Understanding My High Needs/Spirited Child

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This is my story.

The story about how I explained to my husband, family, and friends that my child was “high needs” (or “spirited”) and required MORE from me … and them.

As a mom of three (with two high needs children of my own), I’ve often felt isolated trying to understand and explain why my children seemed much more intense than other children. Many times I was criticized by friends and family who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being “tougher” on my whiny child, or why I wasn’t just letting the baby “cry it out.”

What is High Needs?

You may have heard the term “high needs” or “spirited” in reference to infants or older children who are often described as being “more.” They are the children who play more, cry more, laugh more, and many times are hardest of all to please because they constantly want more of your cuddles, more of your energy, and, well, MORE of everything!

Please keep in mind high needs is not a medical condition, but rather a set of personality traits. Everything described in my journey are classic traits from a child of high needs, including my experiences and feelings of failure.

Understanding My High Needs Baby

Let me start from the beginning as a first-time mom full of joy and wonder at this beautiful baby my husband and I created. I was taken aback when I quickly began to realize my parenting, so I thought, wasn’t up to par.

I remember in the hospital after my daughter was born the nurse said, “Good luck with this one, she never likes to be put down.” I gave her an awkward smile not fully understanding what she meant. But I came to understand her words all too soon.

My new daughter London seemed unhappy quite a bit. She cried often, even when we held her, and would absolutely not sleep in any position other than on our chest. Quickly she was diagnosed with reflux and colic. Honestly, as a brand new mother, I was happy to oblige to her needs. I carried her constantly, gave her baths to try and soothe her, sang to her, danced with her, rocked her, read to her … and slap wore myself out trying to please her.

Even well after colic should have worn off, she still seemed discontent most of the time. She was literally draining everything I had in me! Nights were still horrible, with neither one of us getting much sleep. This behavior wasn’t something I read about in the baby books and our pediatrician wasn’t much help either. I truly believed I was a horrible mom who couldn’t make my baby happy. I felt like such a failure.

Understanding My High Needs Toddler

As London got older I would see wonderful traits other toddlers didn’t seem to possess. By age one she was in love with books and would sit still for an entire hour listening to story after story.

At about 15 months she was coloring with crayons and paper (without eating either)! In fact, I have a picture of her at this age with her proudly holding her own box of crayons! She had an extensive vocabulary as well! I was so proud!

But she also had ferocious tantrums, often throwing herself to the floor screaming and kicking walls. I would ignore her fits like many of the books suggested, but this would only cause them to escalate. The option of redirection wasn’t even plausible because she was instantly upset. She would literally throw herself on the ground to the point of injuring herself, and I instantly went into “protect her head mode.” Once at the library when she was around two years old, she was so upset we were leaving that she flung herself to the ground and hit the hard concrete (which led to an even louder scream from her). I was so embarrassed. Everyone stared at me, some even shaking their heads as though I caused it to happen.

Understanding My High Needs Child

When my daughter was three years old, I was told numerous times I allowed her to get away with too much. You see she is highly intuitive and very sensitive to scoldings or grown-ups becoming upset with her. Then (and now), she verbalizes feelings of sadness over not being (or doing) “good” enough. If you do not speak to her in a calm tone, the entire situation could escalate.

Many things can trigger her to become disturbed, such as the feel of certain articles of clothing or shoes. Literally, a bad morning could set the tone for the rest of her day. Also transitioning from one activity to the next is difficult for her. I have to give her plenty of warning ahead of time to allow her to complete what she is doing or to let her know we are leaving soon.

Many people felt I was giving this little child far too much power in situations. As a result, I spent a lot of time reading and researching about her particular needs, and I believed I was doing my best to parent her.

She is now my six-year-old and still has a hard time controlling her emotions. Sometimes a meltdown can be over something as simple as the color of her cereal bowl, or it’s time to stop what she’s doing to complete homework. But overall she is a brilliant little girl! Full of intricate questions and capable of much empathy! I have learned her little personality quirks and we work together to keep moving in a positive direction.

Takeaway Advice

My biggest takeaway – you know your child best! Do ONLY what works for your particular child. Don’t listen to the criticism of “well you’ve made them this way” or “you have to allow them to just cry.” Trust your instincts and find a support group you can confide in!

Looking for more information? Below are additional resources regarding high needs and spirited children:

What are your experiences with a high needs/spirited child?

 

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Stephanie never pictured herself as a mother to multiple kids, but now that she’s “that mom” she couldn’t feel more blessed! Her stay-at-home mom days aren’t always easy, but she believes parenting gives us the opportunity to heal, change, and grow more spiritually aware. She loves reading, writing, and discussing topics related to soul searching and how to get past our own personal struggles, as well as the History channel….you know, the fast life! Stephanie is the mother to three active children, ages 6, 4 and 1, and has been married to her husband Travis for 6 years. She enjoys all the city has to offer for mommy’s and children, including group play dates, playgrounds, and lately the gym, where she can get fit and the kids have an opportunity to play (a win-win!). Having lived in Columbia for the past 19 years, she considers herself a native at this point.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Stephanie, your article has brought tears to my eyes. We have spoken before about our high needs babies, but I had never given much thought to having a high needs child older than a baby! I too have a little girl like London. Whose intensity has me exhausted before my second cup of coffee. Thank you for sharing your journey and please continue!!

    • I know Jennifer I remember us talking about our little high needs jelly beans! Glad you were able to gain some knowledge on your big girl!

  2. Awesome and informative. Thanks for sharing your story! I am going to have to do some more research on your links… b/c this sounds so familiar, like you have been in my house 😛

  3. After a meltdown asking my almost 5 yr old to dress herself & another yesterday because we left the play area too early… I needed to be reminded, its OK to help my kid do things our way.

    Its just hard for me to remember that my high needs baby is now a big kid & that is ok.

    Thank you for sharing!

    How do you get your children to transition better from leaving the play ground?

    Im worried about full time school, when I cant be around to help navigate needs.

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