Post Adoption Sleep Problems
My 14-month old son struggles with sleep. We adopted him from Africa six months ago. Attachment is going beautifully but he doesn’t seem to be able to self-soothe when it comes to sleeping/napping. We are looking for a therapist to guide us through this in a way that is very sensitive to our strong, but NEW attachment. How do we find the right person to help us?
We parents often think we can find the solution on our own: sleep deprivation, however, can quickly empty our “bag of tricks.” Looking for professional guidance will likely help you create effective strategies more quickly. Good for you for taking this step.
I suggest that you first gather some data to gauge whether your pediatrician, a mental health provider, or self-help guides would be the best fit for your family right now. (Or perhaps you’ll engage them all: for example, an underlying medical issue may also impact the parent-child relationship. Having a team approach can be quite helpful.)
You’re clearly sensitive and responsive to a baby who’s changed caregivers, routines, and places. Although your son was only 8-months-old at the time of adoption, his early experience very much exists in his non-verbal memory, and influences how he manages his expectations. From his point-of-view, change is traumatic – no matter how much the quality of his overall life improved.
Sleep—either significant reluctance to go or to inability to stay asleep that results in sleep deprivation—are of concern once any child has passed his first birthday. For a child adopted after 6 months of age, sleep problems can be a response to the myriad of changes. Sleep is a fundamental separation and therefore mainstream strategies like letting him cry through the night will likely only cause your son further distress.
I suggest you and your spouse explore together:
- At what times is your son relaxed? (Look for body language like tranquil hands and comfortable postures.)
- When is he resistant or unable to being calm or relaxed?
- When he gets upset, what strategies does he use to calm down?
- Do certain objects (blanket) make separation easier for him?
- When you return what are your reunions like? Does he greet you and invite you to play, ignore you, or need 20 minutes of cuddling before he’ll play again?
- When does it work?
- Does he have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both?
- Do you and your husband agree on sleep strategies?
- How have your strategies to get your son to sleep changed over the last six months?
- What are your son’s experiences of change? (e.g. people, places, locations of crib)
- Has he started other new experiences? (e.g. childcare, playgroup)
- Is his body changing dramatically? (e.g. walking, growing, teeth)
Identifying the answers to these questions will help you decide where to start in your search for parenting guidance. You might also be interested in the 1/19/10 post, Crying It Out. I’d love to hear back about your next steps.