It wasn’t until I received training in the area of children’s temperament that it clicked for me just why I was having sleep challenges with my daughter. I swore that I paid my sleepless night dues with my first child, who was colicky and didn’t sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time (day OR night) for the first four months of her life. Then along came my second—and the real fun began.
Even in utero, I knew that she was something. She was very active–I never had to kick count. One day, when I was about 38 weeks pregnant, I was sitting on the couch watching the party she was having in my belly when she (seemingly calculated and strategic) very slowly pushed my belly button out and then back in. That was when I realized that this child wasn’t the easy-going, flexible type that many people prepared me to expect with a second child.
So how do you know if you have a “spirited” child? Some people may use the words “busy,” strong-willed,” “difficult,” ‘sensitive,’ “high energy,” intense,” “persistent,” or “alert.” Maybe even “fearless” to describe your child. These kids may hit developmental milestones early or may assess how to get what they want, each time you try to redirect their activity to something safe and/or preferred. My daughter crawled at four months, cruised by six and was walking before nine months. She never sat contently in my lap without looking to see what she could put in her mouth or yank on (with an amazing amount of strength).
When assessing new or potential clients, parents often say to me, “We think our baby has FOMO (fear of missing out) He doesn’t sleep well, but he never shows any signs of being tired. We just don’t think he needs that much sleep.”
In reality, the contrary is true. There is a link to higher intelligence in spirited kids and, while it’s likely that they hide their fatigue very, very well, they actually need more sleep. Spirited kids can be both very challenging to parent and have a very high potential in life. Sleep is a chief component in maximizing that potential.
Because of their tenacity, the same sleep rules don’t always apply to spirited temperaments. In other words, it’s neither your fault nor your child’s fault if she doesn’t drift happily off to sleep the way that your brother’s/neighbor’s/co-worker’s baby does. Your child’s temperament just provides them with a wider filter for which to experience the world. Because of this, parents need to be creative, solution-driven and–above all–consistent in their approach to helping their kids easily turn off the outside world and drift off to dreamland.
So to any parent of a spirited/alert/persistent little one: Although it may seem lonely, you are not alone! And predictable sleep patterns are a very realistic (and a necessary!) possibility for your littlest love. The effort you put into the task will help condition you for the other challenges you may face in rearing your unique and talented–or at the very least interesting and dynamic individual. This always helps me when my tiny ball of chaos throws a wrench into my day.
My daughter will now say “I tired, mommy” when she’s ready for some rest. After all, she’s got to recharge somehow from climbing in the bathroom sink only to smear toothpaste all over the mirror, while proudly declaring: “I cleaning!” or rushing into the shower fully clothed.
References are my own experience, the Gentle Sleep Coach training program, and the books “Good Night, Sleep Tight” by Kim West and “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka.