Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?

From infants and toddlers to school-aged kids and teens, parents want to know how many hours of sleep are recommended. While it’s true that sleep needs vary from one person to another, there are some very reasonable, science-based guidelines to help you determine whether your child is getting the sleep he or she needs to grow, learn, and play.

Childhood Sleep Guid​elines

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) provides some helpful guidelines regarding just how much sleep children need at different stages in their development. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect total sleep hours in a 24-hour period. So if your son or daughter still naps, you’ll need to take that into account when you add up his or her typical sleep hours.

Sleep Hours Table

Do those numbers surprise you?

So, are you sending your child off to bed early enough? If those numbers are surprising to you, you’re not alone. Working and single parents, especially, are often forced to get by on 5, 6, or even fewer hours of sleep each night. This is likely impacting your own social and mental functioning, as well as increasing your risk for other health problems. It might be tempting to think that your children can also get by with less sleep than they need, or that they should be able to cope fairly well with a few skipped hours here and there. However, all children thrive on a regular bedtime routine. Regular sleep deprivation often leads to some pretty difficult behaviors and health problems—irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypertension, obesity, headaches, and depression. Children who get enough sleep have a healthier immune system, and better school performance, behavior, memory, and mental health.

Healthy Sleep Habits – Tips from the AAP

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports the AASM guidelines and encourages parents to make sure their children develop good sleep habits right from the start.

  • Make sufficient sleep a family priority. Understand the importance of getting enough sleep and how sleep affects the overall health of you and your children. Remember that you are a role model to your child; set a good example. Staying up all night with your teen to edit his or her paper or pulling an all-nighter for work yourself isn’t really sending the right message. Making sleep a priority for yourself shows your children that it’s part of living a healthy lifestyle—like eating right and exercising regularly.
  • Keep to a regular daily routine. The same waking time, meal times, nap time, and play times will help your child feel secure and comfortable, and help with a smooth bedtime. For young children, it helps to start early with a bedtime routine such as brush, book, bed. Make sure the sleep routines you use can be used anywhere, so you can help your child get to sleep wherever you may be.
  • Be active during the day. Make sure your kids have interesting and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air. See Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations for more information.
  • Monitor screen time. The AAP recommends keeping all screens—TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, and phones out of children’s bedrooms, especially at night. To prevent sleep disruption, turn off all screens at least 60 minutes/1 hour before bedtime. Create a Family Media Use Plan and set boundaries about use before bedtime.​
  • Create a sleep-supportive and safe bedroom and home environment. Dim the lights prior to bedtime and control the temperature in the home. Don’t fill up your child’s bed with toys. Keep your child’s bed a place to sleep, rather than a place to play. One or two things—a favorite doll or bear, a security blanket—are okay and can help ease separation anxiety. See Suitable Sleeping Sites for more information specifically for babies under 12 months of age.
  • Realize that teens require more sleep, not less. sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. At the same time, most high schools require students to get to school earlier and earlier. The AAP has been advocating for middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. It is important that parents and local school boards work together to implement high school start times that allow teens to get the healthy sleep they need. See the AAP policy statement, School Start Times for Adolescents, for more information.
  • Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, or formula. Water is okay. Anything other than water in the bottle can cause baby bottle tooth decay. Feed or nurse your baby, and then put him or her down to sleep.
  • Don’t start giving solids before about 6 months of age. Starting solid food sooner will not help your baby sleep through the night. In fact, if you give your baby solids before their system can digest them, he or she may sleep worse because of a tummy ache.
  • Avoid overscheduling. In addition to homework, many children today have scheduled evening activities (i.e., sports games, lessons, appointments, etc.) that pose challenges to getting a good night’s sleep. Take time to wind down and give your children the downtime that they need.
  • Learn to recognize sleep problems. The most common sleep problems in children include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, sleep apnea, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher or child care provider about your child’s alertness during the day. Sleep problems may manifest in the daytime, too. A child with not enough, or poor quality sleep may have difficulty paying attention or “zoning out” in school. Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be made aware of any reports of your child falling asleep in school, as well as any learning or behavior problems.
  • Talk to your child’s pediatrician about sleep. Discuss your child’s sleep habits and problems with your pediatrician, as most sleep problems are easily treated. He or she may ask you to keep a sleep log or have additional suggestions to improving your child’s sleep habits.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Helping Kids Stay Active & Eat Healthy During COVID-19

​​The pandemic has cut kids off from friends, nutritious school meals, sports and routines. With virtual learning and few activities outside the home, it’s no surprise kids are moving less and snacking more.

If your family has been eating more processed, high-calorie food and spends a lot of time on screens, you are not alone.

Increased Health Risks

The pandemic has put more children at risk of obesity. Children with obesity are more likely to have problems if they are infected with COVID-19.

The virus can affect children’s breathing, immune system, metabolism and cause inflammation. Those with obesity also can develop high blood pressure, liver problems or diabetes. Having these health issues puts them at high risk if they get COVID-19.

Black and Hispanic children and children living in places with high poverty rates are more at risk of obesity and COVID-19 illness.

Many parents are struggling to make sure their kids eat healthy foods, stay active and stick to a regular bedtime.

What Parents Can Do

Eating well and exercising can help children cope with stress and stay healthy. Parents can support healthy eating habits by offering their children a lot of fruit and vegetables, creating a schedule for meals and snacks, and keeping healthy food in your home. Motivate kids to get moving by limiting their screen time after they are done with virtual learning for the day. Model healthy habits by making sure you eat well and exercise, too.

How Your Pediatrician Can Help

If your situation seems too hard or you are worried about your child’s weight gain in the past year, seek help. Your child’s pediatrician can provide:

  • counseling for mental health issues or substance use.
  • screening for eating disorders.
  • help managing stress.
  • a personalized plan to manage obesity.​
  • help connecting you with resources that can assist with food, housing, child care and other support, such as 211.org​.​

Source: AAP News Parent Plus, ”Keeping kids active, eating healthy hard for parents during pandemic” (American Academy of Pediatrics Copyright © 2020). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

11 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Be Physically Active

​​​​​Did you know that only about 1 in 4 children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day?

Participation in all types of physical activity drops dramatically as a child’s age and grade in school increase. It’s important that physical activity be a regular part of family life. Here is some information to help you keep your children healthy and active.

The Benefits of Physical Activity

Being physically active means moving enough to breathe heavily, be short of breath, feel warm, and sweat. Exercise is vital to the health and well-being of children. Physical activity helps build and maintains healthy bones, muscles, and joints, for example. It can help keep a healthy body mass index and reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease later in life. It can help children fall asleep quickly and sleep well.

Beyond benefits to the body, physical activity also boosts a child’s mental and behavioral health. It increases a child’s enthusiasm and optimism and boosts self-esteem, school performance, attention and behavior. It also reduces anxiety, tension and depression. It can also fosters teamwork and friendship when it’s part of an organized sport.

11 Ways to Get Started

Parents can play a key role in helping their child become more physically active. Some suggestions:

  1. ​Talk with your child’s doctor. Your child’s doctor can help your child understand why physical activity is important. Your child’s doctor can also help you and your child identify sports or activities that may be best for your child.
  2. Emphasize fun. Help your child find a sport that she enjoys. The more she enjoys the activity, the more likely she will be to continue it. Get the entire family involved. It is a great way to spend time together.
  3. Choose an activity that is developmentally appropriate. For example, a 7- or 8-year-old child is not ready for weight lifting or a 3-mile run, but soccer, bicycle riding, and swimming are all well great activities for kids this age.
  4. Plan ahead. Make sure your child has a convenient time and place to exercise.
  5. Provide a safe environment. Make sure your child’s equipment and where they practice or play is safe. Make sure your child’s clothing is comfortable and appropriate for the activity.
  6. Provide active toys. Young children especially need easy access to balls, jump ropes, and other active toys.
  7. Be a role model. Children who regularly see their parents enjoying sports and physical activity are more likely to do so themselves.
  8. Play with your children. Help them learn a new sport or another physical activity. Or just have fun together by going for a walk, hike, or bike ride.
  9. Set limits. Limit screen time, including time spent on TV, videos, computers, and video games​, each day. Use the free time for more physical activities.
  10. Make time for exercise. Some children are so over-scheduled with homework, music lessons, and other planned activities that they do not have time for exercise.
  11. Do not overdo activity. Exercise and physical activity should not hurt. If it becomes painful, your child should slow down or try a less vigorous activity. As with any activity, it is important not to overdo it. If exercise starts to interfere with school or other activities, talk with your child’s doctor.​

Getting the Entire Family Moving

Studies have found that lifestyles learned in childhood are much likelier to stay with a person into adulthood. If sports and physical activities are a family priority, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.

Remember…exercise along with a balanced diet provides the foundation for a healthy, active life. One of the most important things parents can do is encourage healthy habits in their children early in life. It is not too late to start. Ask your child’s doctor about tools for healthy living today.


Source: Adapted from “Encourage Your Child to Be Physically Active” (American Academy of Pediatrics Copyright © 2020). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Dental Health & Hygiene for Young Children

As you might guess, the number-one dental problem among preschoolers is tooth decay.

  • One out of 10 two- year-olds already have one or more cavities
  • By age three, 28% of children have one or more cavities
  • By age five, nearly 50% of children have one or more cavities

Many parents assume that cavities in baby teeth don’t matter, because they’ll be lost anyway. But that’s not true. Dental decay in baby teeth can negatively affect permanent teeth and lead to future dental problems.

Teaching Good Dental Habits

The best way to protect your child’s teeth is to teach him good dental habits. With the proper coaching he’ll quickly adopt good oral hygiene as a part of his daily routine. However, while he may be an enthusiastic participant, he won’t yet have the control or concentration to brush his teeth all by himself. You’ll need to supervise and help him so that the brush removes all the plaque—the soft, sticky, bacteria- containing deposits that accumulate on the teeth, causing tooth decay. Also, keep an eye out for areas of brown or white spots which might be signs of early decay.

Toothbrushing

As soon as your child has a tooth you should be helping your child brush her teeth two times a day with a smear (size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste on a child-sized toothbrush that has soft bristles. There are brushes designed to address the different needs of children at all ages, ensuring that you can select a toothbrush that is appropriate for your child.

Amount of Toothpaste

At age 3, you can start using a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste, which helps prevent cavities. If your child doesn’t like the taste of the toothpaste, try another flavor. Also try to teach your child not to swallow it, although at this age they are often still too young to learn to rinse and spit. Swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can make white or brown spots on your child’s adult teeth.

Brushing Motion

You’ll hear all kinds of advice on whether the best brushing motion is up and down, back and forth, or around in circles. The truth is that the direction really doesn’t matter. What’s important is to clean each tooth thoroughly, top and bottom, inside and out. This is where you’ll encounter resistance from your child, who probably will concentrate on only the front teeth that he can see. It may help to turn it into a game of “find the hidden teeth.” Incidentally, a child cannot brush his teeth without help until he’s older—about six to eight years old. So be sure to supervise or do the actual brushing if necessary.

Too Much Sugar

Besides regular toothbrushing with the right amount of fluoride toothpaste, your child’s diet will play a key role in his dental health. And, of course, sugar is the big villain. The longer and more frequently his teeth are exposed to sugar, the greater the risk of cavities. “Sticky sugar” foods such as sticky caramel, toffee, gum, and dried fruit—particularly when it stays in his mouth and bathes his teeth in sugar for hours—could do serious damage. Make sure to always brush your child’s teeth after a sugary food item. In addition, do not allow your child to have any sugar-containing liquid in a sippy cup for a prolonged period.

Dental Checkups

During regular well-child visits, the pediatrician will check your child’s teeth and gums to ensure their health. If she notices problems, she may refer your child to a pediatric dentist (pedodontist) or a general dentist with an interest in treating the dental needs of children. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that all children see a pediatric dentist and establish a “dental home” by age one.

As part of her dental checkup the dentist will make sure all teeth are developing normally and that there are no dental problems and give you further advice on proper hygiene. She also may apply a topical fluoride solution to provide extra protection against cavities. If you live in an area where the wateris not fluoridated, she may prescribe fluoride drops or chewable tablets for your toddler. For more guidance on fluoride supplements, talk to your pediatrician.


Source: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 6th Edition (Copyright © 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Everybody Gets Mad: Helping Your Child Cope with Conflict

Help Children Act Calm

  • Let them know that it takes more courage to walk away from a fight than to stay and fight.
  • Teach them that fights don’t solve problems—they make new ones.
  • Remind them that when they get mad but don’t fight, they have really won.

Sometimes, getting along with other kids is hard. Some kids:

  • Get into fights when they are angry.
  • Get teased a lot.
  • Encourage others to fight.

This can make your child feel bad or get in trouble. Teach your child how to deal with anger and stay out of trouble.

Everyone Gets Mad

Anger doesn’t usually last a long time, but it is a very strong feeling when it happens.

Children get mad when:

  • Their feelings are hurt or they can’t do what they want.
  • Others don’t understand them or lie about them.
  • They feel left out or others don’t act the way they want.

When children are mad, their bodies react:

  • Their hearts beat faster and their faces feel hot and sweaty.
  • It might be hard to breathe and they can’t think clearly.
  • They have a lot of energy and want action.

When children are angry, it is:

  • Good to put their feelings into words.
  • Not good to hit someone, break things, or say things that hurt.

Teach Your Child to ACT CALM

When children get mad, they can ACT:

Acknowledge

  • Acknowledge angry feelings.
  • Notice changes in their bodies.

Calm down

  • Breathe deeply, count to 10, or walk away.
  • Punch a pillow, run, or play music.

Think and talk

  • Think about the problem and ways to fix it. If someone doesn’t know what children are trying to say or do, they need to explain themselves.
  • Talk with someone about being mad and ways to fix the problem without fighting. If there is nobody to talk to right away, stop and think, “This is why I’m mad and what I need to do is …”

If someone tries to start a fight, your child can be the one to stay CALM:

Calm down

  • Keep a safe distance from the other person.
  • Take slow, deep breaths.
  • Stay alert and stand tall.

Avoid

  • Avoid name-calling or returning insults. It only makes things worse.
  • Avoid other kids who may want to fight. Try to talk in private with the kid
  • who wants to fight.

Listen

  • Calmly listen to what the other kid says.
  • Ask, “What does this person really want?”

Move on
Find ways to solve the problem without fighting.

  • Use humor. “I wouldn’t want you to catch my cold.”
  • Give a reason. “We’ll both get thrown off the team if we fight.”
  • Walk away. If nothing else works, it’s best to walk away.

Children do what they see others do. You are your child’s most important role model.

If your child is still having trouble getting along with other kids, talk with your pediatrician.


Source: Connected Kids: Safe, Strong, Secure (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Feed Families, Not Landfills

Each year, Americans across the country are making difficult choices. Many people are forced to choose between buying food or buying medicine; parents are forced to go hungry so their children don’t, and working families are forced to choose between paying their utilities or putting food on the table.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, around 14 percent of American households do not get enough food to live active, healthy lifestyles. What makes this sad fact even harder to digest is this- a significant portion of the food tossed into our nations’ landfills is wholesome, edible food. By redirecting that unspoiled food from the landfill to our neighbors in need, an organization can support its local community; reduce its environmental impact, and save money.

What Kind of Food Can Be Donated?

Non-perishable and unspoiled perishable food can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters. Typical food bank donors include large manufacturers, supermarket chains, wholesalers, farmers, food brokers, and organized community food drives. Perishable and prepared foods are typically collected from restaurants, caterers, corporate dining rooms, hotels, and other food establishments for prompt distribution to hungry people in their communities. Donated food includes leftovers from events and surplus food inventory.

Check with your local food bank or food rescue operation (soup kitchen, shelter, etc.) to find out what items they will accept. Your local food bank will often pick up the donations free of charge, reducing warehouse storage and disposal costs.

Where Can I Donate Food?

Food pantries, food banks, and food rescue programs are available across the country to collect food and redistribute it to those in need. Local and national programs frequently offer free pick-up and/or reusable containers to donors

Food banks are community-based, professional organizations that collect food from a variety of sources and save the food in warehouses. The food bank then distributes the food to hungry families and individuals through a variety of emergency food assistance agencies, such as soup kitchens, youth or senior centers, shelters and pantries. Most food banks tend to collect less perishable foods such as canned goods because they can be stored for a longer time.

Food rescue programs take excess perishable and prepared food and distribute it to agencies and charities that serve hungry people such as soup kitchens, youth or senior centers, shelters and pantries. Many of these agencies visit the food bank each week to select fresh produce and packaged products for their meal programs or food pantries. Many also take direct donations from stores, restaurants, cafeterias, and individuals with surplus food to share.

Resources to Help You Find a Local Food Bank or Food Rescue Program in Your Area:

Feeding America – A national network of food banks that is the largest charitable hunger relief organization in America. It oversees the distribution of surplus food and grocery products through nearly 200 network affiliate food banks and nearly 50,000 charitable agencies. Locate a food bank near you.

Food Pantries – Allows you to search for food banks by state or by zip code.

AmpleHarvest.org – This nationwide effort aims to educate, encourage and enable gardeners with extra produce to easily donate to a local food pantry.
Rock and Wrap It Up! – An independent anti-poverty organization devoted to developing innovative greening solutions to the pressing issues of hunger and poverty in America. They cover over 500 cities and work with a national database of over 43,000 shelters and places of need.


Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov/foodrecovery/fd-donate.htm). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Cooking with Kids: Basic Chicken Soup

​​​​​​​​​​​

Makes 10–12 c​​ups

Once you’ve cooked the chicken, this soup is a snap to make.

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Kitchen Gear
Measuring spoons
Measuring cup
Sharp knife (adult needed)
Cutting board
Large heavy bottomed pot
Wooden spoon

Ingredients
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 carrots, scrubbed or peeled and sliced
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or more, if you like it brothy)
½ cup brown rice, barley, or small pasta (such as alphabets or orzo)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken

​Before You Begin:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them.
  • Clean the counter top with a sponge.
  • Gather all your kitchen gear and ingredients and put them on the counter.
  • Scrub all the fruits and vegetables and lay them out on a dishtowel to dry.
  • Prepare your ingredients, which means you may have to do something before you get started with the instructions.

Instructions

Put the pot on the stove and turn the heat to medium. When it is hot (flick some water on—it should dance and evaporate immediately), carefully add the oil.

Add the onion, celery, and carrots, and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. (You’ll know the broth is boiling when you see bubbles breaking all over the surface.) Lower the heat to low, and cook, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender and no longer float on the surface, about 30 minutes.

Add the rice, barley, or pasta and cook until tender, about 20 minutes for pasta, 40 minutes for brown rice or barley. (If you want, you can use leftover cooked grains or pasta. If so, skip this step and add them when you add the chicken in step 5. This will also cut 20 minutes off the cooking time.)

Add the chicken, stir, and cook until heated throughout, about 3 minutes.

Serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to 3 days.


CHANGE IT UP…

Lemony Chicken Soup: Add 1 bay leaf and 1 strip lemon zest when you add the stock. Remove both before serving.

Herby Chicken Soup: Add 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh), 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh), and ¼ teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh). If you’re using dried herbs, add them when you cook the veggies. If you’re using fresh herbs, stir them in right before serving the soup.

Garlicky Ginger Soup: Add 1 tablespoon fresh ginger and 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced, when you add the onion.

Curried Chicken Soup: When you cook the veggies, add 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cubed, 1 to 2 tablespoons curry powder, and 1 tomato, cubed. Stir in ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut and 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves just before serving.

Lettuce Eat Chicken Soup: Add 6 leaves romaine lettuce or spinach, chopped, when you add the rice, barley, or pasta, and ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese just before serving.

Basil Chicken Soup: Swirl in 1 to 2 tablespoons pesto just before serving.

Tortilla Soup: Skip the rice, barley, or pasta and stir in ¼ cup chopped cilantro, the juice of half a lime, and a handful of tortilla chips just before serving.

Tortellini Soup: Add cooked tortellini in Step 5 instead of the cooked rice, barley, or small pasta.


Source: ChopChop Magazine – Fall Issue (Copyright  2012). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

5 Parenting Goals to Start the New Year

​​​Helping to make your family stronger, safer and more harmonious may not require a complete overhaul, but rather a few strategic tweaks.

Here are five simple and concrete parenting goals to set for the year ahead.

1. Get everyone vaccinated for flu. The flu shot​ is the best way to protect yourself, your children, and other loved ones from the flu. It’s especially important this year as COVID-19 still spreads. ​Call your pediatrician to make sure your children are up-to-date on other immunizations. Teach them good hand hygeine​ habits as a way to help prevent the spread of germs.

2. Do good digital. What are your kids watching on TV and online? Devote some time to researching age-appropriate media. Make a family media use plan, and try to prevent gaming from becoming an unhealthy habit. Remember that screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Watch a show together. Play a video game together. Understand what they are doing and be a part of it.

3. Get outside more. Spending time outdoors can be a great mood booster, and help families get physical activity and vitamin D while enjoying time in nature. Spending time outside also give your child’s eyes a healthy screen-time break.

4. Keep kids riding rear-facing as long as possible, up to the limits of their car seat. This will include virtually all children under 2 and most children up to age 4. If you are past the car-seat stage of parenting, congrats! If you’re still in the thick of it, check for any new car seat laws that may be going into effect in your state in the new year. Remind anyone who transports your child by car.

5. Practice some self-care. When was the last time you had a check-up? Got proper rest? Once a baby is no longer a part of your body, it’s easy to forget that tight association between how you care for yourself and how you care for your child’s health. We also know depression and anxiety can happen to both moms and dads during and after pregnancy. If this is you, you are not alone. Help is near.


Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2020). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Baby’s Temperament

Consider these two babies, both from the same family, both girls:

The first infant is calm and quiet, happy to play by herself. She watches everything that happens around her, but rarely demands attention herself. Left on her own, she sleeps for long periods and eats infrequently.

The second baby is fussy and startles easily. She thrashes her arms and legs, moving almost constantly whether awake or asleep. While most newborns sleep fourteen hours a day, she sleeps only ten, and wakens whenever there’s the slightest activity nearby. She seems in a hurry to do everything at once and even eats in a rush, gulping her feedings and swallowing so much air that she needs frequent burping.

Both these babies are absolutely normal and healthy. One is no “better” than the other, but because their personalities are so far apart, the two will be treated very differently, right from birth.

Like these babies, your infant will demonstrate many unique personality traits from the earliest weeks of life. Discovering these traits is one of the most exciting parts of having a new baby. Is she very active and intense, or relatively slow-going? Is she timid when faced with a new situation, such as the first bath, or does she enjoy it? You’ll find clues to her personality in everything she does, from falling asleep to crying. The more you pay attention to these signals and learn to respond appropriately to her unique personality, the calmer and more predictable your life will be in the months to come.

While most of these early character traits are built into the newborn’s hereditary makeup, their appearance may be delayed if your baby is born quite prematurely. Premature babies don’t express their needs—such as hunger, fatigue, or discomfort—as clearly as other newborns. They may be extra sensitive to light, sound, and touch for several months. Even playful conversation may be too intense for them and cause them to become fussy and look away. When this happens, it’s up to the parent to stop and wait until the baby is alert and ready for more attention. Eventually most of these early reactions will fade away, and the baby’s own natural character traits will become more evident.

Babies who are less than 5.5 pounds or 2.5 kg at birth (low birth weight), even if they’re full term, also may be less responsive than other newborns. At first they may be very sleepy and not seem very alert. After a few weeks they seem to wake up, eating eagerly but still remaining irritable and hypersensitive to stimulation between feedings. This irritability may last until they grow and mature further.

From the very beginning, your baby’s temperamental traits will influence the way you treat her and feel about her. If you had specific ideas about child rearing before she was born, reevaluate them now to see if they’re really in tune with her character. The same goes for expert advice—from books, articles, and especially from well-meaning relatives and friends—about the “right way” to raise a child. The truth is, there is no right way that works for every child. You have to create your own guidelines based on your child’s unique personality, your own beliefs, and the circumstances of your family life. The important thing is to remain responsive to your baby’s individuality. Don’t try to box her into some previously set mold or pattern. Your baby’s uniqueness is her strength, and respecting that strength from the start will help lay the best possible foundation for her high self-esteem and for loving relationships with others.


Source: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.