Parenting a High Needs Child

My first born is a high needs child. He has needed extra attention from the very beginning. His birth was uneventful but within a few hours he was whisked into the NICU due to low blood sugar. He spent three days hooked up to an IV in order to stabilize his levels. 

He was not an easy baby. He was fussy, hated sleeping and wanted to nurse all the time. He was content only being in arms. Preferably in mama’s arms. We ended up having to co-sleep since it was the only way any of us could get any sleep. He never liked solids. I’d eagerly give him tastes of everything I was eating and he’d make the most disgusted faces. Early on it was clear he was a mama’s boy. 

Toddlerhood arrived and so did the temper tantrums. He used to terrify us with his head throwing tantrums. His head would smack the floor in a fit of rage. He still didn’t like eating solids. He still didn’t like to sleep. He was still a mama’s boy. We still co-slept. 

The “terrible two’s” were rough. Adding a sibling meant less one on one attention. Tantrums were stronger and more intense. But three’s? They have been really, really rough. He is still not a great eater or sleeper, he prefers sleeping in between mom and dad, and he is pretty much velcroed to me. 

As a first time parent, it’s hard to know what is normal. And it’s true what they say, the hardest part of parenting is whatever stage you’re in. I’ve been struggling for months wondering what I’m doing wrong. Am I really a terrible a mother? Or is my child really that terrible? Are all 3.5 year olds like this? Is something wrong?

Parenting a High Needs Child | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Thankfully there is nothing “wrong” with him. And I know to an extent all 3.5 year olds are like this. I know I’m not a terrible mother and I know my son is an amazing, loving boy. So no, he is not terrible either. I used to describe him as strong willed, or spirited. He IS strong willed, but his personality is more than that. 

I recently found the term for what he “is.” He is a high needs child. A high needs child can best be described as intense, and well….needy. Other words to describe them are demanding, unpredictable, super sensitive, hate change and high energy. Chances are if you don’t know what I’m talking about, your child is not high needs. 

High needs children are usually very attached to one parent, and they need that one parent to do everything for them or with them. In our case, that parent is me. This past year has been really tough on me. I used to think he would grow out of this phase, I’d learn to parent better and that things would get easier. They are actually harder. A high needs baby becomes a high needs child who is even more intense, more demanding, more challenging. 

I’ve been dealing with anxiety and so much mom guilt. Some days are so rough it shakes you to the core. You question everything- your parenting, your marriage, your self-worth. You feel like you’re failing. You feel like you’re failing at raising your child. It’s clearly your fault that they are so intense. Maybe if you had been more strict from the beginning things would be different.

It’s fearing you aren’t doing enough. That you just aren’t enough for them.  

It’s being exhausted when you just can’t fight another fight. You can’t win and you want to throw in the towel. 

It’s feeling guilty that your second child gets a grumpy mom with a fuel tank on empty. 

It’s learning to persevere. After all, this is the only job where you can never give up. You have to show up and get the job done, even on days when you don’t know how you’re going to do it.   

It’s feeling fiercely protective of your child, who is often misunderstood. Your high needs child isn’t “naughty.” They just need extra guidance. 

It’s feeling like the worst parent when at the end of the day you want nothing more than to be alone and have a moment to breathe and think. 

It’s feeling like you need another chance to do better

It’s feeling like the worst spouse because you just cannot be touched one more time today. You’ve poured everything into your children and don’t have anything left in your own tank. How could you possibly love on your spouse?

These thoughts cloud my judgment on the rough days. On the good days I’m learning how to manage. High needs children demand a lot of energy from you, but they are also incredibly passionate and affectionate. At the end of the day as I’m cuddling him to sleep, he never fails to hug me close, tell me he loves me and shower me with kisses. 

Though I’m being honest about my struggles, please don’t get the wrong idea. The good days outnumber the rough ones, and there is no other superhero who I’d want by my side.

Parenting a High Needs Child | Twin Cities Moms Blog

If you are raising a high needs child, first of all, let me send you a hug and tell you that I get it and you are not alone. Let me also tell you about the things that are helping me parent better. 

You are going to need a lot of support. My son’s pediatrician gave me this advice, she had a high needs child and knew exactly what I was going through. High needs children are draining. I’ve learned that even when you’ve poured all of your energy into them, they still require more. You have to dig deep down to your core and muster up what you can. Admittedly this isn’t easy. But they need you to give them all you have in order for them to thrive. So find a support group, a professional, or family and friends to give you a hug and tell you that you’re doing a good job.

Make time for your spouse and make time for yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup so you need to learn what it takes to fill it back up. For me it’s exercising and getting a decent amount of sleep. It’s also needing time alone to recharge. It also means making it a priority to spend time with my husband. At the end of the day, I need him by my side.

It’s okay to let them cry and throw tantrums. This is hard for me. I don’t like watching my child struggle. But it’s important to let my high needs child figure things out for his own. How else will he learn? Stop walking on eggshells around them. 

Don’t be so hard on yourself. There is no manual on parenting and no one knows your high needs child like you do. You are doing your best to raise them. So keep providing unconditional love and be their safety net. You are enough. 

Attitude is everything. Being a mother is the most difficult and stressful job you will ever have. We all reach our breaking points, but you know what? We have to suck it up. We don’t have a choice in the matter, but we do have a choice in how we respond to the stress. I’m still on a learning curve with this one. I recently read that being stretched thin can either wear you out until you snap like a rubber band or it can make you stronger like a muscle. Without challenges and situations that push your limits, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow stronger.

I’m choosing to grow stronger. 

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