Five Tips for Your High Needs Child

I remember writing on my personal blog a long time ago about my high needs toddler. This was a little girl who had grown from being a high needs baby - one that requires constant holding and comfort (and will scream bloody murder the entire time). ForInternetUse-MistyFinal-8

Well here we are two years later, and I can say that the "high needs" part of my child is the gift that keeps on giving ;)

My daughter is extremely smart, engaging and often hilarious. But with her intensity comes extra challenges:

  • Clothing is still her enemy. She has a handful of things she will wear over and over. Anything that is restrictive is out of the question - no arm cuffs, no jeans or pants with buttons, and only specific socks will do.
  • Obsessive compulsive - she likes to repeat certain activities or patterns. For example, bedtime must consist of the exact same routines and words repeated, or she tends to lose it.
  • Picky eating - food cannot touch each other on the plate, and she freaks out over various ingredients. She doesn't like "black specs" in her dinner (i.e. spices), "chewy meat" or meat with fat, and certain textures are tough for her to swallow.
  • Drama queen - any tiny cut or scrape is blown out of proportion. If it's actually a serious injury (like the time she fell off her bed onto her front teeth), you can expect hysterics to the point of passing out.

Although all of this sounds like we should be bringing her to the doctor for an assessment, I can say with certainty that we aren't dealing with any developmental disorder. She has done very well in all-day Kindergarten, and tends to save her emotional releases for home :) She is learning to write and read, and has no trouble socializing with other kids.

What it does mean is that we've had to become creative in finding ways to manage our daughter's emotions. My level of patience has gone up tremendously in the past few years, and I don't lose my temper nearly as often as I used to. It helps that my husband is very creative, and often comes up with great solutions!

1) Make things into a game. She won't go pee? Ask her if you can "pump" her arm to see whether pee will come out. Won't get dressed? Pretend her pants go on her arms and get her giggling.

2) Routine, routine, routine. I've mentioned my daughter is slightly OCD. Although she does well when we go on vacation or go out to special events, most days she thrives on a very strict schedule. School is actually a great place for her, because she knows what to expect. We find it more challenging when she is at home with nothing to do!

3) Wear them out. Staying at home and just "hanging out" does not go over well with our daughter (actually, it might be the parents who suffer the most!) We always go out and do something, even in a snowstorm! She also enjoys swimming, museums, gymnastics and soccer.

4) Don't sweat the small stuff. Really, is it a big deal if she decides to wear the same outfit three days in a row? We've learned to put our foot down over anything that could be dangerous, but have tried to relinquish power for many other things. That's not to say we don't have rules, but within those rules is a lot of flexibility (e.g. she won't wear her coat because "it feels funny." Our rule is that she has to carry whatever she chooses not to wear. Usually within seconds she's decided it's too cold outside not to wear her jacket!)

5) Be empathetic, but don't cater. We respect that our daughter has a lot of big feelings - often giving her a huge hug will help her to calm down a bit. But that doesn't mean that we cater to her every need. She eats the same dinner as the rest of us, despite protests over various foods (we always make sure there's one thing on the plate that she likes). And we DO find our patience runs thin when she's  disturbing the rest of the family with hysterics. There have been times we've chosen to keep her home from outings when she won't cooperate, and she realizes that the consequences are that she misses out on a lot of fun!

Do you have a high needs child? What are some of your tips/tricks for parenting them?