4.17.2014

Interview with John Medina

Many parents are concerned about the sleep patterns of their children but in some cultures (Argentina, Spain), staying up late seems not to be a problem. Finally, is there any impact of bedtime or sleep pattern on babies and toddler’s cognitive development?

The most important factor appears to be establishing a consistent bedtime rhythm, regardless of what schedule you follow.

There is room for variation. Different people have different internal clocks – under partial genetic control - regardless of culture. These differences begin to appear in childhood. Some kids turn out to be natural night-owls, for example, and seem to be at their cognitive peak at night (we call them late chronotypes). Others show peaks in the morning (we call them early chronotypes) – and there are all shades in between. What chronotype your child possesses is important for parents to determine - and for kids to follow. Getting the proper amount of regular sleep certainly influences positive cognitive development. But what “proper” means may depend on what child you are talking about.

Several studies showed the benefits of co-sleeping, but some articles also highlight the fact that frequent awakenings during the night can generate stress for babies. Finally, do we know what is the global impact of this practice on sleep quality?

There are pros and cons to cosleeping and the current state of research gives no clear recommendation. There is no permanent damage done if you cosleep with them. There is no permanent damage done if you do the tried-and-true Cry It Out protocols. You can say that frequent awakenings not only stress the baby, they also stress the parents. Continuously stressed parents usually don’t make continuously good parents. Whichever style gives the adult more sleep is generally the healthier option.

Of course this has global implications. The less sleep you get, the more susceptible you become to anxiety and depressive disorders. Sleep loss also affects how you age. The global impact of depression and a poor transit through aging is incalculable.

Baby-wearing, with scarves for example, is increasingly used in western societies, but it has been practiced for centuries in other parts of the world. Does this practice have an impact on babies’ psychomotor development? By fostering visual or tactile exploration of the world for example. And do we know if the induced proximity between parents and babies strengthens the attachment?

I know of no studies conclusively determining whether baby-wearing has either a negative or a positive effect on a baby’s psychomotor development. It’s important for kids to move, for sure, but it’s also important they feel safe. And though safety cues are extremely important for a baby, how that is perceived depends on the child. Some babies seem to love scarves. For others, it’s their worst nightmare.

There are a variety of family structures, from nuclear families to multi-generational families. Does growing up in an extended family and multiplying interactions have an impact on children’s learning abilities, language acquisition or social skills?

I am deeply in favor of multi-generational families. The exposure to multiple intellects provides terrific opportunities for kids to hear alternate points of view -  and learn a great deal about navigating social relationships in a safe, loving atmosphere. Provided the family has a safe, loving atmosphere, that’s a net positive intellectual experience

In some countries, at an early age, toddlers spend much more time with their peers than with their parents and are very independent. What can be the impact of this early autonomy on their cognitive development?

Its not about providing autonomy. It’s about providing perceptions of safety, as I mentioned previously.

The reason is that the brain – even a child’s brain - is the world’s most sophisticated survival organ. If the child feels safe in an independent peer-filled environment, their brain development will maximized. And if that happens, I am all for early independent interactions. But not all kids feel safe in an independent peer-filled environment at an early age. Some get that later.  Parents should pay very close attention to what type of baby they have brought into the world, not into what country the child was born - and decide for themselves how much autonomy they can stand.

Conversely, in some cultures, parents are especially present and try to stimulate their babies’ intellectual growth from the very first months. What are the effects of this enhanced involvement on children’s development?

The greatest predictor of intellectual success is the emotional stability of the home - not the presence of toys or devices built to improve infant cognitive development. Most of those products haven’t been tested, and the few that have been tested don’t work very well. One study actually showed it did more harm.

If you want to maximize your child’s intellectual growth, the best thing you can do is to go home and love your partner. 

1 comment:

Katherine Gordy Levine said...

My youngest gave up naps at 9 months, hated going to bed at night. Eventually, we simple said, stay in your room, play quietly, and sleep when it comes. He was always cheerful and happy in the morning. The need for ten or twelve hours of sleep is a myth for many. I do fine on five. Guess my son inherited my genes.