Sweet Dreams

Bedtime can be a stressful time for preschoolers, adopted or not. A comforting routine should help ease your child's fears.

A preschooler and her mother at bedtime

Preschoolers have active imaginations. By day, they’ll regale you with delightful, fantastic tales. But when night falls, they may hear creatures under their bed and dream of scary monsters. As a result, three- to five-year-olds are sometimes anxious about separating from their parents at night or being alone in the dark.

Adoptive parents often wonder if adoption is part of the problem, and indeed, sometimes, it can be. Some children recall previous traumas, while others fear for their current safety or that they’ll be taken away from their families. And even very young children may worry about the well-being of their birth parents or previous caregivers.

Setting the Tone

A recently adopted preschooler may need extra support at bedtime. So try to be as physically and emotionally present as your child needs you to be, at least in the first few months. Establish a pleasant ritual that you follow each night before bed: a warm bath, a bedtime story, a hug and kiss, and a chance to talk about the day.

Lie down in or next to your child’s bed until she falls asleep. As your preschooler becomes more secure, you can give her more space. Some parents lie on a mattress on the floor next to their child’s bed, then move it further away each night, until it’s finally out the door.

If your child was adopted as a baby or toddler and has developed a strong bond with you, you can try a different approach. After your bedtime ritual, turn out the lights (except for a night-light), but refuse to engage in any further discussion. If he asks for one more story or another drink of water, simply say, “No more. It’s bedtime.”

You may need to be the “bed police” for a while, standing outside your child’s door. But don’t give in to more questions, reasons to get out of bed, or screaming tantrums. Within a few weeks, your child will learn that at the end of the ritual, he can (and should) go to sleep on his own — providing you remain firm.

Monsters, Be Gone!

Talking to your child about his fears can help him relax before bed. Enter into his fantasy world, and help him create ways to conquer the scary creatures. (When we doused a “big bad wolfie” in our house with an imaginary can of pink paint, he became a “friendly pink wolfie,” and we were all able to sleep again!)

Talk with him, too, about any worries he might have, and ask if he is thinking about his birth parents or past experiences. Most of all, reassure your child of his place in your family, remind him of all the things you do to keep him safe, and let him know it’s OK to talk with you about these and any other worrisome topics.

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