For adoptive parents whose children have a hard time falling asleep, oftentimes there are valid reasons for the sleep issues and also strategies to help. Learn tips for Sleep Issues with Adopted Kids.
Even though it is one of the most challenging issues for any new parent, helping a child to sleep can be even more stressful for adoptive parents. As sleep is mixed in with all kinds of other adjustments for both adopted children and parents, it is sometimes difficult to know whether there are sleep issues, or if the difficult nights are symptoms for another stress in the child’s life.
Like talking and walking, sleeping has to be learned and changes at different developmental stages. When this learning curve is happening during times of transition and adjustment for the child, peaceful, restful nights may be far and few between. By understanding what can underlie a newly adopted child’s restless night and experimenting with various strategies, both adoptive parents and their children can learn to rest easy.
Sleep Issues With Adopted Kids
Why Do Adopted Kids Have a Hard Time Sleeping?
Every child is different when it comes to sleep habits, so when adoptive parents turn to their friends and family for advice, there may be a perception that sleeping problems are the same across all children, regardless of their start in life. According to the National Sleep Foundation, by the age of two most children would have spent more time asleep than awake overall, and will spend about 40% of their childhood asleep. For adopted kids settling into the adoptive home, this may not be the case for a number of reasons including:
- The child being overstimulated with all the changes of the new adoptive surroundings.
- The child making negative connections with darkness and bedtime based on pre-adoption experiences.
- The child being used to sleeping with others in the room.
- The child feeling separation anxiety when away from adoptive parents.
- The child confusing night and day due to time zone changes from birth country to home.
- The child experiencing nightmares or night terrors.
Sleep issues are especially prevalent for children who have been adopted internationally. In the book Adoption Parenting, Dr. M. Claire McDonald shares her insight and experience into sleep issues when she and her husband adopted their daughter from China. She found that changing her perspective around sleep issues was key and she learned that “issues around sleep are intimately connected with issues of trust, and ultimately, attachment.”
What Can Adoptive Parents Do to Help With Sleep Issues?
In addition to changing one’s attitude about sleep as suggested by McDonald, there are several strategies adoptive parents can try in the goal of helping their adopted child fall asleep on her own. The Center of Adoption Medicine makes the following suggestions for adoptive parents as they transition their internationally adopted child into their home.
- Learn about the child’s prior sleep environment and bedtime routine.
- Explore co-sleeping as an option.
- Run a white noise machine in the child’s sleeping room.
- Dress the child in sleep clothing they are used to.
- Keep the child’s blankets and pillows from their orphanage or foster care as long as possible and do not wash them for the first few days.
- Set up a consistent bedtime routine that includes dimming the lights, quiet noises, calming bath time, relaxing reading and cozy cuddling.
- Engage the child in activities throughout the day that encourage attachment and one-on-one time.
If these strategies do not work at first, adoptive parents can try them at another developmental stage and find out from other adoptive parents what worked for their children. If a sleeping disorder is suspected, adoptive parents should have the child checked by a medical professional specializing in sleep issues.
Despite their challenging nature, sleep issues are very common for adopted kids. However, with consistency and patience, adoptive parents can help their child learn to sleep by exploring strategies that meet their child’s unique needs.
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