The Science of Parenting

All About Sleep | S. 3 Ep. 6

September 10, 2020 Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Season 3 Episode 6
The Science of Parenting
All About Sleep | S. 3 Ep. 6
Show Notes Transcript

Our experts dish on how temperament affects the way our kids catch their ZZZs.

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Mackenzie Johnson:

Hey, welcome to The Science of Parenting podcast, where we connect you with research based information that fits your family. We'll talk about the realities of being a parent and how research can help guide our parenting decisions. I'm Mackenzie Johnson, parent of two littles with their own quirks. And I'm a parenting educator.

Lori Hayungs:

I'm Lori Hayungs, parent of three in three different life stages, launched, college and high school. And I'm also a parenting educator. And today we are going to continue our conversations around temperament, but we have something special for you today. We have taken the liberty, I suppose you could say this, and brought in a special guest who is going to share with us particularly on one topic and that topic is sleep.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh yes. We knew we could not talk about temperament without talking about the special impact that it has on sleep. And our guest, you know, has done research and works professionally and has personal experience on the way that temperament impacts sleep. And we, we had such a good conversation with her. She is so great.

Lori Hayungs:

Oh, well, I'm excited to share, but first let's take a minute to remind ourselves what temperament is and what temperament isn't. So remember temperament is our predisposition to how we react. It goes way back to the beginning and it's always been there since the beginning of our life. So the question you might have is, well, how is temperament different from personality? Here's the deal - temperament is that foundation that we build everything else on. So we start with temperament, we build on our age development. We build on top of that our life experiences, how our family and our environment respond to our temperament and all those things together and becoming part of our personality. And it's always been there is essentially the bottom line. Temperament has always been there.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. And there's been a lot of great research on temperament over the last 30 plus years. You know, we talk a lot about the nine traits that Thomas and Chess originally did. There's also lots of research from James Cameron and his colleagues at Kaiser Permanente, and really they followed thousands of kids' temperament profiles in their research. And what we find is that everybody has the same nine traits. It's just a matter of figuring out if we got a little of it or got a lot. And so as we think about this idea of sleep and temperament, the amount we got of each trait can play an impact on whether we're a light sleeper or heavy sleeper, whether that baby was easy to get to sleep or hard to get to sleep and all of those things. So we know that temperament and the research behind it helps us better understand this particular sleep behavior. So as you likely remember, we are compiling our list of temperament resources on our website , thescienceofparenting.org. So you can go there, check out termperament profiles, check out resources from all the episodes that we've covered so far. And of course, there will be more to come throughout the season.

Lori Hayungs:

So our special guest today is Macall Gordon. Macall has been researching and writing about sleep training, research and advice for over 20 years. She is a senior lecturer in the counseling psychology department of Antioch University in Seattle, where she received her graduate degree. And she started on this journey after her own experience with two amazing, sensitive, intense young children who didn't sleep ever.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes, yes. And so, yes, I did get to sit down and have a conversation with Macall talking all about the research behind temperament and sleep and what traits affect it and the strategies she has seen over time in her professional and personal experience on this topic. And she's done studies with parents on it and just, she was, she was such a joy to talk to. She was so excited to share her information with parents. So it was great.

Lori Hayungs:

Awesome. Well, let's see what Macall has to say.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Well, hey everybody, we are so excited to be here today on The Science of Parenting podcast. We have our first guest here, Macall Gordon, and she's here to talk with us about temperament and sleep, which is like, Oh, there is so much goodness to share today. I'm so excited for people to hear it . So Macall, as you know, we like to share things on The Science of Parenting from a lens of research and reality. And you have quite a bit of your own reality on this particular topic. Do you want to tell us about that?

Macall Gordon:

Sure. Yeah. I mean, I came to this, my kids are young adults now, so I've kind of got the long view of things. And I came to this because , my first child just came out of the gate with laser focused eyes and I remember going, that's not normal, is it? I didn't know and she continued to be like that. I mean, she had colic , she was just so alert. So engaged. I mean, I remember her like at two months and I think she was getting bored. I'd walk her around the apartment to look at stuff. And when we get , come back to the beginning, I'd be like, again, this isn't normal. Like aren't they just supposed to kind of like sitting there sleepy , never , never, never . And that really never stopped. And so , of course working on sleep was impossible. I knew that, well, at that time there was crying it out or gut it out and I was like, I'm not going to do crying it out cause I don't think I can do it because guess what? I think I'm also sensitive and intense. Right? I don't think I can do it. And I knew that if I tried it, she would cry for three solid hours and never give up ever, ever, ever. So I was like, well, I guess I'm just stuck. I'm literally just stuck. And it's also something I tell parents that I don't recommend because I know there were many days where I was like , I don't think I'm, is this worth it? Like, I'm not a good mom today. I am not, I'm not a good human being today. Because the other thing is I had a second child 20 months later. And so I had non sleeping kids. Right? And I can't recommend just waiting it out either. So that was probably a good lesson. So I , you know, over the years was really understanding how temperament affected sleep. Technically, although I totally blame myself. I was like, oh, we're just not doing it right. I'm just whatever. So I've really kind of been there, done that whole , which is helpful.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Driving a lot of your passion, you know, and the research that you've done and on this topic and wanting to share it with parents. You're like, I have been in this place where sleep is this battle that feels like I'm losing. And I have been maybe not to the same extreme that you've shared but I did, I struggled with it. And just this idea of, I'm doing all this wrong , like the sleep concept, like I can't do this. Why isn't my baby sleeping? Cause I'm bad at this.

Macall Gordon:

Or you try what the books say and the books say, well you do this and then this will happen and you do that thing and that other thing does not happen. And then maybe you try it again and it doesn't happen. And then you go, ah , I must suck as a parent. I don't know. I don't know what the deal is. You know, and also, the other piece of having lived this, I think, is that I really know how hard parents try. They aren't like sitting back and doing nothing. They are trying everything in the book and nothing works. When they go to their pediatrician and they say, my kid isn't sleeping. And the pediatrician just says, well, you've just got to let them cry. They probably resorted to that. They've probably done that and it didn't work. So then they're really alone and, you know, frustrated.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Or even being told, you know , I think, you know, we talk about that every parent gets to decide about what's best for their own reality. If you knowing as a parent that are highly sensitive and highly intense and you have low persistence, right . Things are like the idea of, you know, the most extreme end of crying it out being lay them down, shut that door. Don't open it till morning. Like even some of those milder versions of cry it out don't feel like they fit well for you and your parenting.

Macall Gordon:

Right . And we know the other piece is that there's a little bit of , you know, there's some people who don't have another room for the baby or they have neighbors upstairs or they're living with your in-laws and so there are situations where it just doesn't work. It's just not doable. And yeah, we can talk all day about how really parents need choices. And it really is true for people who have fussy babies or unsettled babies. They really need another option.

Mackenzie Johnson:

We'll get there . We'll get there. Okay. So thinking about, you know, you said some babies are fussier or , you know, season three of Science of Parenting, we're talking all about temperament. And so can we talk a little about what traits do you see that maybe have the biggest, you know , have big impact on sleep?

Macall Gordon:

Well, which of them don't is the main question. So first we should talk about the idea that every child, every human being has temperament, right? We all do, and there's all these different aspects. Some people will say there's a few more, some, a few less, you know, they call them different things, whatever. But generally when I see where temperament impacts sleep is where kids have are just more on some or, well, usually not all but many. There are some kids who are more on just about every aspect. They're just more.

Mackenzie Johnson:

So we talked about the little or a lot and they got alot.

Macall Gordon:

Right. So when we talk about temperament, the way it impacts sleep, let's just think about what it takes to go to sleep . Right. We , and those of us who are light sleepers, or , I mean, what does that even mean? Right? Oh, I'm a light sleeper. What does that mean? Really? What we usually mean is it doesn't take much to wake me up. It's hard for me to go to sleep. It's hard for me to go back to sleep. I need a certain set of conditions in order to go to sleep. I need white noise on it. Can't be too hot. It can't be too cold. I have to wear certain things because other things are bunchy and wrinkly or annoying or whatever. I have to have all the hair off my neck and face. Cause it drives me crazy. And my pillow case has to be super smooth and you know, wrinkles, you know, all of that, that's all sensitivity. And then you need to be able to filter stuff out so that you can go to sleep. Well, all that speaks to a threshold, right? The barrier between unconscious and conscious and if you're alert , sensitive, intense, whatever, that threshold is lower than mellower people. And it's thinner than mellower people. I mean, we know those babies. We all have heard, I've heard tell I didn't have one, but we've all heard tell of those babies that will just sleep. They'll just conk out anywhere, any place, middle of a rock concert. Well, maybe shouldn't be a rock concert , but you know what I mean? Like anywhere they'll just conk out. They're kind of like, yeah, whatever. I'm good. So they, they have a really great barrier. Yeah. They have a really big barrier to the world and they can just go to sleep. So kids who have this lower sensory threshold , what tends to go with that is also like a desire to interact, perceptiveness. They notice things. They also are usually socially really engaged. Like they really crave interaction. So all of that stuff works together to make sleep very difficult. Even at tiny, tiny young ages. I mentioned my daughter being so alert and like bored at two months. I mean, she was like that. She just didn't. And I hear this from tons of parents. It's like the kid , even these little tiny babies don't want to give up the world in order to go to sleep. So it takes so much more work to get them willing and able to go to sleep. Like I've had people with little babies who have to go into a dark room, like pitch black, because it is not dark dark the baby is just like looking at them the whole time. I've had other parents where I say, look, I know this is going to sound bonkers, but you have to take down all the decorations on the walls in the nursery because it's like, you know , visual catnip for these kids. They don't want to disengage. And part of that, then we're talking about a little bit about persistence as well, but they persist. They persist to stay awake a hundred percent. Later we'll talk about awake windows and why that's such a challenge for these kids. We'll talk about that as kind of a magic thing and also a way that parents it's a trap kind of because these kids will never, they'll never admit to being tired ever, ever , ever.

Mackenzie Johnson:

They will persist. I remember referring to my daughter. I remember referring to her when she was little, little as like a FOMO baby, like a fear of missing out. We'd be at family gatherings. And it was like, she won't sleep because you have to be with them, everybody. I've got to see. But I am absolutely that way. When we're with our families, like when we could all be together, you know, at holiday gatherings before you know, this whole pandemic, my husband would always go take the kids to like go for nap because I'm like, I can't, what if something funny is said, and I missed it .

Macall Gordon:

No , I know. Well, there's that, yeah. FOMO baby . I mean we could talk about a checklist of things that these parents will say. The FOMO is one of them and the other one, the other term is Energizer bunny. Oh yeah . Keeps going. Just keeps going. FOMO baby. I can't even tell you how many parents use that and so it must be true . Totally true. Yeah. They're , they're worried. They're going to miss something so they don't want to go to sleep.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Okay. So you started to say , was it persistence and activity.

Macall Gordon:

Persistence is really important because with these kids, any change you make, they will notice. And they will try every trick in the book to not have to make that change. These kids that this speaks to . So you can already tell that some of these traits and the repercussions of them kind of overlap. Right? So now persistence overlaps with adaptability question, like how easily do they shift gears? How easily will they accept a disruption to their routine? So these more kids tend to really hate change. I always say it's like trying to turn a semi truck, okay? Yeah. Like that. So let's pretend you have a sleepless infant and you want to say, okay. And this is where these intense kids push parents. Okay. I usually bounce you on the ball for an hour to get you to sleep. I don't want to bounce on the ball for an hour anymore. So we're going to do something a little tiny differently, you know, little, little differently. These kids will put up a fight to any change. They'll put up generally a huge fight and it will take longer to actually change that behavior than with mellower kids. Mellower kids may throw up a f lare. They'll go, a h, I don't get this. I don't like it. I don't like it. O kay. Whatever, right. More kids do not. And it takes more consistency for longer periods to get them to change their behavior. But once you make that turn, they also recognize patterns pretty efficiently. These kids tend to really key into patterns of behavior and then they'll fall into place a little bit more, even more solidly. But boy, that period of trying to get them to turn a corner is super hard. So you have persistence and intensity and, you know, adaptability problems tying together. Yes. Just one small. And this is, I'm talking about one small change, parents are hit with the trifecta of behavior and then parents are like, Oh, okay. Gosh. Never mind. That was horrible. I 'm not doing that again. Right. So it's not surprising that parents of these intense kids are really perplexed about sleep because they feel like they've tried everything and they probably have, but they're met with often so much resistance and so much intensity and p ushback and usually without much improvement that what happens with parents i s they bail too early.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes . Yes . Well the reaction, yeah . From an intense baby being so strong , you know, and so she's like, Hey , something, this isn't right? Absolutely.

Macall Gordon:

Absolutely. And I mean, I was probably like that too, without somebody to say, look, this is normal. This is totally normal. If you just stick with it for like two more nights, it won't be this bad. You know? So we can talk about what that really means. But I really think that that's the cycle that happens as a parent tries something, they get a ton like more, like way more pushback than they thought, they bail on it. Then they go try something else which tends to with these kids , when they're thrown off, when they don't know what the boundaries are, what the predictable patterns are going to be , it throws them even more. And then that second attempt at something new is worse than the first one. So parents goes , well , that's not working either. So now I'm going to try this third thing. And by that time, this child is completely topsy turvy. The parents are topsy turvy. Yeah .

Mackenzie Johnson:

And everybody just wants to sleep.

Macall Gordon:

I know . And that's the other piece that, you know, my heart, I mean I lived it, so I really know the inside, but s a sleep coach, it's so hard to tell parents when they finally get to me that it's going to get worse before it gets better because these parents are often so worn out, so shell shocked and I really don't use that word lightly. It's almost like they have PTSD around crying. Like they just, you can just feel them flinch. They're so exhausted emotionally and mentally and physically that to say, it's going to get worse. It's like they can't do worse.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes.

Macall Gordon:

It's really rough. And we can talk later about how parents can, you can try to break things up into sort of manageable bites. And we can talk about how to do that, but I really feel for parents. It's not a matter of them not wanting to do something or being weak. Right. I hate that. It's like, no, no, no, you don't know what you're up against.

Mackenzie Johnson:

I want to recap on these temperament traits really quick before we move on. So and some kids might have lots of these, right? And some might just have like, your child tends to be particularly sensitive, but maybe isn't as intense. So you use the word constellation. I've heard you say that. And I love that. You might get this constellation of a lot of this or a little of that. And so yes, as you listen to , you talked about a low sensory threshold, high persistence, high intensity, high perceptiveness, or distractability, and then low adaptability. Right. So you might have just like one or two or maybe all five, you might get a mix of these things. Right?

Macall Gordon:

Right. Absolutely. And activity levels . One of those that I don't see regularly, but it is in the mix , high activity level. You know, one thing that we'll talk about too, is a lot of this does have to do with sensory processing. It really does. And how kids who are really sensitive, some of the things we do to try to help them go to sleep are actually things that don't actually help or even make that could make things worse. For example, some kids I have to ask parents, they say, well, our bedtime routine is a bath and books and you know, normal, typical following the advice stuff. But we all know to be a bedtime thing. So there was one couple with two little boys and I said, so does bath time kind of help them settle? Or does it wake them up? And they're like, Oh my God. They're like, after the bath, it's like party time. These little guys run around the house, no clothes on. And I'm like, Whoa , maybe we don't do bath at bedtime. You know, because for some kids, water is alerting. It wakes them up . So then you move that back to the middle of the day. Right? For other kids who are super verbal, super visually engaged, maybe a book's not the best thing. If you find that that book is causing your baby or your child to activate, maybe no books . So then we say, we'll do something auditory, right? Like music or an audio one where they have to listen rather than look . So understanding how sensory processing works and sensory processing is also not straightforward . It's not anything you would ever guess. Right. So for some kids, eye contact is alerting. So I tell parents, it sounds horrible but don't make eye contact. Pats but look away, you know, and parents will tell you, they're like, oh yeah, the minute I make eye contact, it's forget it.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Right. Game on.

Macall Gordon:

Understanding sensory processing so activity level really fits also with sensory processing because big muscle groups, vestibular stuff is in that sensory package. So if your kid is super physically active , it's worth either talking to an occupational therapist to just get some tips and tricks or look at things that you can do with kids to help them, excuse me, physically settle down. Now generally, for example, and I'm not an OT, so this is not my area, but I do know that for some kids , for most kids, we would say, look, rough housing before bed is not okay . Right. But for kids who are highly active, have a real big, they call it proprioceptive, so your body and space thing for them rough housing, or being rolled up in a blanket or certain big things that you would think, oh, that's not a good thing to do before bed, is actually really good for them. So it's worth looking into , if you think your kid is like this, looking into some of the websites that are about like sensory processing in small children, and there are a couple I can even give you that one after we're done.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yeah. We can . We have our temperament page on our Science of Parenting website that we're adding resources to as we go through this season, we'd love to put it on there. Okay. So let's start moving into, you know, you talked a little about wake windows and developing some routines, which we have a bonus episode on routines and stuff. So can we talk a little about just like your general sleep advice? So whether they have, you know, we've been talking about these more kids or the spirited kids , or just your typical baby and their temperament and sleep, what kind of general strategies and sleep insight do you have for us?

Macall Gordon:

Okay. So much . Well, I mean, I think there are some that, you know, you just won't see in books so those are what I'll focus on because it's not what people are really talking about. So the first thing, when I go to work with parents and they call me and we're going to work on sleep , I always tackle the easiest things first. One of them is making sure your kid gets enough as much nap time, as close to their nap time targets as you can. And paying attention to how long a child can be awake at a time before they really need a rest. For spirited alert kids this is important because again, they will not show you that they're tired, but that their brain is tired. So kids have a certain wave pattern to awake and then their brain is like, okay, I've had enough, I'm getting ready for some sleep. If you can catch them at this low point, it might be easier to get them a nap and they'll sleep longer. If you accidentally wait until they're on the upswing. Technically their body releases cortisol, releases chemicals that serve to keep them awake. This is that dreaded second wind. Yep .

Mackenzie Johnson:

The second wind is so real.

Macall Gordon:

Oh man. And it's so strong. There's like no point in even trying until they hit that lull again. But that's a problem because if they've missed a nap, then that second lull might be more challenging. So if you can just try , and we say, you know, especially with babies, you know, under six months, for sure, but you know, even say you have an eight month old and nights are horrible and they're not napping in the crib, we say just get naps in any way you can for a while. If you know that something will work, just fill up that nap bank so that you can see what the impact is on nighttime. Cause a lot of times an overtired kid in the day is going to sleep worse at night. It just happens . So naps and awake windows, early bedtimes. Again, there's an evening release of melatonin and if you can get that child in bed by 7:00 or 7:30, these are often little night owls. I mean, I tell a story of my daughter when she was, my memory is like 10 months old. I don't really know. It's all a blur. It was young. And I remember waiting for her to be tired at bedtime. I was waiting, waiting, and I would watch David Letterman, come on and go off. Now you remember he came on at like 11:00 to 12:30 and she was going strong, not fussy , not nothing. She would go to sleep at, I don't know, 12:30 but then she would sleep in. But then you've got this terrible cycle, right, of late bedtime, late morning. And it's just never good. So if you can get on a good schedule of a good early bedtime. Yes. And the other thing to know is any change you will make, any change, probably even if it's teeny tiny, your child, because they're smart as a whip, they're going to notice and they're going to hate it. This is the speech I give, they're going to hate it. And it's okay because you have to change stuff. You have to decide what's sustainable for you. I've had lots of parent clients who were doing just what we would think would be bonkers stuff to get their kid to sleep. But in their own experience, it's the only thing that works. So I've had parents who were like, yeah, bedtime takes two hours. And I'm like, how is that for you? They're like, it's too long. So it's okay to change that. Right? If your toddler has gotten to where you're reading seven books and you only want to read two, you get to only read two and just know that those first couple of nights where you don't read seven, it's going to be horrible. But I say, push through the pushback. So if you can understand, they're going to hate it. Be supportive and present and affirming, you know, I know, if they're verbal, you really hate this. And this is how we're going to do it now. And always make sure with older kids to let them know what's going to happen. Kids like this hate surprises, right? That's that adaptability piece, they hate surprises. So don't do it in the moment. Talk about what's going to happen, reinforce what's going to happen. Then the next day review what's happening. You know, this is for slightly older kids.

Mackenzie Johnson:

So, one thing I did hear you say that I just want to like reiterate, this is a part of what we believe at The Science of Parenting, but like parents determine, is this a problem for you? Or do you like it? Right. So there was a certain age where I was just like, I cannot, even though it was just one wake up in the night, I couldn't do it anymore. The requirements of my job and the things that I needed to do during the day, the amount of sleep I was requiring to do those things. I was like, I cannot keep getting up in the night. Right . And I had friends that had kids of similar ages that were like, they wake up once and I'm pretty happy about that. And I was like , yeah, that's great. Well, you decide what you're happy about. Right?

Macall Gordon:

Exactly. Exactly. And because the thing is you're probably a light sleeper, so it's not just the waking up. It's probably that you woke up in anticipation of waking up. Then they woke up and then it took you 45 minutes to get back to sleep. So it wasn't just a quickie little wake up. It's like a whole thing. Right. It's like the whole deal. So yes, you get to decide what's the problem and what's sustainable. And that goes in either direction that, yes, this is fine or no, I really don't want to do that anymore. Yeah. A hundred percent. So, okay . Push through that .

Mackenzie Johnson:

I do have one other thing I want to ask you about before we go all the way into the spirited kids. One of the things I've heard you say or talk about is that there's really only one kind of sleep training. Like really only one "technique", but it's a continuum. Yeah . Right ?

Macall Gordon:

Yeah. People think and you know, the parent book industry has made this problem that it sounds like there's all these different techniques. They're all different. And it's like, no, actually it's just one. I mean , it's not even a technique. It's just an idea. The idea is that you're doing certain things to get your child to sleep and back to sleep. In order to get better sleep, you need to change that pattern, right?

Mackenzie Johnson:

So the one thing you can do is change the pattern. Every sleep book is basically some form of changing the pattern.

Macall Gordon:

And it's going from a pattern of I'm going to do all the work to you're going to do most of the work. And it depends on the age. Now let's really remember that when we talk about altering sleep, I really wait until six months. Prior to that, you just do what works. This idea that you can do things at an early age, it's somehow going to set some immutable pattern for the rest of their childhood is just false . It is absolutely false. So after six months is when we can sort of start to monkey around with the sleep. But babies learn patterns. I'm not going to call them crutches. I'm not going to call them bad habits. I hate the parent shaming around all that and all the baby shaming. It's just a pattern they learn. This is how humans go to sleep. I get nursed and then somehow I'm magically in my crib so that when they wake up, they need to reenact that pattern.

Mackenzie Johnson:

It's just a pattern and they're familiar with it.

Macall Gordon:

Yeah, but it's like it's their own little map. They think this is how we do it. This is what my parents are showing me. So if you want to alter that the first time you do it, they're going to be like, what the, what, what, what, what is this? I don't know. What are you expecting me to do? This isn't the pattern. What's going on? Right? So that the alteration of that pattern can, the difference in technique is slow to fast, right? So , I have a really wonderful coach colleague who says you trade tears for time. The faster you go, the more crying there will be. So on the heavy end, there is what we call pure extinction, cold turkey. It's out there in different advice books. The idea is you put that baby in the crib, you close the door, you don't go until morning. Most parents can't do it. And I do not blame them. And I just personally, not even personally, based on developmental science, I can't recommend that. And say that the advantage is that it only takes three nights, but that's three nights of pretty dramatic crying that's never responded to by the parents, I think. And especially for intense kids, I just don't think it's technically going to work and I can't recommend it. Now if something happens, now I do know that there are family contexts where you do have to get that baby sleeping fast. Something happens in the family, something's going on and then you're weighing the risks and the needs . So that's different, right? So that's super fast and all in the middle are all the Ferber , you know, 5, 10, 15 minute go in. Don't pick up the baby, but you can soothe them or time checks where you go in every single five minutes and whatever. Then , the approach that I was trained in is done by Kim West, who's a social worker, the sleep lady, which is called parental fading, where you start right out by the crib and pat and shush and soothe. If they get really, really upset, you can pick them up, you can calm them down, you put them back and you gradually over, you know , every few days you move a little away. So you're kind of scaffolding. The thing I like about that is you're scaffolding. It's like little steps, little steps. And it's like, you know, I say it's like we use ideas in infancy that we never use the rest of their childhood. You would never give a toddler a two-wheeler and go, hey kid, good luck with that, right? Yes . Yeah . If I show you how to do that, you'll never learn on your own. No, sorry. I'm not going to feed you cause if I do, you'll never learn how to use a spoon. No, it doesn't happen. So we scaffold all the time as parents. We start out right there, we hold on. Okay . We let go. And then we hold on again and we let go, as the kid gets better and better at it. So same thing you can do with sleep. So that's another one. Then the far end of the slowest of the slow is the no cry sleep solution , which is still changing patterns, but in such tiny increments. I think the books suggest really that there's no, you don't have to let the kid cry. You just kind of just keep inching along. And all of those, you know, on this end of the scale is slow, may take a month. The fading takes, you know, a good couple of weeks. All the way to three days for the extreme crying it out. So it's really all the same. So that means you get to pick what you're going to change.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Which I think is excellent news for parents. Your reality, your own sleep needs, if you have a co-parent, you know, like all of these factors, your baby's temperament, you get to make that informed decision based on all of those things together. What relief.

Macall Gordon:

I know it's a relief. I know, I know. I mean, so much of my work with parents is telling them what they don't have to worry about, right? Because that whole idea of having a screaming child that you're not allowed to pick up to sooth . That's hard. That's hard on parents. And it's hard on the kid too, because I talk about windows of tolerance for distress. And when babies are tiny, their neurology allows for just tiny, tiny little bits of distress because they don't have a lot of skills to manage it. If you take a really hysterical kid and they fall asleep, everybody says that's self-soothing. I don't agree because self-soothing means I can do something for myself to help myself feel better, but going to sleep is not necessarily self-soothing. Self-soothing means I'm going to suck on my hand and that will calm me down. I'm going to turn my head away and look at something else. I'm going to, whatever tiny babies don't have any of those skills. So we regulate them. And as they get older, they get a few more skills, but we still don't want to push them past that upper limit. And parents of intense kids will tell you, my kid goes zero to 60. If I don't get to them fast, it's going to be an hour. No matter I do. I'll be holding them and they're still screaming. So even at older ages, more intense kids may still have a small window. So the idea is we don't want to under challenge them, right? You don't want to run to every little peep because then they're never getting practice at all and you don't want to over challenge them because then they're just hysterical and nobody's learning anything. So it's okay to keep them in the zone of challenge where I say we nudge them.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Baby steps, half baby steps.

Macall Gordon:

The key to that is I say, pick your battles, but fight the ones you pick. Right? So if you say , I am not going to nurse my baby all the way to sleep any more , then don't. Stop and never go back. If that's what you've picked and you could say, that's the only thing you're going to work on, that's fine. But don't ever go back. Because if you say you try for, God forbid, an hour and a half to get your baby to sleep without nursing them all the way to sleep on the first night. And then you go, okay, clearly this isn't working. I'm just going to nurse them and I'll try it again tomorrow. You've just set the bar because now, especially with perceptive kids, they know that nursing to sleep is on the table somewhere and they will wait you out. They will. So whatever you choose, know that it's something you definitely can do. And only do that. And if you're going to go gradually, always be moving forward. Never backwards, never, never backwards because these kids, again, they will pick up on it. They will notice and they will hold it against you. I'm sort of kidding but sort of not. But they will notice. You can't sneak up on these kids. They will notice. So as parents, we have to be absolutely really on top of our game and say, I will do all these other things to help you go to sleep, but I'm not going to nurse you asleep anymore. Or I'm not going to bounce on the ball. I'll walk you around. I'll hum . I'll sway. But there is no more ball. We're not doing it.

Mackenzie Johnson:

So whatever it is for you as a parent that you're like, I can't do this anymore . And you're like, I'm ready to be done with this, whatever you decide that is and then sticking to it. Like choose something you can do, that you want to do, that you don't want to go back on and won't.

Macall Gordon:

Right. And like I said, budget the first one to two nights are going to be a rodeo. It's going to be crazy. So just know that's going to happen. And even though it doesn't look like it's working at all, it's totally working. It's that first pancake that we talk about - terrible. The second night should be somehow better, somehow better. And the third night might be somehow better, but here's where irregularity comes in and intensity. These kids, it's not a straight line. So one thing I noticed with working with parents and spirited, intense kids is that it's kinda zigzaggy and forward and back and forth and back or one thing will fall into place and something that was working falls out. And then that comes back online and the other thing falls out, but it's just a process that just takes time and you just have to wait it out. So while we say, maybe mellow kids get with the program in five days, it really does take a good 10 to 14 days for these more sensitive kids to really, really get it. And it takes them longer to really completely resolve . So it's a long path, but as long as you're seeing movement, as long as something's getting better, sometimes better than it was, right? Yes. A hundred percent. So the other thing I wanted to add, so there's the temperament traits, which are okay , they're fine. There are other ones now that kind of informally nobody's codified this, but informally like, so that the high interaction need , the difficulty with self-soothing , is really hard. Then anecdotally, there have been some, I'll just tell you what I hear from parents that are just these commonalities, so interesting. Often a difficult labor and or birth, and that just means maybe long, or, I know me too, difficult labor and/or birth , sometimes colic. But I found this in my survey that a higher score on this temperament scale was predictive, you know, statistically predictive of moms having had difficult labor or birth, babies who were more likely to have had colic or reflux or apnea or eczema or food intolerance. I see that a lot. Eczema, I see a lot as almost like a systemic sensitivity. Like I don't think you can prove it. I just see it enough to know that it's a thing. Early alertness, oh my God, she was on, like, everybody commented. That baby's really awake. No foggy newborn. It's like on when they wheeled her in, she was like looking at me and I was like, are newborns supposed to do that ? She did not sleep all the time when she was a newbie . I mean, it was impossible to get her to sleep you. So , there are sort of these anecdotal factors that seem to be part of it, this real need to be close to you, to interact with you, to prefer interacting with you. I mean, that's exhausting, but it's also a really good thing, right? Like they're learning a lot.

Mackenzie Johnson:

We know we have so much good stuff to share with parents on the rest of the temperament traits, but we were like, we cannot wait till we get through all nine traits to talk about sleep.

Macall Gordon:

Yeah. Yeah. Let me just quickly, we were going to talk about ages and stages a little bit because a lot of the people I get have babies, obviously. Babies are their own thing and we kind of talked about that, but then I often get people with three-year-olds for some reason. Three -year-olds , three and four year olds, the three year olds. And I can actually say there are two different sets of problems that I typically get. Three year olds are the ones that if I see them when they're three , I say that it's because they were drunk with power three year olds. The spirited intense three-year-olds are the ones where parents are saying, it takes two hours. They're constantly coming out of their room. They want us to do one more thing. We're reading seven books and then they want to drink and then they're coming back out and they want this. And you know, it's just a lot of shenanigans at bedtime. So that's when we say these kids need an almost rigid routine and almost rigid process. And now I'm not a rigid person. I was very much go with the flow, but I do see how this would have helped in my parenting that there's no wiggle room, there's no wiggle room. Like you set something and you never say, just for tonight. Cause those kids think , well , if it's just for tonight, then how come it's not just for every night. Right. Then you've got that battle. So you set a routine again, you tell them what it's going to be. Maybe make a chart, maybe you do something to help them keep track of it and then you just stick with that come hell or high water. The other thing that helps with three-year-olds often is floor time . Do you guys talk about floor time at all?

Mackenzie Johnson:

No. Tell me more about that.

Macall Gordon:

Floor time is especially helpful, too, if it's a three year old with a brand new baby sibling. So , floor time is a very simple thing to do, which is why I talk about it. It's you give your child, this is Greenspan, I think. You give your child 20 minutes of solely focused play. So you take them one on one. And the key is that they get to be the boss. They decide what to play. They decide the rules, they decide who you're going to be. They decide what you're going to do. You literally are just there to follow their lead for 20 minutes. Everybody can do 20 minutes and with three year olds, I think all kids, but for some reason three-year-old specifically, it gives them that moment. I know it gives them that moment of being in charge and also having your focused attention. So just doing 20 minutes at some point in the routine or right before the routine, I think is a simple, easy thing to do in every parent. That's so simple to do. And it really has these weird benefits that you would never .

Mackenzie Johnson:

I've heard it called special time. They take the lead. So we've used that term before I think very similar, but that it's dedicated and that it can help promote sleep routine.

Macall Gordon:

Or like I said, you could do a routine with like I said, bedtime yoga. They have little kids, little yoga things or like a mindfulness CD. They have great stuff now for kids so things like that. The four year olds that I see also have often some difficulty with the bedtime shenanigans , so rigid routine and also , very boring responses. Like, especially if they're very verbal. I had one family where we just stopped having parents who use words and the child would say, I need one more hug and they'd walk to the door when they'd just go (hug).

Mackenzie Johnson:

So no words, a visual cue but no words.

Macall Gordon:

Words got her going. Words got her into a conversation. So you may have to really get a little creative on that but that works for four year olds as well. Like no negotiation. And I don't mean being mean. I just mean don't get into a zone that's going to cause them to engage more. You really want to help them to really wind down and turn off. So we don't explain a lot of stuff. You just may have a mantra, time for bed, time for bed, time for bed, time for bed. All right . Yes , yes, yes. Right. And then four year olds have one thing that happens with four kids and up is some of these kids then get bed fears, right. Their brains, that very active brain goes places. And that's when we say, you know, there are those typical tricks about monsters and everything like that. I say it not so much that I actually have an intervention for it but it does happen. And so then for four year olds, you have to decide number one, is this a specific fear or is this some anxiety? And I would say don't hesitate to contact a child therapist to just work through that and get some good techniques for fears because , these big thinking kids, they really can see all the possibilities and their brain again, their minds can really run away with them. So , again, for these little ones, giving them techniques for how to calm that brain down, how to focus, whatever those good skills are. But , if it starts looking like anxiety , I would just say there's no harm, no shame in contacting a therapist.

Mackenzie Johnson:

If any of our listeners have ever watched us live, we always kind of start out on Facebook lives, walking through our beliefs, you know, and our ground rules. And one of them is we share information. You decide how to use it for your family. And we have information. We are not, you know, interventionists. We are sharing information with you. We encourage you to seek out those experts locally find the services and the resources that are available to support your family.

Macall Gordon:

Right. Right. And any of these things, you know, there's also the next stage beyond spirited. When you really have a kid who's experiencing like massive meltdowns or it's really just unsustainable. It goes from, you know, mellow to challenging to I think this is more than just challenging. And when that happens, it's really appropriate to reach out. There's really good resources out there. So I would say don't hesitate to get some really good input on what might be happening. You can look into sensory processing. That's a thing. Meltdowns are related. So that would be an occupational therapist. And then for the rest of it, that would be , you know, just a play therapist or a child therapist. Then the other things to look out for that also impact sleep that are not necessarily specific to spirited kids, just kids in general. But I see it more often and it's not getting caught , that can disrupt sleep. That has nothing to do with temperament. And one is night terrors. So night terrors are when a kid wakes up generally in the first part of the night, first half and it looks like a nightmare, but you can tell they are not totally awake or they don't remember it in the next morning. That's a night terror. They don't remember it. They're not experiencing it. It's not a nightmare. If it happens once or twice, not a big deal. If it happens a lot, you should mention it to your pediatrician. There's a little gadget that you can get, and I'll send you the name of that. It's like a thing you put under the mattress and it will read when your child's about to have one and it like gently jiggles the mattress. So it kind of gets them over that hump and to retrain their brain not to do it. Nightmares are more like when kids are four or five , there's no way to really prevent them. And there's, I think already a lot of good strategies, but the one that gets overlooked is apnea, apnea and restless legs. So , sleep apnea. Children, outside of a cold, should really never snore or breathe through their mouth. So if your kid is doing it a lot, like you're like, Oh yeah, consistently. And they potentially have a sweaty head when they wake up. That's a time to go in and get a check through the pediatrician because we do , one of my very first clients had a three year old who was not sleeping. It was bad and that kid ended up having both kinds, there's two kinds of apnea. He had both of them and restless legs. Once those things got fixed, slept like a dream.

Mackenzie Johnson:

I want to mention you do have a post on your website, which we'll post in our temperament resources where you talk about seven things, seven questions to ask when nothing is working, because we do want to check for those physical symptoms and want to know what's going on with our kids and advocate for them. You know, like I'm doing what I know how to do. I'm trying to use the trustworthy information. And I need to check for these other things too.

Macall Gordon:

Because you could do any kind of sleep training. You could stand on your head and if your kid's not breathing , they're not going to sleep well. And the other related one is restless legs, which is if they, if they're verbal, they can tell you if they ever complained like tickly or itchy legs, or they seem like they're moving their legs around a lot. When they're trying to get to sleep, restless legs has to do with low ferritin levels. So often just getting an iron , getting it tested, and then getting an iron supplement clear it up . But again, the kid's not physically comfortable. That's why kids with reflux, silent reflux or , some of these other physiological symptoms as a baseline that impacts sleep. You have a sensitive kid on top of that and that will be why they can't go to sleep or why your sleep work isn't working. So yes .

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yeah. Excellent. Okay, Macall, you have shared so much good stuff with us talking about which temperament traits, you know, some of the highs and lows of it , you know, talking about it at the different ages, and then you've brought some great strategies kind of in general, or knowing that some of that general sleep advice is harder for certain parents and kids. And so bringing some of that spirited advice in as well, which we have future episodes coming specifically on that feisty, spirited kind of temperaments , and look forward to that. But thank you so much for coming on.

Macall Gordon:

Of course. It's a pleasure, a pleasure. I love it.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. So thank you for talking research and reality here on The Science of Parenting podcast. Oh , okay. Isn't she so good? I loved everything she had to say. That was awesome. I could have talked to her forever and I kind of did talk to her forever.

Lori Hayungs:

Heads up , this is going to be a little bit longer than usual.

Mackenzie Johnson:

It was just so good. We couldn't stop.

Lori Hayungs:

So just a reminder of the traits she talked about. She talked about a low sensory threshold or in other terms, a highly sensitive temperament. She also talked about highly persistent children, higher intensity children, children who have higher perceptiveness or that distractability as well as less adaptable.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. And so all of those traits can affect how our kids sleep, how much they stay asleep, how we help them soothe, all of those things can play into that. And whether your kid's got on the extremes of lots of those traits, or maybe one or two.

Lori Hayungs:

And she had so many great tips to share.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, so many. Okay. And a reminder of just a few of those in terms of sleep in general, she talked about understanding appropriate wake windows, how long kids can handle being asleep. She reminded us that all kind of sleep training is basically about one strategy, which is changing the patterns and that continuum can fall from a cry it out strategy of changing patterns to a no cry strategy. And so parents get to decide , you know, where they'd like to fall on that continuum. And she reminded us, like we believe at The Science of Parenting, you get to decide about your family. And so she reminded us that same thing with sleep. You decide what's a problem. You decide what's working well for you. So you get to determine what's a sleep problem in your family. And then she also talked a little about these spirited kids. These kids who maybe just have a little more extremes of temperament. And she reminded us with our children who maybe are spirited that we might have to be prepared to push through their pushback and that providing some Uber is the word she used for consistency, or almost kind of what might feel like rigid to us, providing lots of consistency for our kids who are spirited can also help us tackle any challenges we're having with sleep. So much good stuff. She had so much good insight to share.

Lori Hayungs:

I'm excited for you all to have listened to this and go back and listen to it and keep it on you repeat, we just appreciate it .

Mackenzie Johnson:

I know I will.

Lori Hayungs:

Yes. We appreciate that. You sent us questions about, can you talk about sleep more? So we want to thank you for joining us on The Science of Parenting podcast today, and remember to subscribe to our weekly audio podcasts on Apple or Spotify or your favorite podcast app. Watch the show on video each week on Facebook. And once in awhile , we will have you join us live and we can take your comments and questions.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Absolutely. So please come along with us as we talk about the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and the research and reality, all around The Science of Parenting.

Anthony Santiago:

The Science of Parenting is a research based education program posted by Lori Hayungs and Mackenzie Johnson, produced by Mackenzie DeJong, with research and writing by Barbara Dunnn Swanson. Send in questions and comments to [email protected] and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. This program is brought to you by Iowa State University Extension and outreach. This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For the full non-discrimination statement or accommodation inquiries, go to www.extension.state.edu/diversity.