Sleep Issues with Adopted Kids: Grieving at Night
Nighttime is hard for some newly adopted kids (and their parents). Whether it is separation anxiety, reliving bad memories that happened at night, or slowing down enough to simply grieve, nighttime presents a special challenge for adopted kids and their parents.
Here is one mom’s story of how she helped her daughter process her grief at night. Her daughter was just shy of her second birthday when they brought her home from South Korea.
Sleeping Routine: First Months Home
Sleep was really tricky when our daughter came home. I think, initially, the hardest part was the jet lag! Helping our daughter adjust to both the time change and our family was a challenge, but thankfully we made it through! I think the first 2-3 weeks home were the hardest and then it started slowly getting better as we all adjusted to the time zone and learned more about each other.
As we helped her learn to sleep alone, we had her sleep in her bedroom rather than start out in ours because we knew that we ultimately wanted her in her own room and we wanted to avoid her having to make another transition.
I co-slept with her for the first week or so and then I moved to a mattress on her floor and slowly inched my way out of the room over time. Around 6 months later she was able to sleep alone at night. I might have co-slept longer, but she moved a lot in her sleep, and I kept getting kicked by her so I had to move out of the bed to the mattress on the floor sooner than I initially thought.
She slept in a bed with rails, which was a little different because her foster mom said she had a mat on the floor (which is common in Korea), and our daughter would move around until she found a spot she would like to sleep in each night. A bed was definitely new for her, but role-playing helped, especially as we started to slowly move our mattress out of her room.
Grieving at Night
Nighttime was when most of our daughter’s grieving came out. It was really hard to watch her grieve! We had to give her space to go through her emotions, but we also had to be right there, next to her, as a strong support for her.
Many times when she would wake up crying in the middle of the night, she would grab my hand, but then push me away. She was going through so many different emotions where she wanted us to comfort her, but she was also afraid and didn’t want us too close to her yet. When she awoke in the night, she would forget that she wasn’t with her foster mom and would be so very upset. She would pull at her hair and kick her bed. We just had to be there (both physically and emotionally present in the moment) and help her through it. It was extremely hard and so much for her to process.
During the day, I would do attachment games with her to help build our bond. I would also show her pictures of her foster mom and us all together so she understood that her foster mom knew how she was joining our family. I hoped that doing this during the day might help to ease some of her nighttime fears as she had everything run through her mind at night. During the first 1-2 months, when she would wake up during the night, she would need to see me right away, but as the months went on, if I just talked to her from within the room, that was all of the reassurance she needed. Time definitely helped a lot!
Overall, I think the first 6 months were the hardest, especially the 6-month mark because she was losing her Korean language at that point, but yet didn’t have enough English to communicate all she wanted to say. It really started to get a lot better after that, especially one year and on!!
When she goes through transitions, we see it come out in her sleep and as she is falling asleep. For example, she regressed in her sleep progress when she transitioned to daycare when my maternity leave finished, and we had about a week or so of tough nights!
We try to stay as consistent as possible with our nighttime routine and how we communicate with her and work with her when she wakes up during the night. We are now close to 2 years home and we are lucky that she is a great sleeper. Sometimes falling asleep can be a little tricky if she is worried about something or if she hears a noise, but once she is asleep, she typically will sleep through the whole night. If she is nervous when she falls asleep we reassure her and remind her we are close by.
P.S. We’ll be going through some of this again soon since we are going back this month to pick up our new child from Korea—a son!
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy
- No-Cry Sleep Solution
- Sleep, Glorious Sleep
- Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Common Sense Guide to Your Baby’s First Year
Image credit: Francesco Tolu