Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Getting Our Adopted Toddler to Sleep Through The Night

So I titled it that way instead of "getting Moyz to sleep through the night" in the hopes that a desperate parent like we were could possibly find this, and perhaps how we did it may work for them.  There is not a lot out there, even on the wide world web on getting your adopted toddler to sleep through the night.

Here's the deal.  Moyz has been getting up twice a night since he could walk at 15 months, so for the last 11 months this has been going on.  Usually at 11 as well as 2, sometimes a half an hour or so each way, but just about guaranteed those two times, sometimes more, but never less.

We were tired, exhausted, cranky.  Plus, for much of that time I also had a brand new infant who was getting up whenever he wanted, which was usually between 3-4 times per night in addition to Moyz.  Generally, I would take care of Truitt because I was breastfeeding, and Chris would handle Moyz.

Pretty much we decided that we couldn't take it anymore when Moyz started getting up in the night and then crawling into or throwing toys into Truitt's crib.  (That coupled with my own sheer exhaustion during the day threw us over and beyond the edge!)  All three boys are in a room together until we can complete another bedroom in the basement, which, unfortunately, hasn't happened yet.  Waking up your other siblings by throwing heavy toys on them is just not acceptable.  And now instead of one child up, we have two.  Thank goodness that Owen can pretty much sleep through anything!

Now, here's the deal.  As an adoptive parent I have done tons of research on attachment disorders and what to do when your adopted child comes home to foster that bond and relationship between a parent and a child when a child has no idea what that is and is used to doing whatever is cute to get attention.  We even saw an attachment specialist when Moyz was first home, and he did display signs of a child who wasn't exactly keen on a close relationship.  For example, we had to trick him to look us into the eyes by looking into a mirror.  He never made a peep, even when he tipped over and couldn't get back up (the silent type, I am sure you have heard of it), and when suggested by our team of specialists to help with his lack of core development and thus physical delays, to toss him into the air and catch him, he was terrified for the first 4 months he was home.  That is how long it took before we tossed him up into the air and he smiled.  Thus we were very cautious with both of our children.  Not even grandparents could hold them, with rare exceptions until they had been home almost 6 months.  Ditto with friends, neighbors, even Ava and Owen were not allowed to feed them, give them a bottle, anything to do with bed or taking care of their needs the first 3 months or so.  Mostly we did this because Moyz would go to any woman for attention, he would even go to a man if he resembled a woman and cling to his/her legs and look all cute.

Okay, so that is sort of our background on Moyz.  Moving forward, we can honestly say that his attachment rocks.  He is a loving boy, that truly is part of his nature, but for the longest time we didn't know if it was orphanage stuff, or who he was.  That is one of the hardest things with your kids, trying to know if it is "them" or "orphanage history" rearing its head.  He always comes to us when he is scared/hurt, etc. and has no extra love for people he doesn't know.  He does not indiscriminately walk around and try to chat with people he doesn't know.  But even knowing this, I was terrified of doing something to help him through the night and mess him up.  Because if there is one thing an adoptive parent is afraid of, it is accidentally doing something wrong and then your kid cannot function in society when they are older.

With Moyz, we couldn't find a reason for his nighttime jaunts.  He would get out of bed, walk into our room and always come to my side and stare at me.  He never woke up from a scary dream, he didn't seem to particularly want anything.  We tried water, food, cuddling for a minute or two, everything that we could think of.  So we started doing what the experts advise.  Take him back to bed, don't punish him, just lay him down and walk away.  Didn't work.  Then we had Chris sleep in the bed with him, didn't work.  he would still get up out of bed and walk into our bedroom.  Now I am sure that some of you are immediately going, just have a family bed.  And while I have nothing personal against that, it is not something that Chris and I want for our family.  From our experience with other children occasionally in the bed, we never slept.  It was a long and sleepless night and didn't do anything to bolster us as a family.  If our kids had a bad dream, we would talk to them and comfort them, pray with them, and lay them back down to sleep.  Plus, I do tend to think that the bed should be a place for parents to have with each other.  But again, if the family bed is what you want then perhaps that would solve the problems of your night walker.  However, given the fact that if one of us slept with Moyz in his bed just to see what happened, he would still get up.  We also tried spanking him, not hard, but on his bottom to see if that helped, nope.

Desperate enough after nothing working after 10 months, I went to an adoption group of parents who have adopted out of Congo and either used our agency One World (which I do NOT recommend, email me if you need further info.), or had moved on to adopt independently.  I desperately asked for thoughts and advice from those who have already adopted and gone through this, which I think is absolutely key when you are looking for advice.  As helpful as they can be, if a parent has not gone through it, then I tend to think that while well-meaning, their advice is pretty much crap as it relates to adoption things.

I got several things, quite a few people mentioned melatonin be given to Moyz at night, several also mentioned magnesium oil.  Both of these are sleep aids to help Moyz get through the fact that he wakes up at the same time every night.  In essence, a politically correct version of giving your child Benadryl and hoping they make it through the witching hour.

And then I got an email from a woman who has adopted several children.  Let me tell you, her email saved my life.  What she said was basically this, that Moyz fell into "patterning", which basically you can deduce from the fact that he gets up at the same times each night.  It is now the pattern of how his night goes.  His body is basically making this an official clock time for him, similar to how adults wake up every morning at 6 without an alarm to get ready for work.  He is so used to this that it is tough to break.  She also said this, which I so desperately needed to hear:  That unless Moyz exhibits some serious attachment issues after being home for 14 months, it is okay to leave him alone at night and have him get over it.  I had to bold that part because it was so good to hear someone else tell me what I was already thinking but was too afraid to try.  Chris and I truly felt that his attachment was great, and that we were ready to try letting him deal with it.  And by deal with it I mean shut the door and not let him out.

So we tried it.  But we had to get one of those things that slip over the door so he couldn't turn it since he can open the door.  We also took Owen and Truitt out.  The first night he cried at the door for about half an hour.  So Chris went back in and put him to bed.  The second night he banged on the door with a little bit of crying.  And then it got silent.  We thought he went back to bed but he only flipped on the lights and started playing with toys.  The third night we took the lightbulbs out so he couldn't turn on the light.  We thought we licked that problem, but he spent a good 5 minutes turning the light on and off to see if it eventually would turn back on.  When it didn't, he just started playing with toys by moonlight.  The fourth night we took all the toys out to see what would happen.  He dropped down by the crack in the door and started yelling at us.  But eventually he went back to his bed and went to sleep.  The fifth night he discovered a container of shea butter which he promptly spread all over his bunk bed.  The sixth night- nothing.  No waking up, no yelling, no trying to turn lights on, nothing but sleep.  After about a week of this, he no longer wakes up at night and tries to get into our room.  We still leave the thing on the door, but he doesn't pound on it, cry or try to turn the lights on.  HE IS SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT!  Can't you see the clouds parting and the angels singing?!

It wasn't necessarily as simple as that.  Every day I spent fretting and obsessively watching his behavior to see if he was showing any signs of regression or acting differently or that somehow by us making him stay in his room at night we were harming him.  I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my decisions as they relate to parenting Moyz and Kembia vs. how I parented Ava and Owen, and now Truitt.  And I think you will find that most adoptive parents feel this way.

Now, I know that there are probably parents who think what we did was horrible, totally the antithesis to everything attachment specialists say and think.  But here is what it boils down to:  We are better parents if we are not up all night.  My ability to parent my children in a loving manner, in the way I want to be a parent, was directly affected by being up multiple times a night.  And my parenting is not just about Moyz and Kembia, it is all of my children- Ava, Owen, Kembia, Moyz and Truitt.  In my history of being an adoptive parent I have learned that attachment isn't always about what is best for the child.  Sometimes, you have to do what is best for the parent to get at what is best for the child.  And it seems that they don't teach that to you when you take all of those classes and read all of those books.  Would I have done this when he got home, or even 6 months ago?  No.  But I know my son and his behavior, I know when he cues that he is nervous or upset, and I know that he could handle being in his room at night, even if I was to afraid to try, and that is why I am so thankful that someone told me it is okay for adopted to kids to be alone when there are no big worries about attachment.

I would suggest if you are going through this to watch your child and really look at the situation.  We did not have to use the melatonin or magnesium oil, but I was going to get some and then he started sleeping through the night so I didn't have to.  Knowledge rocks, but talking to people who have done it before is even better.  If your child has significant attachment issues, then I would not do what we did.  I would seek expert help if your are facing sleep issues and attachment issues.

And of course, I do believe that attachment therapists for the most part are right about techniques for developing a bond with your child when they come home.  But eventually, attachment is going great, and kids need to be held accountable for their behavior.  Yes, that is probably always going to be later then in a situation with your bio kids, but it will happen.  We can't let our fear of wrecking our kids get in the way of helping our kids to lead normal lives.  Whether that is helping them sleep through the night, or working through with them thinking they can just scream at the top of their lungs in Target when they don't want to be in a cart anymore or don't like that they can't have everything they see.  Something we dealt with Kembia around the third or fourth month of her being home.  One lady actually told Chris he was a bad parent in Target.  He pretty much just looked at her and ignored her, which is much more gracious then I would have been.  I am fairly certain I would have spouted something off at her and made myself look like that much greater of a  parent!

Anyway, that's how it worked for us.  Trust your instincts, and definitely find someone who has adopted before to bounce ideas off and help give you some insight.  Eventually, all of those "adoptive needs and situations" we read about and obsess and freak out over become normal life, and you move beyond them.

1 comment:

  1. I am saving this email!! Adopted a toddler recently and the "permission" you talk about is so right!!! Thank you