We have been parents off and on since January to our foster kids. We don't have children of our own. We have helped to care for friends and family members kids before but it's different when the children are your responsibility. One of our first placements was a 14 yr old and 2 yr old siblings. It was with these children that we began learning how to be parents, especially parents to children who have already had parents and rules and routines. I think parenting biological children would be a little different but I think the theory is still the same.
One of the hardest times of day for our foster kids seems to be bedtime. In our experience it seems that most of these kids are used to co-sleeping with their mom's and siblings as well as not having a bedtime or any sort of routine. We have learned that you have to establish the routine basically from day one. However we have learned how to "choose our battles" when it comes to sleeping arrangements. The rules of foster care in Texas are that children over the age of 5 can't share a bedroom with a child of the opposite sex and that all children are required to have their own beds. This doesn't mean that if they crawl into each other's beds in the middle of the night that you have to separate them. We actually choose to let the kids sleep with each other if they wish the first few nights they are here. However, they are never allowed to sleep in our bed, even from day 1. Starting day 1, sometimes day 2, because our children have all come to our house pretty late at night, we begin a bedtime routine. We choose a bedtime for them based on their age and developmental needs. For example, right now we have D who is 7 and A who is 2. They are in bed and asleep no later than 8:15 because D has to be up by 6:30 for school and we make sure we wake up A by 8am. A takes a nap around noon everyday. About a week into things, or sooner if problems arise, we separate the kids into their own beds. This allows us to put the little one to bed earlier if needed or let the older one stay up later on the weekends to watch a movie with just Jonathan and I. It also allows us to put them in different rooms so that when one wakes up the other doesn't. It is always hard the first few nights because they aren't used to sleeping alone, but within a few days it is no longer an issue, and actually everyone ends up sleeping better. I'm not a fan of co-sleeping ever. I think children need to sleep alone, learn to self-soothe, and have good bedtime routines to have good quality sleep and function the best they can the next day.
Letting a foster child "cry it out" is different than letting a bio child do so. Foster children often come from environments where they aren't sure if they are loved and they are in a new environment and often afraid of being abandoned. This is evident by the crying when someone leaves the house for work or walks in the other room, even if it is not an appropriate developmental age for the child.
Our bedtime routine typically consists of bath time, brush teeth, read books, say prayers, sometimes sing songs, and then sleep. If the child is a small child we will read books sitting in a rocking chair with them in our lap. Sometimes they have to be rocked to calm down, but we don't rock until they are asleep. We put them in their bed while still awake so they can learn to fall asleep on their own. We have had to sit next to their beds until they fall asleep and slowly start staying less and less time, which seemed to work well. Every child is different but every child needs structure. They thrive with knowing what is expected and what's coming next.
Our new kids are doing great. The first court date was today but it has now been postponed for another week. So court is now next wednesday.