Some kids take extra energy to parent. We call them high needs, high maintenance, exceptional, and sometimes even exhausting. They are often quite intelligent and quite an enigma! And as parents, we tend to find ourselves overwhelmed and feeling very alone in our every day life.
But, trust me, you are not alone, and you can find peace in your parenting!
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While I’m not an expert, I do have 2 very high maintenance children who have taught me so much about myself and my parenting over the years. One is 17 and the other is 5. One is a girl and one is a boy. One is emotionally taxing, the other physically demanding. And they are both in this crazy-big family we live in for a reason!
So, rather than keep everything I’ve learned to myself, I wanted to share with you my tips for parenting a high maintenance child, along with ways to cope as a parent.
Acknowledge the diagnosis, but don’t live there.
It took me a really long time to acknowledge that something was different about my 2nd born child. Honestly, I knew something was different – she didn’t smile, she woke up every morning screaming, she didn’t like people talking to her – but I wasn’t willing to look beyond the behaviors for an actual diagnosis.
Now, truth be told, we chose not to seek an “official” diagnosis for a variety of reasons, but we did finally acknowledge what everyone was telling us – her different wasn’t simply idiosyncrasies.
However, once I accepted that she fit the high-functioning autistic description, I camped there for a while. Too long, in fact. I went from trying to manage every symptom to managing nothing. Until the night I sat and bawled through Phoebe in Wonderland, realizing how wrapped up I was in surviving.
From there, I realized I had to move forward, and that starts with…
Researching your child’s specific issues
You are not alone. Let me say that again – you are not alone. Yes, you feel alone, but trust me – there are people out there who are going through the same thing and have written about it. When I was first trying to find answers, there was not the wealth of information there is now, but I did find the book Homeschooling the Child with Aspergers to be invaluable! It was full of practical tips, not just theory. That’s what I needed – something to try, something to teach me and her to cope with all the craziness.
One thing I remember distinctly that still affects our lives every day is her need to know what time it is. I was exhausted with her constantly needing to know, especially when we were traveling. This book suggested I buy her a watch, teach her to tell time, and let her be in charge of the questions she had. It worked! And still to this day, she timestamps everything she writes.
You may not have an actual diagnosis to research, but you probably have “symptoms” or “behaviors” you can look up, and while not every blog post or medical journal article is helpful, there are plenty that are. Look for dietary changes, environmental changes, coping mechanisms, and mom-to-mom encouragement that speaks to you right where you are. And if you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, consider starting your own website! You may not feel qualified, but I can guarantee that there are other moms out there looking for the information you have to offer along your journey!
Get to know your child.
This seems obvious, but often our high maintenance children are really hard to get to know. It takes a concerted effort to figure them out because they live such enigmatic lives. They don’t always know how to express what they are feeling or thinking, but you can get glimpses into their world, if you are patient and consistent in your efforts. Take the little bit you can get along they way to give you fuel for your next researching session!
What do they dream about? What are they afraid of? Where do they want to go and what do they want to do when they have you all to themselves? What are they passionate about? What are their triggers? Keep watching, mama!
Don’t excuse bad behavior.
This is something that really bugs me about so much of the culture today. We allow a diagnosis to be a crutch. Instead of giving children who are high needs the tools and the big ideas they need to navigate society, we throw up our hands and just let them act badly, excusing their behavior to everyone they run over in the process. Folks, that is not ok. Yes, high maintenance children are loose cannons at times, but you can discipline and expect better behavior because of the discipline.
Take the diagnosis and use it to learn discipline methods that work for your child rather than let it become an excuse! Even if you don’t have an official diagnosis, you do have traits of your child to help you know what path to take to discipline toward better behaviors.
My 5 year old is rambunctious and very physical and seems to get into trouble a lot. His first response to anything that doesn’t go his way is to lash out physically. I’m always looking for ways to divert his attention and teach him to master his impulses. It’s not easy, it’s often frustrating, but I’m not allowed to “give up.” He needs me to teach him a better way.
God didn’t make a mistake
I know you know this, but you need to hear it again. God knit your child together and He is NOT surprised by how they turned out. He knew they would need a little extra from you, and He entrusted them to YOU because He knew YOU needed your child to turn you toward HIM! It’s ok that you feel inadequate. God’s got this! You just need to faithfully walk it out.
I have a friend who often tells her high maintenance little girl, “Use your super powers for good, not evil!” I love this because I truly believe it is the high maintenance children who have a special purpose in this life that will bring glory to God in a mighty way. They are bold and unstoppable! Don’t despair, mama!