Around 75% of the children I help, have a temperament and personality that I can only describe as ‘super alert’. These children, as babies, look as though they are taking notes on the world around them, they reach their developmental milestone bang on cue or early, they know what they want and they are willing to hold out until they get it and they are generally very switched on.
Quite often, children in this category have a much harder time shutting down and are ‘tricky sleepers’ for much of their childhood. I hate to describe children as a ‘type’ or category because I absolutely recognise that they are ALL very different, however, there are characteristics of temperaments that you can categorise to help understand the different ways that different little minds work.
What does temperament actually mean?
Temperament is the term given to describe a behavioural style or manner in which a child interacts with the environment around him or her.
The temperament traits in a child will give you clues as to the kind of environment s/he is most comfortable in. For example, adaptability measures how easily a child can adjust to a change in circumstances or routine. A more adaptable baby will be more likely to sleep better at night.
Alert babies are very active, wilful, determined, prone to temper tantrums, take everything in and they need stronger boundaries. They have a difficult time handling their emotions.
An easy baby is easy going, adapts well to new situations, is social, reaches milestones on cue, easy to calm, very portable and tends to fall into a natural schedule.
A slow to warm baby is sensitive, shy, prefers order and predictability, is thoughtful and cautious and can become very engrossed in an activity and get frustrated if not allowed to finish it. These children weigh things up carefully and will usually sus someone out before willingly going to them.
A fussy baby needs things his way, can be obstinate, easily frustrated, prefers his own company, will cry as though it is the end of the world, is insightful, resourceful, wise and creative.
A high needs baby is intense, draining, demanding, unsatisfied, unpredictable, super sensitive, extremely active and needs constant attention. They are quick to protest change can be squirmy and they prefer people to things. This temperament can be a challenge.
Super alert children often show characteristics of the alert babies, slow to warm and fussy babies as described above. They can be difficult to manage as babies but this kind of personality can be of huge benefit later on in life (if managed).
There are many different variables that can affect a baby’s temperament and identifying this will lead you to different sleep strategies. Some will adapt quickly to a plan and others will take a longer and require more effort to show progress. There are no perfect ‘oven-ready’ sleep training plans out there to fit each temperament type and you often have to take elements of various methodologies to create a unique plan for your child.
Super alert children rarely outgrow their sleep difficulties by themselves and waiting to see if they do can actually be a waste of valuable time because the sooner you ‘start work’ on shaping a baby’s sleep, the more easily they accept and adapt to your teachings. As they get older, their habits become more ingrained and they are less willing to accept a change.
If your child fits the alert or super alert characteristics, it is no wonder you are having difficulty with sleep. Depending on how stimulated they are by your presence, will determine how much you can be with them in the room when sleep training. The super alerts often need the parents to be a little stronger in their approach because they are much more likely to challenge or look for a loop-hole.
You can still take a gentle approach to sleep training an alert baby or child but you have to be 100% clear and consistent in what you do, otherwise the smart little cookie will trip you up!