Research links aggression in early childhood linked to parenting choices, poor sleep
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Research links aggression in early childhood linked to parenting choices, poor sleep

by Freya Lucas

April 13, 2022

Aggressive behaviours in early childhood can be traced back to sleep quality at 18 months of age, researchers have found, further linking sleep quality with the choices parents make when babies are six months old. 


The study is one of the first to examine the predictors and consequences of reported sleep problems in children from 18 months of age to seven years of age, with researchers finding that mothers who had harsh and intrusive parenting styles, with high levels of negativity towards their infants during play at six months of age was a strong predictor of sleep problems at 18 months of age. 


From there, researchers found that children who had poor sleep at 18 months old were more likely to have aggressive behaviour when they were in Kindergarten and second grade. 


The findings were published in Sleep Health and were based on a prospective longitudinal study using a data set of 164 African American and white children from six-months-old to seven years of age, their mothers and teachers.


The researchers examined lab visits, assessments and questionnaires of a community-based sample and measured parenting behaviour during a free-play task with the infants at six months of age. 


In addition, the scientists explored reports from the mothers about child sleep problems at six time points throughout the study as well as teacher reports of the children’s aggression and attention in kindergarten and second grade.


Lead author Cathi Propper said the study findings will strengthen the work of psychologists, health care clinicians and basic scientists while helping to inform policy and other practice. Most of all, she said, the research is important for children and their caregivers.


“Sleep is important not just so that children and their parents aren’t cranky after bad nights of sleep,” she says. “There are long-term effects of children not getting enough sleep; it’s during sleep that infants’ and toddlers’ brains are really developing. Findings such as these should provide everyone — whether it’s health care providers, teachers or parents — a better understanding of the long-term impact of young children not getting enough sleep.”


Research such as this also provides new evidence of sleep’s importance in the early years for developing skills that are critical in the classroom and integral for social-emotional and school success. While there has been a theoretical understanding of sleep’s importance for psychological and physical health, few longitudinal studies demonstrating this association exist.


To access the findings in full please see here

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