The First Sleepover

Amy had her first sleep over this week. Sleepovers have been a topic of conversation in the March Household for some time and I have always been a bit hesitant.  I know how apprehensive Amy can get when she can’t sleep and was concerned how she would manage if she didn’t have anyone she felt she could call upon.  I worry that this would put pressure on her friendships or increase her anxiety levels.  I was aware that we would be best off having one of her friends over to stay first but if I’m honest, I really didn’t want to.  The thought of extra children for an extended period of time is not my idea of fun.  And then Josie would also want a friend over and she is not very accepting of her position of youngest sibling or the idea of waiting till she is older for anything!

The issue was forced when one of Amy’s friends invited her for a sleepover for her birthday. After discussion with Mr March, we decided that we had to give it a go.  We felt that Amy would be very upset if she couldn’t go, and, as this friend seems to have a positive impact on Amy, we didn’t want this to affect their friendship.

We talked with Amy about what might be difficult about sleeping at a friend’s house. Her biggest concern was that she would wake up before the rest of the household, so she decided to take some books to read to occupy her and help her keep calm.  We made sure she had all the things she’d need including her favourite teddy bear, hair brush (she has become quite particular about her hair) and a selection of clothes for the morning.  She was still very anxious however and we had a day of giddy behaviour and arguments.  With some trepidation, we waved her off.

The next morning seemed to really drag as we waited for her to come home. She came in and gave me a massive cuddle, then, as soon as I closed the door, she burst into sobs.  She was upset that they had slept on the sofas in the lounge and I recalled how she remembers being dropped off by her birth mum with family and made to sleep on their sofas.  So I held her and told her I understood that she must have felt so sad and scared and we talked about why.  I could have kicked myself for not asking where they were going to sleep!

Amy also told me they hadn’t slept all night (though I think this was an exaggeration)! I asked her what she had enjoyed about the sleep over and she enjoyed being at her friend’s house, playing with her friend and her baby brother, doing her nails and a whole host of other things. ‘So would you go again?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes’ said Amy.  She then did something she has only done a couple of times in her 3 years with us.  She went to bed for a nap!

That evening we were still discussing whether we had done the right thing and in the end we realised that there are going to be lots of occasions in life that Amy is going to find difficult. And as much as we want to, we can’t protect her from all of them.  What we need to do is prepare her to manage when life becomes more stressful and help her develop ways to cope.

 

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Sleep

Last night Josie did not want to go to sleep.  She has been having bad dreams which have been waking her in the middle of the night.  Yesterday at bed time she started to get anxious which displayed itself through waves of shouting that it wasn’t bed time and she wasn’t going to bed! As I sat with Josie singing to her and describing ‘Unicorn Land’ – a magical made up place where she can be safe and happy! I thought about how far we have come.

I remember our first fretful night with the girls.  Amy was missing her foster mum and after a frantic phonecall to our social worker we gave her foster mother a ring so that she could say good night. After this she went to bed reasonably happily with a story and a cuddle and she appeared to go to sleep quite quickly.  Josie on the other hand was a whole different kettle of fish.  We had been told that we should follow the routine that she was used to and in our naivity we believed this would enable us to get her to sleep.

We first attempted to put her to bed in the beautiful oak cot we bought for her before her arrival (it was only during introductions that the foster carer had informed us that she slept in a travel cot, as she used to headbang on the bars of a traditional cot).  As soon as she was lowered into the cot she screamed and appeared terrified.  We quickly decided to set up a travel cot in our bedroom.  We went through the whole routine again, put her in the travel cot, and although she did not scream this time, she was clearly wide awake and unhappy.  I sang to her for what seemed like hours.  Eventually following the second phone call of the evening to our social worker, I put Josie into our bed and the two of us fell asleep together.

I had never really considered the notion of co-sleeping.  I was concerned it would lead to bad habits and we would get ourselves in a position where the whole household had to sleep together! I am a particularly light sleeper (and can be very grumpy when tired); the thought of years with poor sleep terrified me.  Josie slept with us for around four months; we progressed from her co-sleeping to setting up her cot, transformed into a toddler bed,  beside our own.  When she first started sleeping in her own room she used to get up in the night and get in beside me, but this eventually tailed off and although she does still do this now occasionally it doesn’t cause too much disruption.  I think the whole process took around 6 months but when I think back it felt like it was never going to improve and I feared being a tired grump for their entire childhood!

Amy always appeared to sleep well until we went on holiday during their first summer with us.  We were concerned that holidays may unsettle our children and had attempted a couple of long weekends before we went away for a whole week.  We were also in the fortunate position that the girls had been on holiday with their foster family and so were used to the concept.  During this holiday however Amy started to have trouble sleeping.  She did not want to be left at bed time and would get really anxious.  It was hard during these times to not get cross with her, at the end of a long day.  However I was aware that getting cross with an anxious child was not going to help her sleep.  We tried a number of strategies to help her:  extra cuddles and lullabies, relaxation strategies including progressive muscle relaxation and imagery.  Eventually we came up with our own routine for relaxing, imagining a safe place and then lullabies.

Around this time I also discovered Dr Laura Markham’s Aha Parenting website.  In this she suggested laying with a child while she gets to sleep; I was doubtful about this but was really surprised to find that actually, if Amy is relaxed she will go to sleep really quickly with someone beside her (much quicker than she would, had she been alone).  In fact there are loads of good tips on the Aha website which increased our repetoire of night time strategies and in turn my confidence in handling bed time issues.

So although I am concerned about Josie’s nightmares, I know I can calm my children and soothe them; that I can help them think about restful images where they can indulge their imaginations away from frightening dreams.  Being able to help my children sleep makes me feel deeply connected to them; that we are in tune and in sync.  We have come a long way since those early days; it was no wonder I couldn’t help Josie sleep we had no connection, no attachment. I feel truly grateful and privileged that my girls share this amazing connection with me.