Friday's Answers: Sleep Problems and Setting Boundaries

You all have outdone yourselves this week!  Thank you for all of the wonderful responses to Amber’s question,

We have just adopted two girls ages 4 and 2 from Ethiopia. We’re struggling with a couple of issues with them. When we have to set boundaries for the older one by telling her no, she gets mad and seems to show no forgiveness. She is mad for several hours. Neither girl can speak English, so it’s not like I can address this issue by having a small discussion with her as I would our biological 3. What would you recommend for this kind of behavior? (The things we are teaching her “no” on are for her own safety…for instance, walking out of the house without letting anyone know where she is, not playing near the street, etc.)

The other question is about the 2 yr old. We are struggling with getting her to sleep. She will fall asleep in our arms without a tear, the minute we lay her down, she wakes up and starts crying. We do not have her in a crib, so if she wants to get out of bed, she does and we start the battle all over again. With our first 3, we would’ve just set them in their crib and let them cry but I’m not sure that this is a good idea for a newly adopted child. Any ideas?

To read the complete comments, please visit the original post.  Here are excerpts of what you had to say:

Kayla wrote:

..One of mine needed a safe place to tantrum for the first couple of week or so. He just was feeling out of whack he would just cry and be mad and no amount of consoling would help. So we made a large space in the middle of the floor where he could tantrum in our presence and then be soothed after the tantrum…

…We blew up our air mattress and slept on the floor next to our kids for the first 3 weeks or so. The first few nights, we let them sleep next to us on the floor. Then we put them in their beds while we lay down on the floor next to them until they fell asleep…

Kate in NY wrote:

..I have to say there wasn’t one single, magic cure that turned it around. I am not a big fan of “star charts,” but in the early days I did make up a couple of them – one star for every time he said, “OK, Mom” – and when he got to 10, or whatever, he got to pick out a little toy at the store. It’s amazing how little English kids need to know to understand that they are getting a PRIZE! Usually, though, I just shrugged, and went cheerfully about my business, checking in every once in a while but not getting too bent out of shape when my “advances” were rebuffed…

Abbey wrote:

…She is just learning what having a mother means, and trying to figure out whether or not she is safe and whether her needs will be met. By responding to her needs (high and exhausting though they may be!) you are sending her a clear message that she is safe in your home and in your arms. Consider it a golden opportunity for fostering attachment. You will earn something that will give you far more than it will cost: her trust…

Jennifer wrote:

…She was fine during the day but she would often wake at night sobbing – just grief and fear which they’re so distracted from during the day with so much stimulation but hard to cope with at night. Being able to reach her hand out and hold onto me at night did a lot to comfort her…

…Have you tried keeping her close at your side all the time for a while? It may help while she’s learning English and soaking in the rhythms of family life – and will limit the dangers she can get into. My son spent a lot of time sitting on the kitchen counter when I was working in the kitchen, or playing with legos in the room where I was, etc. I will say he often resented it initially, but he always settled in as he realized “she really means it – this is what we’re doing.”…

Paula wrote:

…It also took at least two hours to get them to bed every single night. As their English improved, the temper fits improved. We also started one of the girls in therapy after she had been home about six months. Our therapist was a lifesaver! Many, many of our “bad behavior” issues were really issues about insecurity and fear…

Jen wrote:

…So, we figured out that the best thing for our children and our family was for us to have a really good bedtime routine: bath, jammies, rocking and cuddling with a bottle of sweet milk* and then kisses and hugs and into bed – crying or not. Of course, there was always crying for about 2 weeks…

…we just put a little sugar (not much) in a bottle of warm milk (maybe 4-8 oz) each night and then rocked and sang to them – holding them like an infant across your chest and looking up into your eyes. Make a lot of eye contact as you feed them the sweet milk – YOU hold the bottle, YOU hold them and look at them and encourage them to look at your WARM, sweet eyes while they drink the sweet milk which affects their brain chemistry and makes GOOD connections…

…We opted for a non-challant response to the “mad” fits. Basically something like “(repeating the no) you may not____. I know you are sad about that. We will be happy to have you join us again when you’re ready to be fun to be with. until then, you may sit here (somewhere nearby, but not right in the middle of everyone). “…

Beth wrote:

…I would recommend not rocking to sleep, but rocking other times. Sit outside the bedroom until they know to stay in bed.You could also sit in the room and read or go in and out putting things away etc.We were not as firm in the beginning as we should have been but got firm really quick when we saw the “discussions” we had with our other four bios. did not work. Whatever boundary you decide to set, stick to like glue and correct quickly if they overstep. I found our girls liked the security of knowing who was in charge and they would take full advantage if I was not firm…

MeganB wrote:

…We tried to remember how he was sleeping in the care center…did he have blankets, sleep with socks on, sleep with a night light or not, have noise in the back ground, stuff animals in his bed, what side of his crib was touching the wall, what the nannies did before bedtime…and then tried to imitate that as much as possible…

…I’m sure you will get many suggestions. Do what works for you and your child. Do not feel bad for not cosleeping if it does not work for your family (I know many adoptive Moms told me I needed to cosleep or he would not attach to us, but he has very much healthy attached to us just fine)…

Esther wrote:

Well, first of all the language part is where it going to be a big problem for now, she cannot understand you so explaining to her the reasons is going to be impossible (communication) Secondly, they are still very young to really comprehend as to what exactly has happened to them, I am a refugee myself and I came to this country at the age of 13 , being able to comprehend why my family had decided to leave Cuba, my family had to explained it everyday it seemed, at first I hated it here, I missed my counrty, my friends, my culture etc…I hope you can follow what I am saying to you?!…

…I would lay down with her for a bit until she gets feeling more secure about the fact that nothing or no one will take her anywhere….this is her forever home and family……great big hugs to you and bless your amazing heart…

Carla wrote:

…Personally, I would get a crib and try that, so you can get some sleep. Boundaries need to be set even if they are physical. Hope this helps. As far as the older child, we had to be very strict and stern until we could communicate better, it was out of need to keep them safe. I would not allow pouting and tantrums and over time they saw it wouldn’t work, so they quit. If they tried this, they would have to sit in time out or not get to do something they wanted, like not get a treat or watch a movie. It is tiring, but well worth it in the long run. 🙂

aarsethfamily wrote:

…I would rock her every night when she was getting tired for about 20 minutes then lay her in her crib still awake and rub her back for a while. For the first few days she continued to cry for the first few days but then would only cry when I stopped. It was like she was trying so hard to stay awake to make sure I stayed in the room with her. So little by little I would move away from her in her bed after rubbing her back but stay in her room, usually just out of her sight. If she started to whimper just a little bit, I would start saying, shh shh I’m still here and she would stop. Then 5 min later she would whimper again and I would do it again, and again until I was sitting outside her door and she would finally fall asleep. Also anytime she would cry out at night this was the routine rock, rub back, slowly move away…

Laurel wrote:

…as far as letting them “cry it out”, we actually tried a method of sleep training this week that involved letting him cry for 5 min, going in for 2 min, letting him cry for 7 min, going in for 1 min, etc. It was having a very poor effect on him and we decided the most important thing right now is for him to learn to completely trust us and that we are there when he needs us, even if it’s just that he can’t sleep.

learning patience wrote:

For your older one, you can’t control her behavior or emotions. You can control how you handle it all. So in that vein, my two cents is to say to handle it all as calmly as you can. Don’t respond to her anger, just guide her in the correct thing to do. Model good behavior for her, hold her hand and redirect her attention to something that she is allowed to do…

…for the longest time, we would let him fall asleep in our arms, lay him down and put our arm in the crib until he fell back to sleep, sneak out, then RACE to the crib as soon as we heard any kind of movement. At first he woke every few hours, like an infant. Then we got more and more sleep until he is like a light switch now; we can tell him to “go to sleep” and he does! It’s crazy!

Karen wrote:

I tend to operate with this rule of thumb: treat your newly adopted child like you would a newborn. Yes, I know that they aren’t newborns and walking outside without adult supervision isn’t something a newborn would do, but think of how you would teach that to your toddler. Even though the girls cannot understand you, talk to them…

…I am currently adopting a 5 1/2 year old girl. The first time she spent the night with me (she was 3 1/2 years old at that time), she grabbed onto my hair and held it for the whole night! She needed to make sure that I wasn’t leaving her. A month ago, I spent about 10 days with her. She slept right in the crook of my back–if I rolled over to get a drink of water from the nightstand, she would move over, in her sleep, so that she was still RIGHT in the crook of my back. Again, how would you reassure your newborn?…

Melissa wrote:

…I can understand that sleeping on their own could be a bit traumatic, and I would lean toward softening up what I “normally” might do with sleep issues in my biological kids, in favor of helping to form a sweet, secure attachment. I don’t necessarily mean for a hugely long time, but have you thought of letting her sleep with you for a few weeks, then maybe doing an in-between and letting her fall asleep with you, but moving her to a bed on your floor, then perhaps her falling asleep with you reading a book where she can see you, and eventually going to bed on her own?…

Kate wrote:

We brought home our 12 yr old son from Haiti in January. Surprisingly, your struggles are similar to what we went / are going through. My advice: keep gently but firmly setting those limits! Even though your 4 yr old seems angry, the limits help her to feel safe…

…Our son could not sleep in a room by himself for the first 4 months he was home. We put his mattress on the floor by our bed, but even that was not enough sometimes. Many nights my husband and I took turns sitting/lying next to him and holding his hand or just keeping a hand on his shoulder. It seemed he required the physical contact to be able to sleep. (and he was 11!)…

Julie wrote:

Not having a common language was so painful, because I wanted to explain everything. Your eyes have to be the common language when the kids are first home. Your eyes and your tone of voice have to express “I love you, but that is a not okay.”…

…For the little one with sleep issues, put a little bed in your room that she can come to whenever she needs to. She’s scared and needs to be close to you. This may last a l-o-n-g time. :-…

A very hearty thank you to each of you who took the time to share your thoughts.  Amber, I hope you find answers in this wealth of wisdom.

Have  fantastic weekend everyone!

~Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

0 Comments

  1. learningpatience
    September 17, 2010

    This is rather random, and it is totally OT . . . but I just have to tell you that I love that pic of your two boys hugging each other (one maybe not so sure about the hugging) that is at the top of your blog!

    Reply
    1. One Thankful Mom
      September 17, 2010

      Thank you – I love it too!

      Reply
  2. Kathrin
    September 17, 2010

    Kate, do you have a blog? I would love to learn more on older child adoption.

    Reply

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