Understanding High-Need Teenagers and How to Help Them Thrive
My eldest daughter is 15 years old. When she was an infant and toddler, she was to the rule a high- needs baby. Your book was the only thing that kept me sane and helped me cope with this very, very challenging baby. As a 14/15-year-old I see the same high-needs behavior. It’s a very difficult time to navigate. It’s like living a flashback to my daughter’s childhood. Do you have any articles or advice you’d recommend for coping with high-need teenagers?
Mom, you nailed it – high-need babies often grow up to be high-need teenagers. Yet, they also usually grow up to be highly loving, highly affectionate, and highly compassionate adults. One of the reasons you are having a flashback to your child’s high-needs childhood can be summarized in one word: sensitivity. If someone, usually a schoolteacher or a close friend, comments to you “Your daughter is so sensitive!” take that as a positive and reframe it: celebrate her sensitivity. Our world needs more sensitive young adults.
The Balancing Act for High-Need Teenagers
Yet, the quality of sensitivity has, like a good medicine, some undesirable side effects. While sensitive persons are more caring, compassionate, empathetic, and make this world a better place to live, sensitivity can also make teenagers more quirky. Healthy sensitivity requires having just the right balance. Being too sensitive can create anxiety and behavioral problems at all ages; not sensitive enough can lead to depression. Just the right amount of sensitivity can result, most of the time, in balanced behavior. To encourage balanced behavior from high-need teenagers, try the following:
Feed her behavior-balancing foods.
- The more quirky the behavior of the teen, the more behavior-balancing foods they should eat. Get a copy of my husband’s newest book, The Healthy Brain Book, and carefully read – and do – the feeding tips in that book for better brain balance in your teen.
Nourish her “special something.”
- Teens need to excel in what they are most gifted at. Whether it’s art, music, sports, or volunteering find her special something that calms her behavior, fosters her sensitivity and run with it.
Sleep quirky behavior away.
- In The Healthy Brain Book you will find lots of suggestions on why and how a good night’s sleep is likely to foster better behavior.
Go outside and play – run quirky behavior away.
- Too many teenagers are suffering from a modern malady we call “the sitting disease.” Bodies of all ages are made to move, especially the beautiful mind and body of a growing teen. Nature is calming; movement in nature is even more calming. In our chapter on movement in The Healthy Brain, we show you why.
Tame the triggers.
- Keep a journal to find out what’s different about the days and times when her behavior is pleasant to be around and when it is not. Is it how and what she ate, how she slept, how she did at school, or the friends she hung out with? Quirky behavior in a teen is often a red flag or tip of the iceberg that something deeper is bothering her. There may be some misfit between her own sensitivity and that of her friends, her teachers, or her school as she plays the usual teenage game of “go along to get along!” Try to get her to confide in you what these “feel bad” triggers are and how you and she can work together to help her build a bigger and better “tool box” of more useful ways to regard her feelings and more thoughtful ways to take action. This, by the way, will give her a toolbox she can carry around the rest of her life.
It is also important to remember that, just like when she was a toddler, it is important for you to take time to tend to your own needs and self-care. This helps you to be in a place where you can respond instead of reacting, to be calm when your high-need teenager is not able to be calm. When you model these tools, you have a way to encourage her in being able to put them into practice. And spend plenty of time affirming the amazing gift of your calm presence that you are giving your daughter. It is important, valuable, and a true act of love.
Social Media Awareness
One final word about this touchy subject: Social media can add an unnecessary burden to the life of a sensitive teen. There may be times when this influence in her life can become toxic. Keep your parent-ear open to this possibility. High-need teenagers may need or even want help managing social media when it becomes overbearing and even intrusive in a negative way. In my opinion, younger teens are not mature enough to handle what comes to them via a cell phone. Let’s face it, many adults are not either! At the very least, if she already has a cell phone, be aware of what kinds of negative influence it is bringing into her life.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”