biweekly basis. If you always get the same answer, “He’s doing fine/good/great,” ask pointed questions occasionally. How is he doing with the other children? What are her interactions like? How is she doing in (subjects she struggles in)? Does he listen to instructions?

You can consider volunteering in the classroom. If your child doesn’t tolerate you spending time in their class, dropping in periodically will help you get a feel for how he or she is doing.

We had a meeting with my son’s preschool teachers, aids, and therapists last year. One of them said, “When a parent is involved in their child’s education, the child is worked with more [in school].” Right or wrong, everyone around the table agreed, and they are all truly amazing educators. It’s sad that this is true in many instances, but now you know how it works in some school settings.

As my daughter has healed from her past trauma, we have found it less critical to share information with teachers. I was relieved this summer when I dropped Payton off at Vacation Bible School and didn’t need to go through her behaviors and worry about what she would do when I left. I didn’t pester the teachers when I picked her up, I knew that things had gone fairly well. Because school is every day, for most of the year, I will still need to talk to the teacher about things to look for, but the list has dwindled significantly from last years. You can decide what to share, and maybe as the year moves forward you will find more transparency is best for everyone.

Communicate with your child’s teacher so they will be better equipped to teach your child, communicate with your child so he or she is prepared for change in the coming school year. Everyone will benefit from knowing what to expect and what to do in given situations. May you and your children have a great school year!

How have you made a school year improve? I’d love to hear your ideas.
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staying calm in the midst of a storm

Panic. Powerless. Frightened. These are a few of the reactions we can have when a major storm hits. This summer we had a vacation from somewhere down under (you can read more about it here), and part of that getaway included a tornado warning after a week of complete chaos and stress.

I had never heard a tornado siren before, and that shrill screaming was the most frightening sound I’ve ever heard. It sent fear shooting through me, my heart slammed against my chest and I went into Mommy Madness Mode. I tried my best to stay calm for the sake of my kids, but it was challenging. I was running on empty, and I couldn’t believe our already ruined vacation resulted in this.

But what happens when our child is the one causing the virtual storm to rage around us? What happens when they are screaming at us, physically acting out, will not move their bodies when we NEED them to, or going into complete rages? Is it easy to stay calm? Can we mask everything we’re feeling and thinking? Do we keep quiet, do we keep our voice from rising over the racket? It’s so tough isn’t it, to stay composed when chaos reigns around us?

I recently read an ebook by The Post Institute that has information on how to help our kids stop lying. We’ve had quite a bit of success with curbing our daughters lying, but sometimes it pops it’s ugly little head. In the ebook, Bryan Post says, “There are only two primary emotions: love and fear. This means that all other feelings are the display of one of the primary emotions in disguise.” He gives situations where children and teens lie, and in those scenarios you can identify the fear that perpetrates the lie.

A couple days after reading about fear being at the root of some reactions, a circumstance arose with my daughter, it didn’t include lying, but I remembered what Bryan Post said about all reactions stemming from fear or love.

I had asked my daughter, Payton, to put away a little kids chair. She hefted it up over her head and it landed with a bang on my desk. I wasn’t happy. If she had just carried it to the table as I had instructed her dozens of times before, it wouldn’t have made a dent in my desk. I raised my voice (if you have ever been led to believe I am perfect, indeed I am NOT), and Payton reacted and got mouthy and angry.

Before this little episode the day had been going really well, so what happened? I stopped and remembered what Bryan (Post) had said. I calmed down and decided to “test” his theory. 🙂 I asked Payton to sit on my lap. She did, and I kindly talked to her about what happened. I asked if she had been scared, and she said yes. I could see the fight going out of her as I responded with a calmness verses irritation. I still had her sit down next to me for a few minutes because she had talked back to me, but she did it without argument or anger. It shocked me how quickly her attitude changed when I changed my approach.

There are times when we feel like raising our voices will change a child’s behavior, I’ve done it myself. But it doesn’t. Our child will either ignore us (freeze/flight), or as is more common, our hurting children will respond with that fight (anger and hostility).

Since those first days of fostering, I’ve known that keeping calm is what’s best for our children. There are hundreds of times that I have stayed calm while holding my raging daughter while listening to horrible insults being hurled at me. There are also numerous times when I haven’t been the mommy I want to be.

This situation with my daughter was so blatant, the switch in her demeanor was so quick that it really hit me that her behavior was stemming from fear because of the trouble she thought she would be in or because of my aggravated reaction. It really saddened me that I was causing this reaction in her. It was MY behavior that was setting her off. It was amazing to see Payton calm down when I changed my approach, and then named what she was feeling. (Note that this won’t happen until you have worked with your child on identifying emotions consistently.)

I don’t know if this would’ve had the same outcome if she wasn’t as attached to me. I don’t know that this technique would’ve had the same effect two years ago. What I do know is that approaching our child calmly is always the correct way to handle any situation. When I’ve been calm while holding Payton during her rages in the past, she equalized much faster. There wasn’t a battle between the two of us, I let her have it on her own while I held her.

We aren’t perfect parents and we never will be. If we feel like we’ve acted in a way we shouldn’t have, we need to forgive ourselves and move forward, doing the best we can. That doesn’t mean we make the excuses, “This is how I am, they’ll have to deal with it.” Our child NEEDS us to make every effort to do better. When we parent better, and in the way our hurting child needs, they will make attachments and those raging storms will become mostly sunny days that are interspersed with clouds.

So, as you move forward in helping your child, remember that sometimes when they’re acting out, they are actually reacting because of FEAR. Also remember that when you stay calm, your child has a better chance at staying calm, or at least you are giving them a safe place to fix their behavior.

Sometimes staying calm means keeping ourselves in a healthy state, physically, mentally, and emotionally. For me praying is a BIG part of my parenting, because I feel that without God I couldn’t do it. In fact, I know I couldn’t, I’m not strong enough on my own. My health isn’t good, so I have to rely on Him for emotional, physical, and mental stability. I also have outlets; writing and reading. And I have a husband that carries far more than his fair share.

Have you witnessed a time when you stayed calm and changed your child’s behavior? Do you have any ideas on how to stay composed? What do you do to keep yourself in a positive place?

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what level are you on? (adoption/foster)

My heart breaks when I hear of children who’ve been abandoned by families because they did not fit the mold they were expected to fall into. Families are falling apart because of the stress that has culminated due to a child that has attachment issues. The entire family suffers, and so does the child who has already experienced so much loss and brokenness before entering their adoptive family.

I would like to think that adoption dissolutions are rare. A statistic I recently read said ten to fifteen percent of adoptions fail, and although this isn’t a high percentage, when it comes to children losing families, I feel it is far too exorbitant.

I think of adoptive families as living in a home with several levels. The top one is filled with hope and dreams that have come to fruition, it’s where the family is whole. A couple stories down from there is where hope and dreams exist, but are not yet realized. Here, a family knows their goal, and life is running fairly smooth. Then there are families who’ve fallen to the lower levels, where it seems that all hope is lost. They are placing their foot on the step, trying to climb up, but they continue to slip. The adopted children, the parents, and the siblings are all crying out. They are lost and grasping for help.

This is why I’m here, writing and trying to help adoptive and foster families. If you’re not on the bottom floor, then my goal is to keep you from falling down the steps. My goal is that we no longer hear about foster/adopted children being turned away, thrown out, or given away. If, however, you are on that bottom floor, I want to give you the foot hold you need to move to the upper floors.

At times families find themselves on the bottom floor because they were unwilling to have open eyes going into the process. They imagined a fairy tale. Sure, there are absolutely many fairy tale moments, adopting is a wonderful thing for both the parents, the adopted children, and siblings, but we cannot go into adoption with our eyes closed. We must be willing to look at our family and decide how we will make it work.

Work? Yes, it’s work. Many of our hurting children have gone through something horrendous, whether it be that they weren’t touched during their first months of life; or they were homeless as a young child, fending for themselves, finding their own food and shelter; or they were abused physically and mentally.

Raising an adopted child takes work because they need all of us. We have to solve problems in different ways, we have to be empathetic even when we feel like blaming, we have to ask our spouse for help even when we don’t want to. Sometimes we have to make a safety plan within our home even when it seems impossible.

What are you willing to do for your child? Change your schedule? Give up a hobby for a couple of years? Take over your spouses responsibilities when they need a break? Admit to your own exhaustion?

If you’re reading this blog, you may be looking for help. You don’t want to do battle every day. You want to help your child and your family, and my hope is that the information here will help you do that. I want with all my heart for you to live on the top floor, with a balcony that looks back on all you’ve come through. There you can say, “See, we’ve made it this far, we can keep going.” Because in the end family is what it’s all about, and your family was built through adoption.

For more tips and links to other helpful articles and blogs make sure to visit me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Have a great week!

no really, good night (sleep issues: part 2) – (adoption/foster)

There seem to be many common themes among adopted children, and one of those is sleep issues. When I wrote about why children have sleep issues on Friday, it received the most views of all my posts this month, and I believe this is because many adopted children have difficulty falling and staying asleep. In this post, I will talk about what we can do to help our children, but first, if you haven’t read why “good nights” are illusive (sleep issues: part 1), I hope you do. Reason being, we have to familiarize ourselves with what’s at the heart of our children’s sleep disturbances before we can help them in a compassionate way.

Now let’s get some rest! How? You ask. First, let’s look at some simple steps to take. You may have already tried these, and if you have, don’t worry, a more in depth plan will follow in this post.

  • Routine – Consistency and schedules are especially important for children who have been adopted. Even if your child came from a foster home in Korea that had the sweetest foster mom, your child has gone through a lot of change, and routine is essential.
    Have a calming routine before bed that does not include screen time, rambunctious activity, bright lights, or sugary snacks. (Preferably only veggies if they’re hungry. Because of food issues and adopted kids, we never deny our daughter food. But she’s a good eater, so she will eat baby carrots before bed if she’s hungry. You can choose the most nutritious food your child will eat.)
  • Rocking – You can read all about rocking (I’m not just talking about infants) and it’s proven benefits here. Rocking can be done with any child that can sit in your lap. I suggest every parent rock their adopted child (for teens, you can incorporate other rhythmic movement during the day, ideas can be found in the previous link), and rocking before bed will help calm your child.
  • Quiet – Be sure that your child’s room is quiet. If their mind is working overtime any noise will keep them alert and make their mind wander. Any noise coming from outside their room will make them obsess about what’s being said or done and what they’re missing out on. They want to join the party! In fact, they want to be in the center of it. 🙂
  • Calming music – Just try it. Don’t listen to any other parenting advice about how they’ll get used to it, and won’t be able to sleep without it. If they can’t, so what. They’re sleeping! Our daughter has her lullaby (no words) music on for nap time and at night, and we don’t need it when we’re on vacation. It does that extra little bit to keep other noises from seeping into her brain, and lulls her to sleep.

As for naps, yes, our daughter is five and she still takes naps. No, we NEVER imagined this would happen during our years of battling sleep issues. We thought she’d given up naps at age two, and I wasn’t happy about it. But then she started napping. It was as if she started making up for all those years of lost sleep, and very shallow sleep.

  • Night light – (Make sure it isn’t too bright, and if your child’s taking a nap, be sure that the room is dark enough during the day.) Most parents think of this one, but just want to cover all the bases. If your child has fears, which all adopted kids will have some. I mean if you’re human, you have fears, and a night light can help relieve some fear of the dark.

The above solutions seem fairly simple, but if in the past, you’ve had children who fell asleep easily it may not occur to you to try these different resolutions. My daughter’s Grandma is a perfect example of this. She’s been running an in-home daycare for forty years, and in that time she hasn’t taken care of one adopted child. I have to assume that every child who has ever entered her home takes naps without a fuss.

Then my daughter enters the dynamic. She needed to take the occasional nap at Grandma’s during daycare hours. It didn’t work. Why? Because Grandma didn’t set the room up for Payton to have a restful nap. First, Payton’s amped up because she’s at Grandma’s and loves to be around the other kids. Second, noise, noise, noise, and for her, this doesn’t work, her brain cannot shut down without a quiet place to rest. Third, light. Forth, it was a warm house. I wouldn’t have been able to fall asleep, and I am usually running on some barely there exhaust fumes. The sleep situation wasn’t conducive to sleep, so we must make sure that is taken care of first.

Now we’ll move to the more complex, but often necessary plan to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep. The following ideas are going to take time, but they are proven to work. You may come up with reasons why you can’t carry out this plan, but I encourage you to try everything possible to follow through with it.

Getting your child to sleep has many benefits, all of which I am sure you are aware. A tired parent can become easily irritated, impatient, and forgetful. A tired child can become irritable, angry, excessively hungry, have a short attention span, have an inability to focus (and the list goes on). This will cause problems at home and at school. I am not saying sleep is going to solve all your child’s behavior problems, because it won’t, but wouldn’t it be nice if it took care of some of them?

It’s best if the following plan be accomplished with both parents. If your child is attached to one parent and will not let the other parent put them to bed, have that parent help in another area of the house; putting another child to bed, washing dishes, picking up the house. Try to get on the same page and work together. (Have your spouse read my first post on sleep issues so they understand why this needs to be done, and read this one as well.)

The plan below is what helped our daughter truly fall asleep and stay asleep. It was also a big part of our bonding experience because it shows the child in a physical way that we’re there for them. We can tell our child all we want that we won’t leave them, and they are safe, but they can SEE and trust the physical more readily.

I encourage you to begin with the steps listed above: routine, rocking, quiet, calming music, and a dark room during the day and a night light at night.

Make sure all of your child’s needs are met before going to bed, make it part of your routine if needed. Have them get the drink of water, go potty, blow their nose, put on chapstick, get the bear, get the blanket. Whatever it is that your child asks you for after bed, make sure it’s done before they go to their room for the night.

Each of these steps we did for an average of two weeks (some were longer). There is no set pattern, as each child is different. Just make sure you do it long enough so as not to set the whole process back.

  • After you have finished the above routine, and put your child in bed, sit next to your child’s bed and hold his hand while he falls asleep. If your child won’t hold your hand, lay your hand on his back. Be sure your child is asleep (deep rhythmic breathing) before you leave their side.
    If your child wakes during the night, go to him and do the same thing. If there’s a storm, make considerations to let him sleep in your room (check regulations for foster children – maybe you can camp out on the floor, or all camp in the living room if there’s more than one child).
  • After you’ve held your child’s hand for as long as needed (a couple of weeks or more), move away from his bed. Make your self comfortable, lay down with a pillow and take a nap.
  • Now you will move to the doorway and sit just inside his room until he falls asleep.
  • Next move outside his door, but leave the door open. If he says anything, reassure him you are there.
    You may be sitting outside your child’s door longer than you were in their room because you are now out of sight. Over time your child will begin to trust that you’re going to be there, as along as you really are (and they will know).
  • If you close your child’s door at night, it will take an extra step. If you’ve never closed your child’s door at night, there’s no need to now (unless of course it’s too noisy). If you do begin closing the door, expect some anxiety, because this will be a big change for your child. If needed, close your child’s door and sit outside his room. If he calls for you, reassure him that you are there.

*The above plan was recommended by Scott Chaussee of Ariel Clinical Services.

Always consider what is happening in your child’s world to cause sleep disturbances. Think about what happened that day, what is going to happen in the next week or month. Anxiety can really cause a lot of behaviors in our children and the inability to fall asleep is a big one. As your child bonds, they will become less anxious, but it is still something to always be mindful of.

It has been about three years since we did this whole routine with our daughter, Payton, yet it is clearly embedded in her mind. When she puts her babies and animals to sleep, she places a chair outside her door and reads a book. That’s exactly what we did with her. Thankfully she doesn’t yell and scream from her chair, telling her babies to be quiet. At least we did one thing right.

We have seen so many families that adopted their children around the same time as us, yet their kids still aren’t sleeping. Some of them have seven and eight-year-olds who aren’t sleeping well. These families weren’t willing to look at what was causing the sleep issues and neither were they willing to put the time and effort into dealing with it.

This is a short investment for a long term gain. It will probably take a few months, and some lost time with your spouse, but in the end, you will be so glad you did it. I know we are. In the end, using this technique will help everyone in the family.

*Bonding is what will heal your child and help them rest, so check out my other posts on attachment: Rocking & Attachment

*Another post that might be of interest: what happens when hurting children can’t sleep?

  • I would like to talk about sleep aids. I feel that there is a time and place for natural remedies, even medication. In fact, we tried a natural remedy (for sleep) with our daughter and it didn’t work. However, I believe there is an underlying cause for most of our children’s sleep issues, and if we don’t get to the bottom of it (or bond – even at night by showing them they are safe) the lack of sleep will continue and won’t be dealt with at the level it needs to be.

I hope these ideas help your family. May you all begin to rest!
If you have comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you.

why “good nights” are illusive (sleep issues: part 1) – (adoption/foster)

A big obstacle adoptive parents face is their child’s lack of sleep. Many adopted children have a difficult time falling and staying asleep. Sleep issues can wreak havoc on the whole family, and when everyone’s tired, everyone’s grouchy (at least in our family, I’m sure that’s not the case for yours. Insert smiley face.)

Although our daughter, Payton, has made significant bonds with us, she still has some defiant behaviors when she gets excessively tired. I swear her brain shuts off, and ALL logical thinking goes out the closed window.

Obviously sleep is important, and we don’t want the lack of it to produce more negative behaviors that add to our already full list. There are a few reasons why our children don’t sleep well and have difficulty falling asleep. Let’s take a look at three of the main ones:

  • Control – Don’t jump to any conclusions yet. This sounds like something inimical that your child is purposefully doing to you, but it’s not. Their early life was usually chaotic and unpredictable. At a very young age, your child may have needed to protect themselves, fend for themselves, and worried incessantly about their needs being met. This creates a need to control their environment.
    In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry talks about a hurting child’s need for control. “After all one of the defining elements of a traumatic experience – particularly one that is so traumatic that one dissociates because there is no other way to escape from it – is a complete loss of control and a sense of utter powerlessness. As a result, regaining control is an important aspect of coping with traumatic stress. This can be seen vividly in the classic research on a phenomenon that has come to be known as ‘learned helplessness.’”
    Our children may stay awake because it’s one of the few things they can control.
  • Fear – We had major sleep issues with our daughter, Payton. She couldn’t go to sleep, and we never had a smooth transition to bed. We set up the routine, had a calming relaxation time before we put her to bed (included a back rub in bed), but all that didn’t help (although we still follow the same routine every night). We tried the Super Nanny approach that’s proven to work – put the child back in bed without saying a word, you may do it twenty times, but after a few days, they will stay in bed. Nope, that didn’t work either. We could put her back in bed without saying a word dozens of times, if not hundreds, and for months, not days, and it still didn’t make a bit of difference. We were EXHAUSTED! Sound familiar?
    After battling the sleeping issues (she also didn’t sleep well throughout the night, she woke up often) for over a year, we attended a training led by Scott Chaussee. During one of the breaks we asked him about Payton’s sleep problems. He asked if she’d been in a Meth home (this was a training held at the Dept. of Human Services, so many of us has adopted from foster care). We nodded our heads, yeah, she had been in a Meth home.
    Scott said, “Those Meth homes are very frightening, especially at night. She may not have a conscious memory of it, or be able to tell you what’s scaring her, but I would imagine that’s what it is.” He then gave us a plan on how to help Payton calm so she could sleep peacefully. (I will share that plan with you next week.)
    In The Whole-Brain Child, Dan Siegel writes, “Unless kids can make sense of their painful memories, they may experience sleep disturbances, debilitating phobias, and other problems.” Some of our children will never be able to make sense of their traumatic memories. They may not even have a tangible memory of what happened to them. However, I do believe they can heal when attachments are made with their caregivers.
    There are many other fears that can play into a child’s reticence to go to sleep:
    – Fear of the dark.
    – Fear of being alone.
    – Fear of being unsafe.
    – Fear of scary noises.
    – Fear of abandonment.
    Think about yourself and fears you may have had at night, even as an adult. I know for me, if I hear a scary sound in the house at night, I lay awake listening for any other sounds. It keeps me awake and on alert. If I wake from a frightening dream, I have to force myself to stay awake so as to not let the nightmare continue.
    So, we can see that even children and adults who haven’t experienced trauma encounter sleep disturbances. How much more is a child who’s been traumatized going to fear being alone in a room, in the dark, unaware of what’s happening in the rest of the house?
  • Their brains are always on high-alert/Worry – This is partly because of the fear mentioned above, but also because of learned behavior. Our children always feel they need to be alert and watching out for themselves, and when their brain is constantly in a state of hypervigilance, they cannot relax.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry writes, “If a baby’s primary metronome – his brainstem – doesn’t function well, not only will his hormonal and emotional reactions to stress be difficult to modulate, but his hunger and his sleep cycle will be unpredictable as well.” This absolutely applies to older children as well.

Now that we know some of the causes of sleep disturbance, what can we do? We want to send a clear and consistent message that our children are safe and loved. The faster your child feels safe, the quicker they will heal, which will lead to a more restful sleep and better behavior overall.

Your hurting child needs to know they can trust you. Next week, I’ll give you step by step ideas on how to build trust at bedtime so your child can rest peacefully.

I also want to offer my apologies. I promised to share those ideas this week, but I felt I needed to help you understand why your child may not be falling and staying asleep first. We can’t truly fix the problem if we don’t know why it exists.

Think about what I’ve said in this post. Our children may not look scared when they come out of their room asking for the next drink, Kleenex, back rub, or stuffed animal. Their crying and whining may seem like a behavior that just irritates you, but there is an underlying cause as to why they aren’t able to fall asleep or why they wake in the middle of the night.

Do your children have sleep issues? What do your children do? Do they have trouble falling asleep? Do they wake up in the middle of the night? I would love to hear from you! See you next week, and until then, I hope you get at least one good nights sleep. 🙂

*The follow-ups to this post are
no really, good night (sleep issues: part 2)
what happens when hurting children can’t sleep?