How you help a child sleep is related to their behavioral development, according to a new study

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An international team of researchers has examined parents’ methods of helping toddlers sleep in 14 cultures and found that these methods are linked to the development of a child’s temperament. The researchers suggested focusing on better sleep-related parenting strategies to support positive behavioral development across cultures.

The importance of good sleep in children’s development has been widely studied. Poor sleep quality and behavior are detrimental to neurobehavioral functioning, emotional response, and regulation, and may pose a risk for future mental illness.

“Parental sleep techniques are associated with children’s sleep quality, and the importance of cultural context in children’s development has long been recognized,” said corresponding author Christie Pham, of Washington State University. “We wanted to investigate whether cross-cultural differences in parental sleep support methods explain differences in toddler temperament.”

In a study published in Frontiers in psychology, Pham and her colleagues studied the effects of different parental sleep support methods on children’s temperament in 14 cultural societies. They hypothesized that passive methods to help a child fall asleep (eg cuddling, singing and reading), but non-active methods (eg walking, car rides and playing) would be positively related to the child’s temperament.

Children’s temperament

Children’s temperament is defined as how children manage their behavior and manage their emotions. A child’s different temperaments can affect a child’s mental and physical well-being and can create a risk of future disorders. Scientists define temperament based on three overarching factors:

  1. Surgency (SUR), which reflects positive affect such as smiling and laughing, approachability, activity and enthusiasm.
  2. Negative emotionality (NE), which captures a general distress tendency, including in situations that evoke fear, anger, sadness, and distress.
  3. Effortful control (EC), which includes attentional control skills and enjoyment of quiet activities.

Each of the factors contributes independently to the prediction of behavioral, achievement, and interpersonal outcomes, such as conduct problems, social competence, and academic achievement.

An international team of researchers asked 841 caregivers in 14 cultures (Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Finland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Spain, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States) to fill out a questionnaire about childhood behaviors. and a daily activities questionnaire. They were asked to report on the temperament of their toddlers (between 17 and 40 months, 52% male) and their sleep-supportive parenting practices.

“Using linear multilevel regression models and group averaging methods, we assessed the role of between- and within-cultural variation in sleep support practices in relation to temperament,” explained Pham.

Active vs. passive sleep support

They found that differences in sleep support practices between cultures and within the same culture were associated with differences in temperament characteristics. Differences were greater across cultures, meaning that sleep practices independently contribute to differences in children’s temperament across cultures.

“Our study shows that a parent’s sleep support practices are significantly associated with their child’s temperament characteristics across cultures, which may influence their child’s development,” Pham said. “For example, countries that relied more on passive strategies had toddlers with higher social competence scores (higher SUR).”

On the other hand, troubled or difficult mood (higher NE) was significantly correlated with active sleep techniques.

Overall, indirect sleep support strategies were associated with lower NE and higher SUR at the foster-level and higher EC at the individual level. Active sleep support practices were associated with higher NE at the individual level only.

Ranking the extent to which a sample of cultures agreed to use passive techniques, the results show that the United States, Finland, and the Netherlands are at the top of the list, and South Korea, Turkey, and China are at the bottom of this distribution. Conversely, ranking for active technology, the researchers find that Romania, Spain and Chile top the list, while Turkey, Italy and Belgium are at the bottom of the distribution.

“Our findings demonstrate the importance of promoting sleep and suggest that parental sleep habits may be potential targets for interventions to reduce the risk of challenging temperament profiles across cultures,” concluded Pham.

More information:
Christie Pham et al., Relationships between parental bedtime behaviors and temperament in 14 cultures, Frontiers in psychology (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1004082. … yg.2022.1004082/full

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