Capstone/Dissertation Title

Raising a spirited infant: parents' reactions and responses to sleep, self-regulation and temperament related behaviors





Degree Name



Research indicates 20% to 30% of all full-term infants present sleeping problems. Before the parents of these infants seek professional help an average of 9.2 months elapse (Papousek, Schieche, & Wurmser, 2008). This qualitative study was designed to explore the experience of parents who identified their infant as somewhat to very difficult, in relation to the temperament traits of activity level, intensity, and sensitivity and whose lack of sleep was problematic. In this study these infants were described as spirited infants. This study specifically explored the cognitions of these parents in regard to sleep and crying related behaviors of their infants. The goal in conducting this research was to provide new insights for earlier identification of these families and to inform parent education practices. The key findings were obtained from in-depth, in-person interviews, telephone follow-up interviews and journal entries maintained by the parents. All of the infants were between the ages of six weeks and four months at the time of the study. Through the process of categorization and coding, seven themes emerged. (1) Shock: Participants described feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and exhausted. (2) The infants struggled to sleep. (3) Parents' perspectives wavered between feeling distraught to believing they could figure it out. (4) Parents struggled to self-regulate. (5) Relationships changed. (6) Initially parents reported searching for the right way to respond to their infant, ultimately indicating that they had to find their way. (7) Effectiveness of responses grew as parents became more sensitive to their infant's cues, although no strategy was always successful. The traditional cry-it-out method did not work for these young infants.

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