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Getting Healthy Sleep Habits Started with New Placements

Let's be honest - the first 30 days with a new foster or adoptive placement can be just absolutely B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Repeat after me: This is not my new normal. This is not my new normal.

Because here's the truth: IT'S NOT.

The appointments will slow, you'll get into a rhythm, and most importantly, your placement will feel more and more like your child than a stranger over time!

I'm often asked how to get healthy sleep started early on with a placement, and here's my response: the name of the game isn't sleep - the name of the game is CONNECTION.

If you've ever traveled to a foreign country, you know the first couple of days can be quite jarring. I remember having a near panic attack our first night in China because I was so homesick. Everything was different - the food, the smells, the language. I was so overwhelmed and just wanted the comforts of home.

And as hard as this is for me to type, we have to remember that this homesickness and panic is the exact same way our kids feel in our homes at first.

In order to build that needed connection and felt safety with our kids, we need to be focusing on two primary areas - nurture and structure.

As much as you possibly can, try to build some loose RHYTHMS to your day. Help the child begin to anticipate meal times, snacks, naps, and bedtime. Get them outside around the same time each day if possible. Helping their body to acclimate to your family's routines will help them adapt and begin to feel safe.

Learn their age-appropriate wake windows and build a loose schedule around them. Pro tip - you'll likely find that in the early days, the child will either sleep far MORE or far LESS than is typical for their age. That's totally normal and expected, as they've just been through a great deal of trauma. Allow them time and space to fall into more "average" sleep periods.

Keep a loose universal bedtime routine in your back pocket that could apply to any age. I like the following: bedtime snack or milk, bath and hygiene, pajamas and sleep sack, books/connection, tuck in. You can start this day one!

With very young babies and even some toddlers, you're likely going to need to support them to sleep in some way. If laying the child down awake in a cool dark room is met with tears and screams, please feel zero guilt about rocking, patting, or sitting with them while they fall asleep for a while. This is a habit we can easily pull back down the road, but initially, if it's clear that this child doesn't have independent sleep skills, that's completely okay. It's more important to teach them that we are attuned, responsive caregivers than to worry about that skill right away.

For older children, I recommend you ask them their preferences. Some will ask you to sit in their room until they fall asleep. Others will prefer check-ins. And others might just say they're okay and you're good to leave. But either way, communicating your willingness to support them can go a long way. (And hint - if they ask you to check on them and they fall asleep in the interim, offer some kind of proof you came back! Leave a note, put a sticker on a bedtime chart, move a door hanger from outside to inside - something that builds trust and helps them see you WILL follow through!

With an emphasis on good sleep hygiene, a loose rhythm that adds some predictability, and a focus on connection and trust, your child will be off to a great start with their sleep habits!

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