I’ve been meaning to write about this and since Jo had an epic meltdown tonight at the end of an extended family dinner, it seemed appropriate!
Josie is what they call a high needs kid. She was born a high needs baby and now she is a high needs toddler. There a few things to know about kids with this kind of temperament.
- They know what they need, and what they DON’T need.
The thing Josie usually needs is attention and physical contact and the person she usually needs it from is ME. This is an all day and all night need. When she’s busy playing with peers, she needs it less, but still frequently touches base with me. Sometimes, she wants attention or contact from her dad or brother or sister or a handful of other humans. If someone else suggests that she spends time with a specific person, it DOES NOT FLY usually…but if she needs to spend time with someone, she makes it very clear. She is frequently heard saying, “I show you.” or “I need up!” or “Follow me.” Today she was quiet and played on her own for like 10 minutes and I panicked and went looking for her because it was such a rare thing. She was just playing with toys in her room, but it is such a rare event that she does that that it made me actually worry! Of course, once she saw me she said, “Sit down, Mommy. Play.”
- It’s not you, it’s her.
It is really easy to have YOUR feelings hurt by a high needs kid, when you are not the person they need or if you happen to set them off…but it really isn’t you. They are just very sensitive and particular. Tonight, my poor brother-in-law told his own kid, “No.” and Josie froze for a minute or two before totally losing it. Wracking sobs, for a long time. Then she was very curt with her grandma when she came to check on her. Then she got very upset when her other uncle came to say goodbye. It wasn’t really any of them, she’s just so sensitive and was completely overwhelmed. It’s like the time my parents came to show her their new car and she got really upset because it was not a normal thing for her. She STILL talks about that and it was a month or more ago. She feels everything so much and gets unsettled easily. She’s very demonstrative and pays way more attention to facial expressions than most kids her age. She often cannot handle preschool cartoons where the characters feel sad or other strong emotions and will totally lose it because she feels it ALL. Another instance of this is her bedtime routine. Josh handled bedtime for her for a long time, but then a switch flipped and she decided she needed me to do it. She will freak if she thinks I’m not going to do her bedtime routine. She loves Josh, but she will straight up tell him “Go away, Daddy.” when it is bedtime. But today when she had a tummy ache and I was holding her, she said, “I need Daddy.”. She loves me to pieces, but she needed Daddy for that. We’re used to these “slights” because we know it is just how she is, but not everyone is used to having a Josie around.
- It’s not us, it’s her.
It’s easy to look at high needs kids and their parents from the outside and think they are creating this situation or that they’ve trained their kids to be this way, but that’s not it. Josie has been this way since birth. She wouldn’t sleep unless she was touching me. She did not go for “baby holders” at all. I was an exclusively pumping mom and it was soooo hard with her constant need to be held. I wish she would have been content in her swing or bouncer for 15 minutes. She was also very wary of people she viewed as “outsiders”. She has always been very different than her siblings. We meet her needs because they are needs, whether it seems reasonable to us or not. The more we do that, the more secure she feels and the more independent she becomes.
- It gets easier!
If you have a high needs baby and you are drowning and think you will never get a second of freedom again, take heart! It gets easier. Once these babies get mobile, they get a little more independent and then things start to inch along from there. Eventually, they even start sleeping through the night at times! They will get curious about other people and let them into their world. Sometimes Josie spends a whole night in her toddler bed! She is starting to enjoy being around extended family more! She goes to church nursery happily! I used to have to be in bed within 30 minutes of her falling asleep or she would be up for HOURS, now most nights I get several hours of “free” time after she goes to sleep. She really is a lot less demanding than she was as an infant.
- But it is a slow process.
There are still some nights where she sleeps on my pillow with me all night long, and more nights when she has to be touching me for at least part of the night. There are nights when I have to go to bed early because she needs me. She still gets overwhelmed with people and feelings. She will often freak out if I attempt to go to the bathroom by myself. There are some days when she is attached to me almost all day long and even then she isn’t quite settled. It can still be challenging to give anyone else sustained attention if she is present. Patience is key when you have one of these kids.
If you have, love, or know a high need kiddo, I hope this helps you understand them a little better. They are intense little creatures, but the connection they forge with “their” people is really amazing. Since Jo is likely my last, I really wanted to slow down and soak her up…and man, has she made sure that I stay present and connected! ♥