Before we get into parenting the high needs child and dealing with hard behaviours and emotions I have something I have to admit.
OK I am going to give a full confession here. Something I am not proud of.
When my older daughters who are now 6 and 7 were toddlers, I thought I had this parenting thing down. Minus a colicky start for Lilia both girls were angels; sweet, eager to please, could play independently, enjoyed snuggles and time together, would listen, would stop when I directed them away from danger, would sleep through the night pretty early. etc etc etc
Honestly I could go on and on, people always commented on how well behaved they were and it was like a big pat on the back for me as a mom.
I would see other moms around me struggling with their toddlers and preschoolers and think, wow they aren’t doing something right.
OK I said it… I was a judgey mom who thought she knew the best way to parent. I would think, well if only they spent more individual time with their child, or if they didn’t let them cry so much and attended to their needs quicker, or they need to be giving that kid more physical activity and less screen time.
I just didn’t understand why they were having so much trouble.
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Then God gifted us with a precious third daughter. Who is strong willed, determined, hates to play independently, still doesn’t sleep through the night at 2, hits, pinches, kicks, spits and screams louder than any other child I have ever met. Not to mention she laughs when I say no, colors all over ALL the things, and I truly believe she thinks her purpose in her little life is to make as much mess as she can.
Not to mention I have had 3 family members say “I am never babysitting her again” (half joke/half truth and I don’t even blame them for their comments)
I think God was trying to teach me and my judgey self something…
Now I know reading that may seem overwhelming to some, ridiculous to others, and I know there are some mamas reading this who are nodding with fervent agreement because they’ve got a toddler/child like that too.
And before you think I am being too negative about her I want you also to know that she is the most beautiful, loving kid who is such a ham and can make anyone laugh and fall in love with her in an instant. She doles out hugs and kisses like she’s in charm school. Seriously, she’s got some sort of cosmic effect on people (especially those who don’t live with her full time or care for her on a regular basis.)
We are all different and that’s what makes the world go round. Some kids are eager to please, some kids are strong willed and some kids are just plain high needs.
A high needs child can come in a variety of forms. Medical, behavioural, physical and emotional. And truly some kids that fall into each of those categories collectively.
And moms who don’t have kids with high needs will never understand those that do.
My sister in law for example has a little guy with type 1 diabetes. He has been diagnosed for a year and a half now and it is a constant struggle and alertness in everything they do as a family. I watched him alone for an hour and I was so worried that I would do something wrong.
I was overthinking every movement… He seems hyper what does that mean for his sugar levels… he seems sluggish, oh no his sugar must be low.
There are always alerts going off and he always needs his pouch of medical supplies and trackers close. His dad still gets up every night to check his sugar level and dose him if needed. The emotional effect on his parents has been something they have had to work through and overcome. It simply is a high needs situation and they have found community in other “medical parents” who understand the needs, the stress, the emotions and all the hard stuff.
I don’t get it. Yes, I have an understanding of how hard it must be, but I don’t get it.
But I have my own high needs child in the area of behaviour and emotions and many other families in the foster care and adoption community have similar high needs with their children.
Trauma effects the brain massively. Attachment does as well. These 2 common factors are present in most foster and adopted children. And everything they do from their behaviours and emotional regulation to their physical health and how they are in relationships is altered because of these two factors.
We may be dealing with sensory processing issues to reactive attachment disorder to ADHD to oppositional defiant disorder, which are all very high needs situations and incredibly stressful and hard. The outside would doesn’t get this. And I know because I used to be the outside world who thought kids were so over diagnosed because the parents didn’t know how to parent and that was there way of “helping” by labeling their child.
Now being on the other side of it I see the importance of these diagnoses and labels. They help you get the help you need in order to function as a “normal” family. They are real things and the parents are not crappy parents!
So maybe with what God has been teaching me in my own high needs parenting situation, I can offer you some advice.
If you are a high needs mama then reach out get some help. Sign up your child in part time daycare (it has been so helpful for me to have 2 days a week to recharge) get a regular baby sitter, see if grandparents can baby sit on more of a regular schedule. Don’t try to do it all on your own. Our generation of parents have gotten to the place where asking for help means failure, when really it means success. It takes a village is not a new coined term.
Educate your self. Ask the questions from doctors and therapists. Read the books. Sometimes diagnosis’ can overwhelm you. Knowledge is power. Never stop learning. The more you know, the better you will be able to help your child and the better the relationship you can create.
Of course you love your high needs child but sometimes you may find yourself just needed space because it is just so much. You may find yourself craving a more normal family interaction. But that is not what God has blessed you with and in every struggle and different need there is also a blessing.
Give yourself a pep talk. Like I just mentioned there are blessings in the hard stuff. Reframe the way you talk and feel about your child’s higher needs. You are most likely a more compassionate, knowledgable person. You are most likely kinder to other moms (and not judgemental, like I used to be). Find all the little blessings.
Reach out to another mom who is in a similar situation. Be an encourager, offer support, an ear to listen and allow them to vent and maybe even a night off for them. Yes be the village but in specific find one mama who you can walk this walk with together.
Having a high needs child in the area of behaviour requires a very different approach to parenting. You must be flexible, yet firm. As a mom, you have to tap into your mother’s intuition, and trust your instincts. You know your child. Sometimes they require more attention, sometimes they can be milking their high needs for attention. Sometimes its part of a diagnosis and sometimes it can be just them pushing your buttons. Kids with higher needs behaviour often have trouble regulating emotions and sometimes you will know how to help them through it and sometimes you will have to ride it out.
Our world and culture in general does not know how to deal with high needs children. As their moms, we have to help them navigate life when the world is going to try to put them in a box.
So gather your troops and supports, be their biggest advocate and keep pressing on mama. Your parenting journey may be more challenging then others but you will also reap so many rewards when your child overcomes things and crosses new thresholds.
God knew you were meant to be their mama. He gave this task to you. You can do it and do it well.
And stop worrying about those other judgey moms (example: me in 2014). They have NO CLUE. Do what is best for your child and your family. It is not any of your business what they think of your parenting.