This post is one that has been hard to write, as there are many varying perspectives out there. Typically one reads something along the lines of, yes, there are children who have “difficult” behaviors, but if Mother and Father just get through it, the child will grow up to be a wonderful person.
Sometimes it seems these authors never really had a child with “difficult” behaviors to be gotten through for years on end, right??
I am talking in this post about children who are essentially within normal development, not children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, sensory processing disorders or autism spectrum disorders.
I have a few things that I have found to be helpful with my own “higher-needs, intense child”, not in any special order:
1. Get rid of that label. When I first was a parent, I thought “high-needs” was wonderful…..Now I think this label serves its purpose when the child may be in infancy so you don’t feel as if you are going insane, but really as the child grows, I think it is better to just accept where they are and what things are more challenging for them than labeling it. Every child brings challenges and things that need balancing and guidance and I think that can be easy to lose sight of if you consider your child “hard” and everyone else’s child “easy”.
I have also heard too many parents refer to their “higher-needs” child with the child standing right there! The child truly does understand this, and even if you think this is a nice way of saying “difficult”, the child translates it as such and feels something less than positive about themselves! Stop it! Stop telling the horror stories of your child’s infancy if your child is there, and even see if you can re-frame those thoughts in your head before they come out of your mouth. How about these instead: “We got through together the best we knew at the time.” “We did a great job in that situation.” “There were positive moments.”
Positive thoughts equal positive parenting, which is often exactly what this little person needs and longs for because sometimes these children are not the first to look on the sunny side!
Secondly, think about the fact that human development takes a LONG time and that three, four and five and even six is still little, is a period overall of rapid growth and often disequilibrium, and that in many cultures the child is perceived as not really having a set personality from infancy onward the way we look at this in the United States. Ask yourself, how would I be treating my child if I thought this “higher needs” was not so ingrained within them? Would I be able to be calmer and patient because I was guiding them, teaching them? Maybe not, but interesting food for thought. Your child may be a much, much different person at 7 or 8 than even at 4, 5 or 6. Seriously!
2. Stop drawing individual attention to that child’s behavior as much as possible, and accentuate the positive as much as possible. Less words for judging (because even saying, “Gosh, you are feeling aggressive today!” or “You are being so persistent” is judging in my book. Why go there?). Try meditating over your child while they sleep, try warm hugs and smiles, try really looking at the positive with your own warmth toward the child and finding the humor. Humor can diffuse a lot.
3.. Understand normal developmental stages and what works best – less words and don’t reason, more movement, more play, more imagination, more humor.
4. Be ready to accept your child’s behavior, pull back and be okay with that. This can be a real challenge for the adult, and I have been there. It was a challenge for me. So your three-year-old doesn’t do well at playgroups, so what? It used to be a child really didn’t have any play dates until they were over four and a half or so – maybe there was wisdom in that! It used to be small children were mainly at home with siblings and not off to gymnastics and art and museums and such. If your child doesn’t do groups well, look at it not as a character flaw, but normal development! It is really okay, and again, unless your child has been diagnosed with some sort of autism spectrum, it is likely to change as they grow.
5. Be calm and be patient. Try to understand things from your child’s point of view, and let your RHYTHM carry things. Have some limits that just include what you do, “We will play after lunch.” “We wash our hands after going to the bathroom.” We works really well.
6. Be aware of any reflux, food allergies or things within the environment that your child is sensitive to that triggers things not going well.
7. Make sure this child is getting enough rest and sleep. That is an absolute cornerstone of rhythm.
8. Are you feeling positive and centered? C’mon y’all, you knew I was going to say that one! Work on your own stuff so you can be what this child needs. Guard your words and your thoughts toward the positive and away from the negative.
Most importantly, FORGIVE YOURSELF. You are a wonderful mother, you are working hard, you wouldn’t be thinking and worried about this otherwise! Give yourself a break! Love yourself and use that as a model for how you can love and forgive your child!
9. It is okay to help your child play. Children under the age of 7 are in the height of the imitative phase, and may NOT be able to come up with what to play out of their heads. It is okay to help them out – set up play scenes, give them ideas (“I am the old woman of the villager who is washing dishes and you are coming to my village on a train! Here is a train cap and train whistle!”) Invite them to help you with practical work. Tell them stories and things that may spur their play. Your oldest child might really need this help, your younger ones will have the older one to imitate.
10. Try to spend some time alone with this child every day in a positive way. Whether this is just curled up together reading a book, tossing a ball, rolling around on the floor, just be together. The more you are together in positive ways the more you can love each other.
11. Again, this post was not geared toward children who have been diagnosed with something specific, but if you think your child is having issues with anger, or processing sounds or textures, or whatever, get help. Don’t wait! Trust your gut instinct because you are the expert on your child, you know your child best, and you are the advocate for your child!
Peace and cyber – hugs,