How the lack of sleep effects a baby’s brain and personality
This the longest and last blog in the sleep series informing you about matters on your and your infants night rest.
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A leading researcher on temperament in infants and young children once said in despair, “When I raised my first child, I believed behavioral theories claiming that what I do as a parent molds my child’s character. With my second child, I was already a geneticist and believed that a child is born with characteristics that are passed on through heredity and that environmental influence is minimal. I barely knew my third child at all…”
This analysis was, of course, exaggerated, but it demonstrates the ongoing quest of parents and scientists to answer this question: what determines the personality and personal characteristics of the child?
The question of heredity (“She got her shyness from her dad’s family”) versus environment (“If his mother were more strict with him, he would be calmer”) underlies parents’ attempts to understand the range of influence they have in molding their child.
Up-to-date research points to a complex picture: the influence of heredity and environment on the child. Much evidence suggests that the baby is born with genetic baggage that not only determines how he looks, the color of his eyes, and his chances of suffering from various diseases but also significantly influences the character traits that he or she will develop.
Physical activity level, shyness or sociability, openness to new situations, and anxiety are among the traits that are related to the genetic predisposition with which babies enter the world. Many parents discover that their child has traits that are undesirable to them—especially if they remind them of qualities they dislike about their parents, their spouses, or themselves.
Parents frequently try to fight these traits, but they often discover that it is a losing battle.
It seems that the most important variable that influences the quality of the relationship between parents and children is the “goodness of fit” between the child’s traits and the parents’ expectations.
A very active child, for example, may be adored by a father who appreciates and identifies with this trait but merely tolerated by a father who expects a calmer child.
On the other hand, a quiet, calm child may be considered depressive or lifeless by the first father, while the second father sees her as perfect.
Incompatibility between parental expectations and the child’s traits may lead to frustration and stress in the relationship, particularly if the parents try to “correct” the child to conform to their expectations.
The Relationship Between Temperament And Sleep
Every parent is familiar with the situation in which her child demonstrates by his behavior that he “is up past his bedtime.”
When scientists asked parents to describe this situation, some said that the child calms down, seems sleepy, falls asleep on his own, or asks directly or indirectly to go to bed. Other parents said that their child in this situation “climbs the walls,” “is a crybaby,” “is nervous and unhappy with everything,” “doesn’t respond to what he’s told,” or “simply does annoying things.”
Clearly, young children react to tiredness in significantly different ways.
A state of fatigue is not necessarily expressed by decreased activity and obvious sleepiness.
Sometimes the symptoms can be just the opposite.
Some of the typical “negative” behaviors of the tired child are compatible with general patterns that characterize behavior disorders.
Much evidence points to a strong correlation between sleep and the development of the child’s personality traits.
Studies have shown that a baby who suffers from sleep disorders (difficulty falling asleep, for example, or many awakenings during the night) tends to be “more difficult” in other behavioral domains.
In a study conducted in several sleep laboratories, scientists compared a group of nine- to twenty-four-month-old babies whose parents had come for a consultation about their children’s sleep problems with a control group of babies without sleep disorder – not surprisingly, what they found is significant differences in the traits that the mothers attributed to babies.
The mothers completed a temperament questionnaire, which is a sort of “personality” test for young children.
The mothers rated their degree of agreement with such sentences as “The child agrees to be dressed and undressed without protesting,” “The child responds strongly (screams, yells) when frustrated,” and “The child sits quietly when waiting to eat.”