Question #24 – 6/12/2010 – What to do for Bedtime Problems!!!!

 My husband and I just became houseparents this past Sunday! All is going well, except for some issues with one 4 year old girl. She has been at this facility since she was 1. She is believed to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and there is some sexual abuse in her past. The biggest problem we are having with her is bedtime. She goes into a total temper tantrum every night and naptime. She will tense up and we have to carry her to bed, kicking and screaming. Then there’s the hour long pattern of her getting out of bed and us repeating the whole thing over again. She is actually a very sweet girl the rest of the time. Any advice on how to handle this? I really want her to feel comfortable at night. We have a good bedtime routine of baths, Bible, songs, etc. But it’s still not working 🙁

Mike’s Response

It all boils down to two things:  Consistency and Time.  Let me answer your question with a story.

Several years ago we had a young lady that came to live with us.  She had just had her first birthday and was completely hand spoiled.  She never had a bed time and was just allowed to go to sleep when she chose.  Our fist night with her was horrible and after about two hours of screaming, my wife got her out of bed and spent the next two hours rocking her to sleep.  The next night was a repeat of the first. 

I convinced my wife that we needed to let her stay in bed until she finally went to sleep and get her in a routine of having a bedtime.  She wasn’t very good at listening to her cry and wasn’t looking forward to it at all.  Fortunately for us we were on relief when she arrived and came to stay with us in the relief apartment.  We had four days until we had to go back to the cottage so I had four days to work through this.  (Side note it didn’t happen in four days, but)  The next evening I sent my wife and birth children to the movie and stayed home with our young lady to put her to bed.

Before my wife left she gave her a bath, and got her ready for bed.  I then spent some time rocking and snuggling with her.  Then we went back to the room where her bed was set up.  I spent a few more minutes holding her and then laid her in bed.  She immediately started crying and throwing a fit.  It continued for over four hours.  I would come back and check on her and find her standing up in her crib screaming.  I would then lay her back down, say good night and walk back out of the room.  I tried not to go into the room too often, but if she saw me checking on her I didn’t want her to think I was going to get her up.  She finally went to sleep, but it turned out that the movie wasn’t near long enough, my wife still had to listen to her scream for an hour or so.

For the next few nights it was almost a repeat of the previous night.  When we went back to the cottage it would still go on for over two hours every night.  After a couple of weeks we had it down to about an hour and after about a month it was down to ten or fifteen minutes.  She was only with us for about 5 months, but even on the night before she left, we would go through our normal routine with bath, pajamas, snuggling and rocking, and finally our final snuggle in her room before I laid her down for bed.  In which case she would cry for two or three minutes and then go to sleep.

That whole time we, mostly me, remained patient and just remained consistent.  We did bed time the same every night and it eventually got easier.  Through the process that young lady stole my heart and I still find it hard to describe my love for her without chocking up, but getting her into a bedtime routine was extremely difficult and time consuming.

You just have to stay patient and consistent.

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