This is Part 1 of my Baby Temperament and Sleep Series. This series is about your baby’s temperament and how it might affect his sleep and/or how you solve sleep problems.
Across this website, I mention temperament a lot. I also write about how temperament DOES affect what sleep training method you might choose to help your child sleep better. His temperament and personality will drive whether a no-cry method will take 1 hour or 3 months. Temperament will also drive whether he will cry for 5 minutes or 2 hours. It may also affect how difficult it is to wean him from breastfeeding, wean him from the bottle to a cup, how many errands you can run on a Saturday, how many tantrums he has as a toddler, and many other things parents face on a daily basis.
Just a reminder, I am not a doctor. This is based on my experience, as well as my reading/research about temperament. I put it all together to share how it affects your baby’s sleep. I’ll also share what methods may or may not work well when it comes to sleep training for specific temperaments. Remember sleep training is NOT cry-it-out! Let’s get started!
What Is Temperament?
I get my definition of temperament from the book, Raising Your Spirited Child. The author uses the terms coined by Drs. Stella Chase and Alexander Thomas, “because of their positive, parent-friendly approach.” Even if your child is not spirited, the temperament traits will apply to all babies. At the end of this series, I will give you a quiz to find out whether your child is “spirited” or not and what his or her temperament is.
Temperament is how your child naturally reacts to situations and stimuli, her mood, her ability to calm herself and how active she is. It is said that researchers have found that temperament is biological, meaning your child comes out of the womb this way. This means that from day 1, the way a YOUR baby reacts to being wet, hungry, tired, etc. may not be like your friend’s baby. Yours might be low-key and not get very upset. Or, your baby may scream loudly. You are not making it up that your baby might not be “laid back”. You might wonder what you did or didn’t do to cause this.
I remember one parent saying her husband thought her postpartum depression after the birth of their son caused their baby to not sleep well. What a burden to bear! Let me assure you, I did not have postpartum depression, was not depressed during pregnancy, or anything close to that and my son had a lot of sleep problems! You have no control over your baby’s temperament. You can only “blame” your genetics and they are still figuring out how it is all intertwined.
Why Does Temperament Matter?
Something that’s important for you to know is that you can get to know your child’s temperament. You’ll be able to predict how he will react to certain things and you can set him up for success. If you know your child has trouble with transitions, for example, you will be able to help him with those. (I will get more into that throughout the series.) The best part of this is that you can reduce some of the stress once you KNOW your child’s temperament. You won’t constantly be trying to figure out why he is reacting a certain way. Most of all, you should know that just because he is born this way does not mean that what you do does not matter.
You will be able to emphasize his strengths. You’ll help him understand his own temperament. And you’ll help him learn how to handle his own reactions as he grows up. Raising Your Spirited Child states… “By adapting your parenting techniques to fit his temperament and his style, and teaching him the skills he needs, you help him to live cooperatively with others and to be all that he can be.” To attempt to make him ignore his temperamental traits is not only very difficult, but it also teaches him not to be himself.
In the next 10 parts of the series, I will review each of the 9 traits of temperament: Intensity, Persistence, Sensitivity, Perceptiveness, Adaptability, Regularity, Energy, First Reaction, and Mood. I’ll discuss baby sleep all along the way, of course. In the final part, take an assessment quiz to help figure out your family’s temperament.