You Will Survive. Your Child Will Thrive. Life Will Go On.
Still, it’s hard to imagine even wanting to have another baby after you’ve held this one all day and been awakened three or more times at night. It’s hard to envision someone ever saying to you, “How blessed you are to have such an interesting child.” The journey from negative feelings to rewarding ones is a long uphill climb, but the payoff will come. Your most valuable survival tip is to practice attachment parenting. Here are some more survival tips that we discovered in parenting our high need children, and that other surviving parents have shared with us.
1. CONSIDER YOURSELF
Mothers need mothering, too. All giving and no getting will wear thin. New mothers easily recognize themselves in the scenario: “My baby needs me so much that I don’t even have time to take a shower.” It’s natural to put baby’s needs first, yet that doesn’t mean you always put your needs last. You can’t parent a draining baby if you’re drained. Next time you are on an airplane, notice how the flight attendant demonstrates the proper use of oxygen: “Put on your oxygen mask before putting on your child’s.” If you are suffocating, you are no good to your child.
It helps to have a realistic appraisal of what you need in order to meet your baby’s needs. Make a chart and list the things you absolutely need for your well-being!
|YOUR NEEDS||BABY’S NEEDS|
I needed exercise and space. Yet my baby needed a lot of holding and motion. A half-hour morning walk met all these needs. I would wear our infant in a baby sling and take a walk along the most peaceful path I could find. And each morning I would vary the route enough to keep it interesting for both of us. This is a great way to start the day. Besides being relaxing for me, the visual distractions of trees, flowers, traffic, kids, and people stimulated Matthew enough that he forgot to fuss.
2. ALLOW BABY SOME FRUSTRATION
In your zeal to be a positive parent, it’s tempting to keep giving until you give out. During the early months, babies need a “yes-mother.” Baby wants to nurse, you oblige. Baby wants to be held, you do it. Being unconditionally responsive is part of the parent-infant contract. Yet, such unconditional giving in the later months of infant care can develop into “martyr mothering” and actually interfere with your child’s ability to begin developing a sense of self and a sense of competence. Worst of all, when done through gritted teeth (because you know deep down your constant giving is no longer appropriate for baby’s age), responsive parenting deteriorates into resentful parenting. Once you know your limits, you will be motivated to find ways to get your baby to behave better, and your baby will soon get the message that life goes more smoothly with a mom who is happy.
Finding Your limits
Besides learning that if I wanted peace from her I needed to stay peaceful myself, toward the end of the first year it was better for her if I gradually eased off in responding to her cries. Admittedly it was hard for me to make this transition from almost immediately responding to her cries to now frustrating her some. I had to remain calm when I let her cry and not grow internally frantic. Eventually, I learned to distract her calmly and to speak to her. I calmly communicated to her that I believed she was okay and that I was still in charge of the situation. My being anxious communicated a sense of insecurity that would make her more upset and harder to calm down when I did pick her up.
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I’m getting to know his limits and mine. There were days when I lost it until I learned to put my three-year-old in his room and I went to my room, and we took a break. We both needed time out.
Be a Peaceful Presence
I needed to remain peaceful and calm when Linda was exploring and not interfere unless necessary. When she learned to crawl and climb, she was busy learning what her body could not do. I needed to be a peaceful presence, thus freeing her to concentrate on the task of learning. Naturally, I was tempted to say things like, “Now, be careful” or “Watch out, don’t fall,” especially when she was crawling on the furniture. However, I noticed that me saying those things distracted Linda, forcing her to split her attention between the task at hand and tending to me. So, instead, I put myself where I could “spot” her and catch her if she was about to fall, and I calmly and quietly watched her. I did not want to interfere by looking or acting anxious.
Encouraging “Mom-Free Time”
I could always tolerate three nursings at night. In fact, my worst experience with night waking was with my second baby who wouldn’t nurse when she woke at night. (Whatever happened to “I just plug her in and go back to sleep?”) The thing I really needed was to get Kris (my first) to the point where I could sit down at my sewing machine. Ohhhh, to me that was heaven! I found that once he was old enough to sit well, play on his own, and crawl around so he’d have mobility, I could steal as much as 20 or 30 minutes of sewing time at my machine. Sometimes it was a lot less than that.
On teething days or sick days, I wouldn’t even try. But by gradually allowing him more “slack” to deal with the myriad mini-frustrations of the crawling stage, he learned that he could actually enjoy some mom-free time (and I certainly enjoyed my baby-free time). If he would come over to where I was working, often it was just to check in; or I would cheerfully encourage him to “go get the ball” (or whatever) while I studiously focused on my sewing. He got the message it was okay for him to be on his own for a little while.
3. MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY
Sleep when your baby sleeps. Nap when your baby naps. It’s tempting to “get things done” while your baby’s napping. Resist that temptation and take a nap yourself. To keep your sanity in parenting a high need child, you must make sleep and rest a priority. Martha has learned over the years that baby’s sleep time is pure gold — much too valuable to be spent washing dishes, dusting, or even cooking. This precious recharge time was wisely put to use in ways that would make an eternal difference.
4. THERAPEUTIC WRITING
When you’ve reached your wit’s end, send your high-need child out to the park with father or a friend and sit down with your journal. Writing gives you the opportunity to examine your feelings about yourself, your parenting, and your child. It forces you to take inventory and proceed with what’s working and discard what isn’t. Journaling helps you focus on the positive parts of your child rather than on the negative, and it enables you to see that like is getting better. Besides, when you’re a grandmother, your journal will be a valuable gift if your child is blessed with a high-need baby. Pass your recorded wisdom on to the next generation.
Dear Dr. Sears,
Thanks so much for encouraging me to write my story. You saved me a fortune in therapy!
5. BE POSITIVE
Your early feelings about having a high need child may be so full of negatives (“doesn’t sleep,” “won’t settle,” “uncuddly,” “unpredictable,” “stubborn”) that you fail to see the flowers beneath the weeds. The payoff in parenting a high need child is that beneath every apparent “negative” trait lies a positive one. Once you pick the weeds (yours and baby’s), you see a flower blossom, sometimes so beautifully you forget that pile of weeds.
I have never met a high need child who doesn’t have one or more outstanding, positive character traits that, if found and nurtured, will later work to their advantage. The trick is to find them. It’s so easy to let the negatives camouflage the positives. Sometimes you have to pick a lot of weeds to see the flowers bloom.
Looking at the Unique and Positive Qualities
It helps to focus on what you like about your baby, “I’m glad he likes to nurse so often; some of my friends had difficulty breastfeeding.” “I’m happy she wants to be with me so much. “Thank heavens she’s persistent. She knows what she wants and has the personality to get it.” “I wasted so much time and energy wondering what problem my baby had and what I was doing wrong (because that’s how my advisors made me feel). Once I started looking at the unique and positive qualities my baby had rather than how he inconvenienced me, mothering became much easier.”
6. BE PATIENT
Personalities don’t change in a day. It may take months of hourly baby- mellowing to notice progress. We are rose-lovers. Martha knows that if she were to get impatient and try to unfold the rose petals by hand, the rose would look different in full-blossom than if she were to patiently and lovingly wait for the petals to unfold themselves. The rose won’t have the natural fullness it was meant to have. (She tried it once.)
We make allowances for his personality and temperament and give him time to catch up rather than pushing him to “straighten up” now. Sometimes I just resigned myself to the fact that my child cried a lot and I couldn’t always fix it, but I could at least be there.
7. FOCUS ON THE “BIGGIES”
As you learn to have more realistic expectations, be flexible, and as surviving parents say, “go with the flow,” it helps to save your energy and creativity for the “biggies,” those rough edges in your child’s personality that you simply can’t tolerate and you feel will later work to her disadvantage. Don’t waste energy on the “smallies”; they will take care of themselves.
I worked for a Japanese company and learned a valuable parenting lesson: the Japanese don’t waste time on figuring out why the problem occurred or who to blame, they focus on the solution. Devote your energy to what you can change and where you can make a difference, not to where you can’t.
Advice to Friends and Relatives
One of the hardest things for parents of high need children is handling criticism from people they value. The parents are already struggling with feelings that their baby’s personality is all their fault, that they are not good parents, and that their child is misunderstood. They are often made to feel embarrassed and apologetic for their child. You can help by being supportive. Talk about the qualities you like in the child. (Every child has some good points). Don’t offer sympathy, the child does not have a disease. Having high needs is not a “problem” or a “disorder;” it is a personality trait that is neither good nor bad, it’s just there.
When the parents are feeling down, pull them up. Be understanding, but you don’t always have to join in the parents’ misery. If the parents complain “He’s so draining,” come back with “Yes, he sure knows what he needs. And he’s so enthusiastic.” Hearing an uplifting comment from you may be just what the parents needed. Parents who are doing their best to bring up a difficult child need your affirmation, not your criticism.
8. REALIZE YOUR CHILD IS UNIQUE
You may have entered parenthood with preconceived ideas of what children and babies are supposed to be like. Many of these assumptions come from being around other parents and their children. One of your earliest mindset changes is to disregard what babies are “supposed” to act like and focus on your baby, how your baby came wired, what your baby needs. As your child grows, you’ll appreciate how important it is to see her as an individual.
What helped is for us to see our daughter as the intelligent person she is rather than trying to mold her to fit some standard model of babies. It also helped to change our expectations of her sleeping and nursing patterns and to concentrate on developing our own coping strategies. Around six months we began to see ourselves as being blessed with our high need child instead of cursed. She taught us valuable parenting lessons that we never would have learned with a more complacent child.
At first, we were on the road toward being controlling, manipulative parents, but Meredith wouldn’t have anything to do with that. We had to learn to be flexible and trust her to grow on her own terms and be thankful for her lessons in life. She almost never wanted to be cuddly or sit and rock. She wanted us on our feet and moving constantly. Also, what worked for us is to take your advice “whatever works.” What worked for Meredith changed by the minute.
9. DON’T COMPARE
This survival tip is a close cousin to the previous one. It’s easy to tag your child “bad” when he’s the only one in the playgroup climbing on the kitchen counter while the others sit politely around the table having their snacks. It’s easy to conclude that you’re doing something wrong when your baby is, allegedly, the only one in the group who doesn’t sleep through the night.
New parents get their “norms” from the general parenting styles and child behavior of whatever social group they’re in. We live in a society in which being different equates with being wrong. This is not only faulty reasoning, it will whittle away at whatever confidence you have left and undermine your perception of the uniqueness and value of your child. Comparing your parenting with others will drive you nuts. You’ll reinforce that negative nagging feeling: that your child’s bad behavior is somehow your fault.
Quotes from Mothers of High Need Babies
Avoiding the comparison trap frees you to look objectively at your child. You become less judgmental and more realistic. Your child came wired differently than the one next door, not better, not worse — just different. Every star shines a different light.
Although I love my child how she is and try not to compare her to other children, it is very frustrating to see how all my friends’ children are much less demanding than my own. Her needs are so strong and my mothering of her has been so intense that sometimes I feel like we are from another planet. So many people just cannot understand her needs and the way I respond to them.
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I was so tired of hearing the term “good baby.” According to the norms of the neighborhood, my baby wasn’t “good.” I then decided that a baby is “good” when he cries and lets you know what he needs. (In other words, all babies are “good.”) That really put a new perspective on fussy babies for me. They cry more because they need more.
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My advice to parents is that if you had a sick child you would give that child the care that it needed; so if you have a high need child, give her the extra attention she needs. She needs it for a reason.
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Once I learned that she has high needs for a developmental reason, it was easier for me to respond accordingly.
10. GET OUT
Home to a child is where mother is. The open space of a park or playground can release a tenacious child and relax a tense parent.
The biggest help I’ve found is outside. We now have a large backyard and my parents have filled it with toys and an above-ground swimming pool. This is a large factor in keeping my sanity. Being able to just sit while my children burn off all of their energy is truly a blessing.
11. IF YOU RESENT IT, CHANGE IT
The key to surviving and thriving with a high need child is to keep working until you find a parenting style that meets the needs of your child, but at the same time does not exceed your desire or ability to give. You will have to stretch yourself, but not until you snap. In counseling parents of high need children, a key question that we have found helpful in deciding when parents need to change what they are doing is, “Do you resent what’s going on?” “Are you becoming increasingly resentful of your style of parenting?” If the answer is yes, you need to make a change.
Continuing to tough it out in a style of parenting that may be working for your baby but is not working for you will cause you to become angry and increasingly resentful of your baby. Everyone resents parenting at times. It’s a difficult, stress-filled job. Determine what you can change and what you can’t, but above all, learn how not to resent what you are doing.
Quotes from Mothers of High Need Babies
My baby constantly demands to be held, walked, and generally has to be entertained at all times. I can’t leave her alone for a minute. I even have to take her to the bathroom with me. When she does sleep, I’m torn between whether I should get some rest myself or try to get something done around the house. I feel I should not be separated from this child day or night. Sometimes (but not very often) I have to let her cry because I’m on the verge of losing it, and then I feel guilty because I know she wants me but I’ve got to get away from her.
I wish there were support groups for people with babies like this, but I probably couldn’t attend anyway because my daughter cries even when we’re riding in the car — I can’t go anywhere! Of course, I love this child and I hope I don’t sound selfish when I say “WHAT ABOUT ME?” I have become a slave to this baby. Anything I WANT or NEED is not important.
When I read that the two of you have eight children I said these people have lost their minds. My husband works 12- 14-hour shifts so he’s not here a lot of the time. (Besides he can’t get her to stop crying the way I can). I’m afraid to leave her with anyone because I’m honestly afraid she will get neglected or even worst shook by someone who doesn’t know her like I do. I feel better just writing this all down, I guess it’s like therapy. Undoubtedly, I will survive this, and the only real cure is time. She will grow and this all will be in the past someday.
12. GET HELP
The earlier you realize that in parenting a high need child you will need outside help, the better you will survive. Choose your allies carefully. Unless they have a high need child, they may have difficulty empathizing with you. Surround yourself with like-minded parents. Join a high need support group, or start your own.
Quotes from Mothers of High Need Babies
Friends and relatives who have watched us mother Katie over the past two years have offered us love and support despite the fact they do not always understand. When I hear wonderful compliments like: “You have done so well with such a difficult baby” and “You and Katie are an inspiration to me when I am having a bad day with my baby,” I feel like all the hard work is worth it. We need someone to tell us that we are doing something right. It really helps to hear positive comments from other people, even though I can see for myself where my mothering efforts are paying off.
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Finding a support group and supportive friends has helped me to cope with our fussy baby. It is so important to be able to complain about the baby you love so dearly to understanding people. Early on I learned who to complain to. La Leche League moms were unmatched in their understanding of mothering a fussy baby. Their support has been a real confidence booster. The support group which has given me the most satisfaction in my mothering accomplishments is our playgroup.
Some mothers in it were initially skeptical of my reports of Emily’s fussiness. When they got to know us, they began to agree that my intensive mothering was the only way to go with my baby. A few have even changed their own parenting skills. I have been told by one mother that if I can get through each day with Emily, she knows she can make it through the day with her kids.
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When my baby was one month old, I was talking to my mother on the phone one day when I said, “Mom, I’ve been crying for two days and I can’t stop, and I’m getting scared.” Mom came right over. We had a talk and she said, “Donna, it’s okay to feel resentful that your life has been turned upside down by this precious little baby girl.” I said, “That’s exactly how I feel. I don’t resent her, but I resent the fact that I have no life anymore. I’m trying to keep her content, and I don’t seem to be able to succeed at that.” I felt very isolated and depressed.
Mom said, “I’ll take Lauren tonight, and you and Michael go out for dinner. Lauren wouldn’t take a bottle, but I pumped some breastmilk in case she got hungry while I was away. I nursed her before we left, tanked her up good, left her with my mom for a couple of hours, and then Michael and I went out to dinner.
13. START OR FIND A SUPPORT GROUP
When your misery needs company, form a “high need child” support group. Surrounding yourself with other parents who share your plight and your point of view helps you see the specialness of your child. You will also get some valuable child-management tips from experienced parents. Other parents in your support group will be willing to listen to your story over and over and without judgment. You don’t have to fear that you are “messing up” in front of them because the rest of the group members are also struggling to find their way in managing a high need child.
I posted some flyers in grocery stores and malls and at my pediatrician’s office and started a support group. We met at a park two to four times a month, and used the phone for in-between support. The upside was seeing other difficult children and hearing these moms’ war stories. The downside was trying to get everyone there because of these unpredictable children. (Unpredictable was Julia’s middle name. Her mood was inconsistent and changed without apparent reason. You just never knew what kind of day you were going to have.) We discussed survival tips and management strategies (when we weren’t keeping our difficult children from killing each other). It helped to know that there were other people out there struggling just as I was. I soon found that local pediatricians were referring their high need patients to our support group. Perhaps these doctors were just as frustrated as we were.
14. JOB SHARE
The person who shared in the conception must also share in the care of the child. Trying to do attachment parenting without your spouse’s help will wear you out. Share the job, share the joy. A giving mother and an involved father is a win-win-win situation: you gain much-needed help; your husband gets closer to his child and develops creative fathering techniques, and your child gets used to the variety of comforting techniques that father can provide.
Part of the problem was my husband was working long hours. I was the only one home with Suzanne for the majority of the time. And I felt I needed to keep her quiet at night so my husband could get his much-needed sleep because of the “high-need business” he was in. I didn’t want him to fall asleep on the freeway during his hour-long drive to work. But I realized I was giving out. One night David and I went out to dinner. At that point, we realized I was trying to keep him from the frustration of having a high-need, colicky baby because I was concerned about his safety driving and the long hours he was keeping. He was actually wanting to be involved and wanted to get up and relieve me at night, but didn’t want to displace my role as the mother.
At that point, we decided it was time to work together as a team, and we’d either take shifts during the nighttime hours or we’d just be up together in the middle of the night. I would get up and nurse her or just pull her close to me in bed and nurse her. If she wouldn’t fall asleep from that, David would take her and walk with her. Sometimes when we were up together it gave us a chance to share our feelings about having a high need baby and how this was affecting our feelings for each other. We realized we had been growing apart, but now that we began sharing our baby’s care all three of us grew back together.
Asking for Help
Out of necessity and because of the intense physical and emotional demands of a high need newborn, we developed a real sense of balance in our relationship. I would get tired and Jim would take over. He would get discouraged and I would feel hopeful. It allowed us to become acutely aware of our own limitations and to develop our own particular strengths in soothing Karen. These strengths were added to our colic “bag of tricks” and brought out as the situation warranted. We learned when to ask for help and when to take over — when Karen needed mom and when she wanted dad.
Two months after Karen was born, we went to a reunion of our childbirth class. This day proved to be a real learning experience for us all. At one point, Karen indicated that she was sleepy. Since she was not a baby who would simply doze off when she was tired, Jim took her in his big arms and bounced her down to sleep. When he got too hot from holding her, he would pass Karen to me. I would take her and bounce her while he ate. Then he would take her back while I ate. It was the beginning of our own version of the “colic dance.” It’s a dance we continue to this very day.
We remember feeling somewhat scrutinized as if all the other parents’ eyes were on us. Instead of feeling unsure, we gained confidence that day not only in our ability to help Karen and make her feel safe and comfortable in any environment but also in our ability to work as a team. That, too, continues to be an important and valued characteristic of our family.
15. PLAN AHEAD
Learn to anticipate your child’s needs, and avoid, as much as possible, situations that set you up for conflicts. If your baby is a late afternoon fusser, stay clear of supermarkets during those hours. After the first few months, you will know at which times of the day that child’s moods are easier to manage, and you can then structure your day accordingly. Mornings are usually magnificent for high need babies and their somewhat rested parents. That may be your so-called quality time. Toward the end of the day is usually comfort time, the four to eight P.M. “happy hours” when babies are usually the least manageable. Try to avoid unsettling activities during those hours and concentrate on meeting your baby’s needs.
Taking him anywhere had to be planned out. Before going out, I would do an imaginary run through of where we were going, what we were going to do, what behavior I could expect of him, and how I could best adjust my agenda to keep us both happy. I had a back-up game plan if things didn’t go well. Before I could do this, I had to work hard to overcome the influence of outside pressures that I was spoiling him, letting him manipulate me, or my life was becoming too child-centered. Once I learned to rearrange my life around my child’s needs and personality, we were both much more relaxed. We take into account our child when planning our activity — his needs, and ours. We learned to be flexible and leave spaces of time in our schedule for a change of plans.
Giving up the Small Stuff
During the first three months, Jonathan was so fussy, I gave up trying to cook dinner between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Instead, I would just wait until my husband got home or I would cook earlier in the day when my baby was asleep. I also gave up trying to keep a neat, tidy house — I tend to be a neat freak. I like things orderly and under control, but I realized that if I focused too much on housework I was going to miss out on the fun of playing with my baby.
The ability to plan and anticipate is learned from one’s parents. It is a valuable life skill for everyone, not just parents. It implies a certain level of personal discipline so that you don’t have to “fly by the seat of your pants” or cope with the pressure of rushing around at the last minute. Having a high need child will make it very clear to you whether you anticipate well or not. With this skill, you’ll avoid putting either yourself or your child into impossible situations. People who have never learned to make realistic plans may need professional help to learn this skill as adults.
16. TAKE THE LONG VIEW
Consider that you’re into parenting for a lifetime. Shaping a child’s behavior is a gradual process. You may not see daily change. Coping with slow improvement may be especially difficult if you are a person used to quick fixes. Remember, you are dealing with a person, not a machine.
I can’t choose my child’s temperament, but I can influence its outcome.
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I learned to judge developmental progress on a long-term basis. I stopped asking myself if Jonathan was doing better this week than last week. Instead, I compared this year’s behavior to last year’s. It helped me a lot because I could see good progress over the long haul, even when we were having a rough week.
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The turning point was when a friend convinced me that my baby was only a baby a short time, and she would only be a tiny infant once, and the decisions I made and still make will affect her as she grows.
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My husband and I feel that the amount of time we spend with our baby in our arms not only builds strength in our bodies but also helps to build strength in our family.”
17. GET BEHIND THE EYES OF YOUR CHILD
Throughout your parenting career, there will be thousands of situations that test your composure. Your toddler pitches a fit at playgroup when you announce it’s time to go. Your child spills juice all over her shirt when you’re already late for an appointment. The first thought that flashes through your mind is likely to be “How inconvenient for me…” But beware, these initial adult-centered thoughts can trigger a whole chain of events that only make things worse.
Lauren, who is three, has an especially quick trigger, and we have learned that she is unreachable once she is flooded with anger. The thing that most sets her off is getting an angry reaction from one of us. This has caused us to consider carefully whether it’s worth venting our emotion when all we will achieve is sending Lauren into a tailspin. Of course, it never is worth it to get angry at Lauren, but we don’t always remember this in time to salvage a situation. She, with her high sensitivity to an insult, has taught us not to insult her. We’ve learned to say calmly, “Oops, a spill. Let’s wipe it up.” (She’s very good at cleaning up.) And we are getting better at staying calm.
Save the Mental Wear and Tear
Instead of getting stuck in the rut of thinking how aggravating or inconvenient a situation is to you, get into the mind of your child and consider the effects of the situation on him. This approach is not only less upsetting to the child, it’s less aggravating for you. One day I watched Martha and Lauren (a high need two-year-old) handle an upsetting situation. Lauren dropped the milk carton from the refrigerator shelf and the milk spilled all over the floor. Martha knelt next to the Lauren, looked at the mess, and looked at her sympathetically. For a few seconds, she didn’t say anything. And then I watched how the child willingly helped Martha mop up the mess. After the job was done, neither mother nor child was upset, and the day went on with no energy lost.
I asked Martha why this potentially messy situation turned out so positively. She volunteered, “Right after Lauren spilled the milk, I asked myself “If I were Lauren, what would I want my mother to say?'” Martha’s first impulse was to project herself into the mind of her child, which triggered a whole chain of empathetic and appropriate responses, and saved a lot of mental wear and tear on everyone.
Consider the Child’s Feelings First
As a two-year-old, our Matthew was (and still is) a very focused child. Scooping him up without warning from play simply because of a grown-up agenda was sure to invite a tantrum. Though it was at times inconvenient, Martha realized that Matthew’s ability to concentrate and focus on his play was a valuable trait, useful in later life. So, instead of expecting Matthew to switch from his agenda into hers, she gave Matthew a warning a few minutes before it was time to leave, giving him time to make the transition.
Martha helped Matthew remove himself from what he was doing: “Matthew, say bye-bye to the trucks, bye-bye to the cars, bye-bye to the toys, bye-bye to your friends…” This gave Matthew a chance to leave his activity gradually and with a sense of closure. (And remember, in order for this to happen Martha had to have enough self-discipline to start early and allow enough time so that there would be no pressure-filled deadlines for leaving.) We also used this “saying bye-bye to everyone (and everything) in the room” approach in making the transition to going to bed. Considering the child’s feelings first instead of yours is not a threat to your authority or control; it’s a good strategy in all human relationships.
18. MAKE MAJOR CHANGES GRADUALLY
High need children are slow to adapt to major changes in family life. Moving is one such change. Young infants usually don’t have a problem because to them home is where mommy is, even though mommy’s in a new house. With older children, you can smooth the process by helping your child with the transition. Prepare the child for the move by emphasizing the positive — new friends, his own room, perhaps a larger yard to play in, or a park nearby. Let him help you prepare for the move and get the new house ready. Pack up his things last and unpack them first. Expect your child to show behavior swings during a move because of the stresses you will naturally undergo. The more quickly you settle into a new routine, the more quickly your child’s behavior will return to normal.
19. YOU’RE ALSO A HIGH-NEED PARENT
High-need children and parents need:
- more understanding
- increased encouragement
- more help
- less criticism
In fact, “high-need” not only describes the child, but it also describes the relationship between parents and children. “High-need family” says it all.
20. IT’S NO ONE’S FAULT
Having a high need baby is really a no-fault situation. Your baby is the way she is and you are the way you are. The key is to get your personalities to mesh rather than clash.
The biggest improvement in her behavior happened at the same time I was able to accept her as she was, and not as something that I had to fix or that was my fault.
21. STUDY YOUR CHILD
You must become an expert on your child; no one else will. There is no such thing as a parenting expert. There are only parents who have a lot of experience and have learned, through years of trial and error, what works for them. Yet, remember, their experience is gleaned from parenting their own children and may not apply to your family. Professionals learn by interacting with lots of parents and children. Most are simply opinion-givers, and you will find some opinions more useful than others.
Unlike the impression conveyed by popular magazine articles, parenting a high need child requires more than a list of “Ten easy ways to parent.” You must individualize your parenting style. This comes only as a result of studying your child moment by moment, learning to read her body language; and anticipating her moods and needs so that you can be one step ahead of your child. You become a sort of developer who shapes your child’s personality, a facilitator who makes it easier for the child to get through difficult times, and an architect and organizer who makes it possible for your child to succeed without tantrums. While professional counseling has its place, you may discover that few advisors truly understand high need children — unless, of course, they have raised one.
At two months of age, Laura continues to teach us and we continue to be good students. We do not yet speak each other’s language, but we’ve progressed day-to-day as we learn the language based on intuition, trust, and profound respect for each other.
As you grow in your knowledge of your child, you will find yourself becoming increasingly confident about the value of your own intuition. Yet this will be a slow process, based on hundreds of moment-by-moment, trial-and-error decisions. Once you get in sync with your child, you will be able to stop relying on outside advice and trust yourself.
My most important advice for other parents of high need children is: listen to your instinct and listen to your baby. I have always assumed that Katie cried or fussed for a reason. Even if I couldn’t figure out what it was. The more I followed her cues and my own feelings and observations (instead of others’ advice), the easier it became to promptly meet her needs, help her feel content, and become more self-confident as a mother.
Have confidence in yourself and in your parenting. This will be your best survival guide.
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.