First Night Checklist

First Night Checklist

Being the Director of Adoption and Foster Care Programs at Arms Wide Adoption Services always affects me differently. Sometimes it is awesome, but a lot of times it is really scary, extremely emotional, even heart wrenching, but we do it because our children DESERVE IT! I attended a conference recently, and one of the sessions really got me thinking about the first night a foster or adoptive child is in their new home… WE know they are safe, but THEY don’t know they are safe. It is our job to make sure foster and adoptive parents help them feel safe.

That first night, they need to know where to find the extra toilet paper if they run out. Do they want the bedroom door open or closed? Do they use a nightlight or will the hall or closet light be enough? What if they wake up and need something else, do they know where to find their foster or adoptive parent? Can you imagine the little guys that come in with only the clothes on their back? No stuffed animal to hug close?

A friend of mine posted this song and its meaning to her. When I listened to it, it brought my thoughts to our kids. The kids that are 4, 7, 10, 17 and are STILL scared, every night. There has to be more we can do for these guys. Can you imagine going bed at night and not feeling safe? No one should have to, so I decided to create a checklist for foster and adoptive parents to help make the transition and first night a little easier.

Room Preparation

Now, you probably already have a room set up for your little one, but don’t forget everything will be new for them. Anything you can do to include them in preparing their room will make it their own and hopefully an easier transition. Consider having multiple sets of sheets (if you are a foster home) and allow your new child to choose their own set of sheets. You can also ask them to help you make their bed so they feel like they’re taking part in making their room their own.

How do you prefer to sleep at night? Fan on, lights out, and shades pulled tight so it can be as dark as possible? This will not be the first choice for most children, so ask them how they prefer to sleep.

Here are some concerns that might come up on that first night:
  • Do they want a night light and can they pick one out?
  • What if they need to find you (or the bathroom) and it is too dark? Do they need the hall light on?
  • Would they sleep better with the door open, closed or cracked?
  • Where can they find you if they need something? Or, frankly, they just want to see you or need a hug!!!
  • Do they like to sleep with a fan on?
  • Do they have a special stuffed animal they like to sleep with? What if they want to sleep with a stuffed animal, but they didn’t get to bring theirs, do you have a selection they can choose from?
  • Do they have a favorite blanket? Do they prefer one or two pillows?
  • We all know children think of any excuse to keep you in their room at bedtime. The more prepared you are for these “excuses” the better!  If they always need a sip of water, consider asking them to prepare a cup of water before bed to leave on their night stand.  Are their lips always suddenly chapped at night?  What about keeping Chap Stick in the bedside table?
  • What do they like to sleep in? A t-shirt and shorts? A night gown? Footed pajamas?
  • Do they need to take medication at bedtime? Don’t forget your medication log!!
  • You may need to check for monsters! Keep your empathy close at hand! Scary things have happened to these kiddos and many of them happen at night!
  • What noises might they hear at night that you can prepare them for? The icemaker dropping ice, the air conditioner kicking on right outside of their bedroom window, the neighbor’s garage door when they get home late…
  • What should they expect in the morning? Will you wake them up for school? Will they need to stay in their room and read until you are awake? Can they come to your room to wake you up if they wake up first? Will they eat breakfast at home or school? Do they go to day care before or after school?

 Bedtime Rituals

Bedtime rituals help your child understand it is time to start winding down and preparing for bed. If nothing else, it is a structured routine that many foster and adoptive children crave. It might be hard to establish this routine on the very first night, but the sooner you implement it, the better. Remember, it is important to engage with your child and let them help create their ritual.

Here are some suggestions for what to include in a bedtime ritual:

  • Start your routine at the same time every night
  • Bath before bed
  • Brush teeth
  • Pick out school clothes for tomorrow
  • Read a book (if you have multiple children, do you read together or separately?)
  • Sing a song
  • Say prayers (if you have multiple children, do you pray together or separately?)

Every family and child are different, so it is important to figure out what works best for your children. I hope these tips will be helpful for those of you who are going through the foster care and adoption process. It is important to be prepared and be the calm in the storm for children in need.

About The Author

As the Director of Adoption and Foster Care Services, Arianne Riebel, LMSW, LCPAA, oversees Arms Wide Adoption Services’ team of adoption and foster care employees, making sure each step of the adoption and foster care journey goes smoothly. While earning her Bachelor’s in Social Work at Stephen F. Austin University, she first considered a career in adoption and gained experience working in the field during her college career. A few years after graduation, she completed her Master of Social Work at the University of Houston and gained a decade of experience in child welfare before becoming a part of the Arms Wide family. Through her role at Arms Wide, she wanted to be able to give each child and family one-on-one support and attention. Her favorite part about her job is seeing people become parents or add more children to their family, and knowing that kids have found their forever homes. Read more about Arianne here.