Wednesday, April 23, 2014


One of our children once said to me "Why do you make us go to bed when we're wide awake then make us get up when all we want to do is sleep?"

My answer, something along the lines of  "You have to be right for school" was true, but rubbish, really.

The big truth is we probably used to go to sleep when it got dark and got up when the sun rose, for millions of years. Then along comes electric light and industrial life. 

I have never heard of any modern parent who hasn't had struggles at bedtime. Come to think of it, I've never met any modern parent who is getting a good night's sleep. So it's a big problem.

There's probably no solution, not while we're living modern industrialised lives. I say this because some friends of ours have a daughter who is travelling the world, lucky thing.

She's stopped off for 12 weeks in India to do some teaching in a village, she gets bed and board from a charity which is helping her journey. When I say "bed and board" I mean she shares a hut with a family. A single room hut, where the family eat, play and sleep, all in the same room, together. Everyone goes to bed together, at the same time, mum, dad, all the children, and her. Nobody fights it, nobody complains, everybody is asleep in minutes. She says the gentle swell and fall of breathing of a roomful of peacefully sleeping people is the most sleep-inducing thing imaginable.

We put our babies in separate rooms from the day they come home. We put them upstairs to bed from the earliest age, then go downstairs to watch TV.  And we wonder why they don't like it when it's obvious why they don't like it, it's not natural.

I've never met a foster carer who hasn't had trials at bedtime. We tell each other the problem stems from the fact that looked after children come from "chaotic" backgrounds. "Chaotic" is a technical term by the way. Before I got into fostering a chaotic person was just someone who was always running a bit late and looked like she'd smeared herself with glue and run around in the wardrobe to get dressed. In fostering a "chaotic" home is one where the lack of structure, lack of normality, reaches dangerous proportions.

A child from a chaotic home often has no fixed bedtime. One night they go to bed when they want, next they're locked in their room for 24 hours. For them, being sent to bed at a set time is huge, and they'll never prefer it to X Box.

You can use logic, you can beg, you can bribe. You can try being strong and firm (ha ha with that one). You can be patient, loving and kind (draining, but it's the next best thing to what we've discovered).

Here's what I suggest, take it or leave it, up to you.

Buy them a big bed, one that's as big as you can get in their bedroom, it makes them feel grown up and safe. I checked this out with Blue Sky before we went ahead, their view was whatever works, it's your home.

And go to bed yourselves at the same time as them. Nine o'clock is perfect. With an older foster child, ten o'clock, maybe.

Turn out all the lights downstairs, come up and get into bed yourselves, leave your bedroom door ajar, like they often want their door ajar. 

The key is to avoid the "them and us" of a massive struggle to get them upstairs, pyjamas on, teeth cleaned, actually in the bed, lights out or dimmed and bedroom door ajar the exact agreed amount and then dance triumphantly downstairs for what is obviously a bit of "quality time". Turn yourselves in.

You don't have to go to sleep. God has given us laptops, it's His way of hinting that there's more to life than the News At Ten.

Does this cure the problem, no but it makes it a lot better.

The only downside is that I find changing double duvets about three times more of a pfaff than changing single ones, on your own at least. I asked one younger child why they were so fond of a bigger bed, he replied (get this) "Because there's no danger that if my feet or arms hang over the side when I'm asleep the monsters under the bed will be able to bite them off".

An added bonus is we often are asleep earlier than usual. And awake earlier than usual, which again, is what laptops are for.


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