The Transformation of a High-Needs Child

by mel on May 21, 2008

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For the entire first year of my son Leif’s life, I could not go anywhere or do anything without him. He did not want to be left with anyone, not even his dad. He would cry and scream and be generally miserable for however long I was gone. We found this out for the first time when he was 4 months old and I went with some friends to see a debate put on by two of my former teachers on a topic I was very interested in. I was so happy to have some time to myself again but my son didn’t feel the same way.

My husband said he first put him in the sling which Leif protested loudly over, then tried the Baby Bjorn carrier (my son’s favorite) and went for a walk. Usually, the outdoors would calm him down right away from whatever he was distressed about but not this time. I was gone exactly 4 hours and once he saw me, he was immediately better, overjoyed even. I tried just 2 more times that year to get a break and do something on my own for about an hour and the same thing happened. I just knew in my heart that for some reason, he needed me to be there for him and it wasn’t worth putting him through distress for no reason – he wasn’t ready or able to change yet.

Once he got a bit bigger, he still always wanted to be held. I was able to switch to wearing him on my back in an Ergo baby carrier which he loved and I was able to get more things done that way. He was happy, not screaming to be picked up and could see everything I was doing. I could talk to him about whatever was going on. We both were happy and Leif got the contact that he craved so much.

Now at four years old, I can see a big shift in his personality. Recently, we went to Santa Fe, NM on vacation for a week. Usually, Leif loves to travel and wants to stay and explore with us wherever we are. On this trip, by about day four, he started saying, “I want to go home, I want to see my friends.” Then in the next sentence he’d say, “No, I want to stay in Santa Fe!” He was clearly conflicted between missing his friends and the joys of traveling but my husband and I were so happy to hear that he missed other people so much.

Nowadays, Leif is happy to leave me in the morning and excited about going to preschool. He has been going for the past year and has formed strong bonds with both his teacher and some other children. This has been monumental for me to witness. All of that babywearing, co-sleeping, attending to his needs and working with his sensitive personality has paid off in spades and he’s only four years old!

Dr. Sears writes in his recent newsletter:

Therapists whose offices are filled with former high-need children who didn’t get responsive parenting tell us that most of their energy is spent in helping these persons get close to someone. These people have difficulty getting connected. They do not have the capacity for feeling close. Not so high-need children who are the product of high-giving parents. These children thrive on interpersonal relationships. Being connected is their norm. The AP infant is more likely to become the child who forms deep friendships with peers and the adult who enjoys deep intimacy with a mate. These are deep children, capable of deep relationships.

Leif still currently wants the security of sleeping in our room at night – but he only wants to sleep in his own bed next to ours – even on vacation. He is very clear about this. When we ask him if he’d like to try sleeping in his own room now, even with one of us in there with him he says, “No, maybe when I’m five.” As we’ve done with everything else so far, we don’t force him and work with where he’s at. I don’t mind him sleeping in our room, he has his own twin bed and he sleeps peacefully all night long (which means so do we!).

These small steps he is taking everyday moving towards his independence at his own pace leaves me feeling overjoyed at seeing his progress. I really believe that our following of the attachment parenting ideals especially at the beginning of his life is behind his sense of confidence and independence and general happy-go-lucky, loving way of being. He feels safe and secure in the world and knows he is loved very much.

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mel (4 Posts)


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherie May 21, 2008 at 11:35 am

What an excellent example of how APing a high-needs baby pays off! We’re just now starting to experience some of it, here. I couldn’t leave DS until he was about 16 months old, and even then only with his father or dear friend for no longer than 1 1/2 hours. Today (at 18 months), we’re up to 3 hours with no tears when I leave or while I’m gone!

I’ve learned in this process to really listen, trust and wait for my son. When he is ready to fly, he’ll waste no times in spreading his wings (he’s become very attached to our dear AP family friends and neighbors). But try to rush him and ouch! how painful for all of us.

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Nicole May 21, 2008 at 2:59 pm

What a great post and great topic! Julie and I were just talking about this the other day, in fact! My oldest, Simon, now 5 was a high needs baby too. He’s grown into a surprisingly mellow 5yo. I’m surprised at his adaptability and ability to roll with the punches. He’s way more even keel than I was at his age! I wonder if fulfilling his needs as an infant gave him the strong foundation he needed to be OK as he goes out into the world.

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Sonja May 21, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Thanks for sharing your story — I’m so glad things are going well for your family!

One of the things that has occurred to me of late is that it is only our cultural expectation that babies ought to be content to sit in bouncy seats, infant swings, car seats, and strollers that causes us to label babies who don’t want to do those things as being “high needs”.

If we expected that what babies wanted was to be held and carried by their parents, it would surprise us that some babies were in fact content to sit by themselves, not the other way around.

I only realized in retrospect that many people would have thought my daughter was “high needs” when she was a baby. As an inexperienced new mother (I’d only changed one or two diapers in my life before she was born), it didn’t really occur to me that I ought to be able to put her down!

My son is 16 months old, and I’m planning to leave him with a non-family babysitter for the first time next week. (He’s fine with his father or his grandparents, who he sees often.) We’ll see how it goes!

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Heather (A Mama's Blog) May 21, 2008 at 10:14 pm

It is nice to know, also having a high needs-baby, that they aren’t always as demanding as they grow up, as they are as infants.

My high-needs baby is turning two tomorrow, and it is amazing how much he has changed, from a baby who could not be put down, into a very independent, and sweet little boy. I know he demanded the attention when he was a baby, because that is what he needed.

I am so glad I followed my instincts in responding to Cole when he was a baby- I am sure it will make a difference now, and in the future, like it has with Leif.

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