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.