THERE’S not many of us getting a decent night’s sleep at the moment in our house, and it’s hard to work out what to do. One of our foster children, a boy, takes ages to get to sleep so he doesn’t want to go to bed when it’s his time, because he’s going to be lying awake for two hours or more. I was talking about this with another mum outside school this morning. I said that getting a child into bed is one thing, but there’s nothing you can do to make them go to sleep. She disagreed.
SHE reckoned that if you get them in bed, lights out, and tell them they have to lie there and be quiet and close their eyes and be still, they’ll be asleep sooner rather than later.
SHE’S a doctor, this mum, very nice lady I like her a lot. She’s funny, and she looks after her children really well. But she’s never fostered, so I just smiled and said something like “I’ll try that, thanks”.
WHEN our own children were little they got the idea that downstairs was off limits once they’d been put to bed, but if they had a real problem they could call down to us. My social worker says that many fostered children have been allowed to stay up until the adults went to bed, however young they were. Apparently this is usually done because the parents can’t be bothered with the hard work of supervising bedtime, so they let the children potter around the house until they are asleep standing up.
ONCE in bed though, the children often have all sorts of horrible thoughts about their past, on top of which they’re in a strange home, and they’ve got no reason to think we are going to be any different from the adults they’ve been used to. I suppose it takes a long time to develop trust in new adults.
WE go to bed about 10.30, Bill and I. Sometimes he stays up if he’s not tired. I go up on tiptoe, but there’s almost always something going on upstairs. Nothing to worry about, just someone awake and quite keen to let you know they’re awake too. But it means you are going to bed and there’s someone you are responsible for, still awake.
THAT puts you into a light sleep, if any sleep at all.
SO suddenly you’re awake and you don’t know what woke you up, or what time it is. It feels like about midnight. If Bill is asleep I try to let him sleep on, but I can hear somebody either out of bed or making enough tiny noises to give that impression. So I creep across the pitch black bedroom and put on my dressing gown. Open the bedroom door, and there is someone standing by their own bedroom door, looking sad; “I’m thirsty”.
SO you fetch a drink from downstairs, say a gentle goodnight and creep back to bed.
THEN you are awake again, this time about four. Somebody is going to the bathroom. This is good, it shows they feel at home. You stay awake to listen and make sure they get back to their room.
I have found foster children to be light sleepers. I have found that it’s infectious, and you end up with a houseful of light sleepers.
ANYWAY, I’ve reached the age where you tend to be awake before six, and can’t go back to sleep.
OF course, because they don’t sleep well, they can be a handful on a school morning, complaining they don’t want to get up, and are too tired. I honestly find that making a joke of the whole thing works best. I say to them “What is it with being a child? They make you go to bed when you’re wide awake, and get up when you’re fast asleep”
I’LL be honest, I’m napping in the day, in the front room, nodding off watching This Morning and waking up with A Place In The Sun on. It helps.
THEY, on the other hand, nod off in the car, any journey over about 15 minutes. It helps too.
BUT the best tip I was given , to stay ahead in fostering, if they’ve had a rough day, and given you a bit of a rough day too, is to stand at their bedroom door when they are asleep, and see how being asleep reveals their angelic, peaceful side. Every child, fast asleep, looks like butter wouldn’t melt.