I knew from my 15th week of pregnancy that James was a mover & a shaker. But I had never heard the term “high need child” so I certainly didn’t expect to have one. James is 4 months old now. He still cries to be held constantly, nurses 10 to 15 times in any given 24 hour period, and is sometimes completely inconsolable.
Many people (with good intentions) have given me advice on how to deal with these ‘problems’. “Put him down and let him cry,” they tell me. “He’s getting spoiled.” “Don’t feed him so much–make him wait longer.” What these advice givers do not understand is that they are, subtly, telling me that I’m not doing the right things, that James would be different if I just (fill-in-the-blank).
After letting my son scream for an hour straight, depriving him of food when he needed to eat and feeling like a complete failure as a parent, I’ve discovered info & research by Dr. Sears that shows how this style of ‘parenting’ is completely wrong, especially for my high need kid.
Here are some of the many attributes of James (and other high need babies):
1. In demand of constant attention
High need children want and need attention, and they will not be ignored. This is not a child you can leave in the crib to fuss for a few moments to see if he/she might go back to sleep he/she wants attention. If the child wants you to hold him/her, he/she won’t be put off by books, toys, or someone else’s attention. You will find that this child has no compunctions against letting these demands be known, for he/she will let you know quite loudly.
2. In need of physical contact very often
High need children, especially as babies, need a lot of physical contact. This may manifest as fussing when they are put down, needing to eat often and long, refusing to go to sleep, or any combination of the three. High need children will often sleep better in bed with their parents so that they can maintain contact all night long.
High need children constantly surprise you with new things that seem to be designed to drive you mad. What comforted them yesterday may not work today. Their sleep patterns may vary drastically from week to week. It’s sort of like a daily poker game: you never know what you’re going to draw from one day to the next.
4. Constantly feeding, especially nursing
High need children don’t generally fit into the 2 1/2 to 3 hour feeding routine into which most babies fall. Most want to be latched on seemingly forever. Some of this relates to their need for close physical contact; nursing fills that need quite nicely. They may also have a need for sucking (which is a normal baby need) beyond what they get from eating. If they don’t like pacifiers, they may turn you into a human pacifier, employing “comfort sucking” rather than real eating.
When I read these things (plus how to listen to my instinct to care for James) I began to weep aloud. FINALLY, someone understands. Someone out there knows what it is like to cry along with your child, to feel crazy because what works one day doesn’t work the next. To affirm to me that I’m a good mother because I love & nurture my son, and not harrass me about putting James on a rigid schedule.
Some people may think, “My child wasn’t/isn’t like the behavior you’re describing because I (fill-in-the-blank).” I disagree with that thinking, especially on a theological level. Didn’t God form me from my mother’s womb? Was I a blank slate that became the way I am solely due to environment? Of course not–I was predestined to be who I am. And so was James.
Disagree with me if you will, but I plan to continue ‘spoiling’ James w/ affection until he’s so ‘spoiled’ that he believes his Mommy will always be there for him, loving him endlessly.