Tips for managing foster children's bedtime routines


As we all know, a good night's sleep is important. Not only can it increase attention span, improve mental and physical health, but it can also boost learning capabilities for your foster child’s day ahead. If your foster child is having difficulty sleeping, there could be a number of reasons for this – but one of the most likely ones is if they have not had a consistent sleep routine in the past.

A bedtime routine – that consistent itinerary of habits you complete with your child before they sleep – allows your foster child to know what to expect, making them to feel more secure in their new home.

Our guide helps you to build a bedtime routine that works for you and your foster child, as well as offering advice for when your foster child finds trouble sleeping.

Building a Bedtime Routine

When it comes to establishing a bedtime routine for your foster child, there are a few initial steps that you should take:

1. Create a safe space

It’s important that your foster child feels safe in their own space. Your child’s bedroom should be clean and tidy – a good tip is to make sure the room is dark, with thick curtains or blackout blinds and reduce outside noise with double glazed windows. Allow them to choose whether to keep their door open or closed – as this can give them a sense of flexibility and control over their own environment, which they’re likely to not have experienced before. Adding comforting items such as a favourite blanket or stuffed toy can make the space feel like their own, and increase relaxation.

2. Choose a bedtime

Plan a bedtime that will allow your foster child to get as much sleep as is required at their stage of development. As a general rule, babies need 12-16 hours of sleep, toddlers need 11-14 hours, pre-school children need 10-13 hours, school children need 9-12 hours sleep and teenagers need 8-10 hours sleep.

3. Use the Four B’s

  • Bath: A warm (not hot) bath will help your child relax and get ready for sleep.
  • Brush: Remember dental hygiene.
  • Books: Read a favourite bedtime story or encourage quiet reading before bed.
  • Bed: Set a routine that your child can understand.

4. Stick with it

Stick with the bedtime routine and set a morning wake-up routine, too! Getting your foster child in the habit of waking up at the same time each morning can ease them into falling asleep at night.

Troubleshooting sleeping troubles in foster children

It’s important to consider what is happening in your child’s world to cause sleep problems. A new environment, underlying mental health challenges or reliving memories of their trauma can keep your child awake at night. This troubleshooting advice can help you be there for them when they can’t sleep.

If your child can’t relax before bed:

Due to learned behaviour, your child might feel they need to be on constant alert, and this hypervigilance could be preventing sleep.

Try to stop your child from using screens 1 hour before bedtime, and instead encourage more soothing activities such as a warm bath, listening to calm music, talking about their day or reading a story together. Keeping the lights dim encourages your child's body to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin. Repeating the same relaxing habits in the same order every night can help promote good sleep.

If your child is scared before bed:

Lots of children have a fear of the dark or monsters under their beds, but foster children might also have a fear of being alone, unsafe, or abandoned. Your child might not want to, or know how to, talk about what they are afraid of.

Reassure them that they are safe, and that you are there to care for them. Saying comforting words, such as “I am here if you need me” can help reaffirm to them that they are not alone. Some children might prefer a baby monitor in their room, so they know you are reachable if they have a nightmare. A nightlight can also help keep fears of the dark at bay.

If your child has anxiety or panic attacks before bed:

Panic attacks can be scary, but it’s important to stay calm whilst your foster child is experiencing a panic attack.

Explain to your foster child that they are having a panic attack, and matter-of-factly explain the symptoms they are experiencing. Soothe your foster child, explaining it will pass soon. Teaching your foster child breathing exercises can help. Give them plenty of space after the panic-attack has subsided to calm down. Help them to shift their focus onto something more enjoyable like a pet, photograph, or toy. Above all, reassure them that they are not alone. If they are experiencing persistent panic attacks, it may be that they require professional help.

If your child is hyperactive before bed:

Is your child running rings around you just when they should be winding down? It can feel like your child is misbehaving, but there are simple solutions to reduce how hyper your child is at bedtime.

First, cut sugary, e-number and caffeine filled foods and drinks before bedtime. Non-ADHD causes of hyperactivity also include stress, medical conditions, lack of exercise and lack of sleep. Doing lots of fun exercise throughout the day like riding a bike or playing in the playground, eating healthy, and following the bedtime routine can reduce hyperactivity. If you’re concerned, you can also talk to your paediatrician about your child’s symptoms.

Facing a defiant child at bedtime

Give it time. It may take a while before your foster child settles into their bedtime routine and can sleep through the night. Try setting small goals, such as encouraging the child to stay in their bed all night even if they are not sleeping the whole time, and create a reward system for when this happens so they know what is expected of them.

If you feel you need more support with managing a bedtime routine, you can speak with your GP. And, of course, the team here at Capstone Foster Care are on hand 24 hours a day – we offer full support and extensive fostering training prior to your placement, so you’ll feel thoroughly prepared for the placement before it begins. Get in touch with any queries you have regarding what to buy for foster care placements.

Thinking of fostering?

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An experienced fostering advisor from your local area will then be in touch.

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