Mom's Nightmare - Sleepless Kids

Child sleeping problems and eating issues may arise from similar parent behaviors

(RxWiki News) Getting a child to sleep well and getting them to eat well are notorious challenges for parents. And problems in one area may be linked to the other - while making moms tired!

A recent study looked at families with a small child who had sleeping or eating difficulties.

The researchers found that the parents of these children often shared similar behaviors. These behaviors might have contributed to the children's problems, or vice versa.

Either way, the researchers concluded that parents may be able to address their children's sleeping and eating issues by changing their own behaviors.

It's possible that addressing parents' ideas and behaviors about kids' sleep and eating might help them solve those sleeping and feeding difficulties.

"Sleeping & feeding problems - Call a pediatrician."

The study, led by Tali Golik, of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Dana Children's Hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel, investigated mothers' ideas about their children's sleeping and feeding behaviors if their children had insomnia. The study also looked at the mothers' depression symptoms.

The study included 31 children who had behavioral insomnia and 29 children with feeding disorders. Behavioral insomnia occurs when a child will not go to sleep unless they have a regularly enforced bedtime. They will stay up for hours and make up excuses not to sleep.

The mothers of these children were compared to those of 170 children who did not have sleeping or feeding problems. The children ranged from 6 months old to 3 years old. The average age of all the children in both groups was about 16 months.

The mothers of all three groups answered questions about what they thought about their children's sleeping and feeding habits and what feelings of depression the mothers felt. The researchers wanted to understand the mothers' beliefs and expectations about their children's behaviors.

The questionnaire used for sleep perceptions asked questions about limit setting, anger toward the child, parents' doubts about their abilities as a parent, nighttime feeding concerns and nighttime concerns about children's safety. A higher score indicated more concerns and/or doubts.

The researchers found that the mothers of children with feeding or sleeping problems had similar beliefs and behaviors toward their children.

However, the mothers of the children with behavioral insomnia had significantly higher scores on the sleep questionnaire than the mothers of children without sleeping problems. This higher score revealed more anxiety and less confidence about their child's sleeping habits. They also showed more depression symptoms than the other moms.

Moms of kids with feeding disorders also felt more frustrated or anxious when they were feeding their children compared to the mothers of children without feeding or sleeping problems.

In general, the researchers found similar beliefs and issues appeared among the parents of kids who had sleeping issues and the parents of kids with eating issues.

Past research also has shown that children with sleeping difficulties often have feeding problems as well.

Therefore, the authors stated that some of these problems might relate to the beliefs and behaviors of the parents, or the other way around.

"It is possible that maternal cognitions [ideas] are not the cause, but rather the consequence of her child’s behavior and temperament," the authors wrote. In other words, mothers could hold their beliefs based on how their children are already acting.

Either way, it might be possible to help parents address feeding and sleeping problems in their children by changing some of the parents' ideas and behaviors.

"The role of parental cognitions [ideas] in child development has received increasing attention during the last two decades," the authors wrote.

"A number of studies have shown that parental cognitions [ideas] about their child’s behavior are significantly linked to his/her development, including sleep and feeding behaviors."

Parents who are struggling with their child's feeding or sleeping issues may want to discuss both with their child's pediatrician to see if there are links between the parents' actions and the difficulties of the child.

The study was published January 13 in the journal Sleep Medicine. The research was funded by the Israel Science Foundation.

Review Date: 
February 20, 2013