Bedtime can be a truly tragic time for foster kids. When our children first moved in sometimes it took three hours to get them to fall sleep. They were older and had been through a lot. Some strategies we employed then were eventively effective and included the following:
1. No television after 5pm in the afternoon.
2. A regular bedtime routine, which includes reading aloud every night.
3. Rocking in the rock chair and singing songs.
4. Praying together for safety through the night and reading a psalm.
5. Sleeping on an air mattress outside the bedroom doors.
Although these techniques worked for our older children, I have often wonderred what a future parent would do about a younger child who was able to crawl out of his crib, endangering himself. Last weekend I had the distinct privilege of spending the day with my cousin Kelly. She is the mother of 6 children and her youngest is a foster son about to be adopted.
While I was there I kept hearing this two year old boy, which vocabulary is quite advanced, talk about "Teddy Bear Camp". Kelly looked over his head at me with a twinkle in her eye and admitted that everyone should know about Teddy Bear Camp. Confused, I asked her about it and she was more than happy to reveal to me the secrets of her fabulous idea.
Little Nathan is barely two years old and has been with Kelly and her family for the last 18 months or so. Bedtime has been an inexperienced experience for some time but more recently, little Nathan has been able to climb out of his crib in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Nothing Kelly tried was working to keep him safe and she was exhausted from trying to keep him contained (and safe).
One night in a fit of desperation she prayed that God would give her some kind of idea that would work to keep Nathan in and safe, thereby allowing her to get some much needed sleep. Suddenly, an idea popped into her mind. She jumped up and ran out to her van. Target was only 15 minutes away and she had to make it there before it closed. Based on the sketchy details she gave me I imagine her trip to Target looked something like a mad woman pursuing her last drink of water.
She zoomed into the parking lot and ran into the store at 14 minutes' til nine. "Where is your camping section?" she asked a startled employee. Pointed in the right direction she frantically appraised the camping gear until her eyes landed on the item she was looking for. (Insert hallelujah chorus …) Grabbing what she needed she raced to the front of the store, a triumphant grin on her tired face.
So what did she buy? Drumroll please … A two man tent. Her and Larry set it up in Nathan's bedroom, placing his crib mattress and all his teddy bears inside, cozy as can be. They dubbed it "Teddy Bear Camp" and played it up big to Nathan, who was excited about sleeping inside the comfortable little tent. The first few nights older siblings slept in there with him so he would not be afraid and he was hooked.
As I sat watching him play last weekend, he abruptly stood up, took my hand and asked me if I wanted to see his "Teddy Bear Camp". I gladly followed him to his room and we sat inside the tent together looking at his stuffed animals.
Here are a few details that make this set-up work–
1. Use a clip to clip closed the zipper from the outside so the child can not open the zipper from the inside.
2. Buy a tent that has lots of windows so the child can look out.
3. Be consistent about getting your child out of "Teddy Bear Camp" so they trust you will not leave them in there forever.
4. Only use "Teddy Bear Camp" for naps and bedtime and make it special by talking it up.
Nathan loves his camp and now bedtime is not a fight. He asks to go to bed because he feels safe in his "Teddy Bear Camp". It is a type of containment that is non-violent and works well for youngger kids who like to be in small places anyway. Brilliant. Thanks Kelly!