Mother reading to child in bed

(Photo 113912734 © Evgenyatamanenko | Dreamstime.com)

PULLMAN, Wash. — Good news for all the sleep-deprived parents. Researchers have found the best way to put your child to bed. Passive methods like cuddling and reading will not only help them fall asleep but also help with their mood as they grow up.

Researchers behind the Washington State University study also determined which bedtime methods could do more harm than good. The study shows that walking, car rides, and other active tactics to make kids fall asleep were associated with worsening attitudes.

“Parental sleeping techniques are correlated with children’s sleep quality, and the importance of cultural context in child development has been long recognized,” says Christie Pham, a researcher at Washington State University and corresponding study author, in a media release.

Bedtime Impacts Child Temperament

Child temperament is how they handle their emotions and behaviors in reaction to the world around them. A child’s temperament can affect their mental and physical well-being, with research linking bad temperaments to future disorders.

Temperament falls under three categories. The first is surgency. This is associated with positive moods such as smiling, laughter, and enthusiasm. People with high surgency are also more approachable and eager for activity.

The second factor is negative emotionality. This includes feeling distressed and reacting to situation with fear, anger, sadness, and discomfort.

The last factor is called effortful control. Children with high effortful control have the ability to think, remember information, and solve problems that require their focus.

Mother helping child study and do homework
Child temperament is how they handle their emotions and behaviors in reaction to the world around them. (Photo by Unsplash+ in collaboration with Getty Images)

Pham and her team studied how the techniques parents use to get their child to sleep affected child temperament. The international study recruited people across 14 countries who filled out questionnaires asking about their toddler’s behavior and daily activities. The questions also asked parents about their preferred sleep-supporting techniques.

“Utilizing linear multilevel regression models and group-mean centering procedures, we assessed the role of between- and within-cultural variance in sleep-supporting practices in relation to temperament,” explains Pham.

Reading To Children Before Bed Carries Long-Lasting Benefits

Across cultures, passive strategies for lulling a child to sleep improved children’s temperament. Reading or singing to a child at night was associated with higher sociability among toddlers. Additionally, these toddlers showed lower negative emotional emotionality, meaning they were less distressed and reactive.

Toddlers who fell asleep from active strategies such as walking and playing had high negative emotionality. These children were more likely to have fussy or difficult temperaments.

So, which countries are less likely to have fussy babies? The U.S., Finland, and the Netherlands used the most passive sleep-supporting techniques. South Korea, Turkey, and China were at the bottom of the list. When it came to who often used the most active techniques, Romania, Spain, and Chile came out on top.

“Our results demonstrate the importance of sleep promotion and suggest that parental sleep practices could be potential targets for interventions to mitigate risk posed by challenging temperament profiles across cultures,” concludes Pham.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

About Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master's of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor's of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women's health.

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1 Comment

  1. BP says:

    I bet the car rides are mostly for the parent. 😉