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Ayende

Do "high needs" kids ever get easier?

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Ayende

DD was an extremely difficult, "high needs" baby who like most of those babies became a lot easier when she started walking and talking well.  However she is now 3.5yo and still has some of those high needs qualities - she's a full-on kid who is either asleep or going 110%, constantly demands attention and has half-a-dozen meltdowns on a good day.  I have a 3 month old baby and honestly she cries a hell of a lot more than he does, and everyone she meets comments on how 'spirited' she is.

She had a few months there just before she turned 3 where she was mostly pleasant, but for the last 6 months she's been driving me up the wall between these qualities and the usual 3yo defiance. 

I'm mostly hoping for some reassurance that the headache-inducing meltdowns will eventually stop.  Did anyone else have high-needs kids that eventually settled down? How long did it take?

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Lallalla

She sounds like a threenager - my girls all went through it with a vengeance, and so did my nephew, who was most definitely a spirited baby. 
 

All of them came out the other side and yours will too. My mantra when the twins were 3, and there was someone tantruming almost 24/7, was “this is a phase, this will not last for ever it is just a phase”

Edited, I meant to say sorry it lasted 6-9 months with each, you should be home clear by 4 (by clear I mean less constant tantrums not no tantrums)

 

Edited by Lallalla

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*Arcadia*

That sounds a lot like my DD. Unfortunately I don’t have good news for you as she will be 5 in 2 weeks and is still the same. We get more anger these days than crying though. She is so stubborn and headstrong its exhausting to parent her so you have my sympathies. 

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Froggilicious

Short answer in this house is no. My eldest has just turned 8 and has been hard work since day one. She has many wonderful qualities but would tantrum many, many times a day, has always had massive issues sleeping and is incredibly up and down. She has recently been diagnosed withADHD and started medication which has made a big difference, but prior to this was getting worse not better, as containing the meltdowns was more difficult.

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Ayende

Thanks for the replies everyone.  I think this is more than usual threenager behaviour  - the tantrums started just before she turned 1 and have been pretty constant since, and even her daycare educators have commented on how exhausting she must be to parent.  The defiance started when she turned 3 and I agree that's perfectly normal and will probably (hopefully) pass. 

Sounds like the tantrums will most likely be around for a while yet though :( If that's the case I'm really going to need to start working on self-care.

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NeedSleepNow

My eldest DD was like that and I can honestly say that she improved a lot from perhaps 6 years of age. She is 8 now, and things are continuing to improve. BUT she still needs a lot of stimulation, so she plays a significant amount of sport. Without that, I think things would be a lot harder! I sometimes worry that she is overcommitted, but she truly seems better with that structure and stimulation. 

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CrankyM

Maybe?

My youngest was a very very very high needs baby and toddler. Who also didn't sleep, was seemingly constantly sick, had food intolerance and was failure to thrive. Always talking always a bundle of energy. Into absolutely everything, accident prone (climbed everything). He's a pretty mellow kid now at 10. He was however also diagnosed with adhd at 5 and has been taking medication since 5.5. He's really a wonderful kid though, still high energy a lot of the time but meds take the edge off and lets the personality and sweet kid that was under the ADHD symptoms shine.

My oldest was actually fairly mellow as a baby and 1-2yr old. 3 was hell on earth. I wouldn't really say he is a high needs in the way you have termed it though. He does need a lot of support however and that level of support hasn't really changed much since he was 3 in some ways though what it involves has. He's autistic and has adhd though. We've worked a lot over the years on emotional regulation. It's better, but everything needs to be scaffolded. Once we figured out what was triggering the meltdowns when he was 3 and further onwards we could provide supports that allowed for meltdowns to become rare things. Though he is still very prone to being hyper emotional. He feels things hard and working out how to now get overwhelmed by that is hard work. Overall he can be a sweet kid but sometimes his challenges make is hard.

Have you read Ross Greene's work The Explosive Child and Raising Human Beings? They are some of the best parenting books for children like this I have ever read. It looks at the core idea that Behaviour is communication and how to work out what the behaviours are telling you as a parent. The only way we reduced meltdowns was really by addressing what was setting them off and working with the kids to help deal with how they are feeling and not getting so overwhelmed (and in the case of ADHD using medication).

ETA: I just saw your post. Try and see if you can access an OT that knows about emotional regulation. They were the key people that helped us at that age and it was all about how to use different strategies to keep the kids in the "green" zone but also identify things like sensory issues that might be causing emotional regulation problems, not enough sensory input or too much can make you feel out of wack. Even something as simple as my kids jumping on the trampoline when they were spiraling towards meltdown made a huge difference (and I was too exhausted to figure this out).

Edited by CrankyM
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TeaLover

In some ways? I think high needs kids will always be that way to some degree, but their needs change over time and so therefore their behaviours can too. Not always, obviously. 

I agree with the suggestion of Ross Greene’s books. Very helpful. 
 

My almost 6yo was a high needs baby, toddler, and now child. However he was also recently diagnosed autistic and we also suspect ADHD. So there is underlying reasons for his difficulties but having the understanding of them and knowing what he needs has made it a hundred times easier to work with. 
 

It’s really tough sometimes. I can definitely empathise with you. 

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CrankyM

I just want to say too it does get better. Well it becomes different but I actually enjoy being a parent now with older kids. I honestly thought something was wrong with me for a long time as i hated parenting the whole 0-5 age range... People ask me if I would have another and if someone else could parent them until they were in grade 1, I'd have another kid but the prospect of dealing with a tiny human again? Noooooo way.

Edited by CrankyM
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Ayende
4 minutes ago, CrankyM said:

Have you read Ross Greene's work The Explosive Child and Raising Human Beings?

I haven't heard of that one - I'll check it out, thanks!

A few people have mentioned ADHD and I'm pretty sure that's not the case here...I have a bit to do with ADHD kids for work and DD doesn't have that same level of distractibility - if she's enjoying playing a game she will happily stick with it for quite a while and she's got a good attention span.  I've definitely been keeping an eye out for it though.

As for what's triggering the meltdowns...that's one of the biggest issues for me tbh. She goes from being a happy kid to screaming the place down in an instant.  This morning when she woke up I asked her if she wanted breakfast. She said yes, so I leaned over to unplug my breast pump before heading to the kitchen and next thing I know she's screaming and crying.  Ugh. 

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Ayende
5 minutes ago, CrankyM said:

I just want to say too it does get better. We it becomes different but I actually enjoy being a parent now with older kids. I honestly thought something was wrong with me for a long time as i hated parenting the whole 0-5 age range... People ask me if I would have another and if someone else could parent them until they were in grade 1, I'd have another kid but the prospect of dealing with a tiny human again? Noooooo way.

Thanks for saying this, I'm hoping this will be the case for me too.  Everyone kept asking when I'd have another child when she was a baby and I'd just stare at them in horror.  Thankfully DS2 is a really easygoing baby, to the point where I now understand why some people like the  baby phase. Hopefully I'll get good older-child years with DD.

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CrankyM
5 minutes ago, Ayende said:

if she's enjoying playing a game she will happily stick with it for quite a while and she's got a good attention span. 

Just be aware ADHD has what's called hyperfocus. Where if they are interested in something that can stick to it for hours. My youngest kid was blatantly obvious adhd wise (the older also has it but is inattentive off with fairies, dreamy, heady in the clouds type of kid). Yet he could still sit there and build a complex "city" including engineering pipes to take water around it for hours (this was at 3-4). Because he was interested in it. Yet would walk straight into a display at the shops because he got distracted and was looking at something else but still walking.

Edited by CrankyM
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mandelbrot

They get different and 'It depends on what you mean by easier' would be my response. I have a high needs DS who is much easier to reason with, much more independent etc etc. On the flip side, there are problems that he has now that I can't solve for him and I can see this being a theme as he gets older.

What has changed as he has grown is the sheer physical time commitment and sleep deprivation have gone down, so my ability to cope has gone up. Now even though his sleep is still so so, he usually doesn't make it my problem by waking me up. So when he's tired and grumpy the next day, I'm at least well enough rested that I can calm him down rather than escalate.

I also had a new baby when DS was 3. It was HARD. I was being woken 3-4 times a night by an underweight baby and I had no capacity in myself to be the calm, loving rock that DS needed. He was worked up, I was worked up.

DS also has ADHD. It shows up differently at different ages and also with different kids. At 3, you couldn't have really noticed, particularly with the hyperfocus when there was something engaging. Now the distractibility is much more obvious, as is the impulsivity.

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amdirel

My DS1 was a whiner/crier, not tantrums, but just constantly cried from when he was 6 days old (yes I distinctly remember!). He got worse and worse until he started school, then got better. He's almost 18 and is easy peasy now and very independent. 

DD was a mega meltdown tantrum thrower from 13 months old. I can't say she's gotten easier, sorry. She's 15 now with anxiety. I remember her psych asking if she's always had "big feelings", and I sat there remembering all those tantrums lol.

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mandelbrot
1 minute ago, CrankyM said:

Just be aware ADHD has what's called hyperfocus. Where if they are interested in something that can stick to it for hours. My youngest kid was blatantly obvious adhd wise (the older also has it but is inattentive off with fairies, dreamy, heady in the clouds type of kid). Yet he could still sit there and build a complex "city" including engineering pipes to take water around it for hours (this was at 3-4).

Snap with the hyperfocus. I was in total denial that DS could have ADHD until the paed was like... uh... just because he can concentrate on something really interesting doesn't mean he's not got ADHD. ADHD is as much about being unable to appropriately direct attention than it is not having the ability to concentrate. He can hyperfocus on sharpening a pencil for 45 minutes if the alternative is school work.

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CrankyM
2 minutes ago, mandelbrot said:

ADHD is as much about being unable to appropriately direct attention than it is not having the ability to concentrate. He can hyperfocus on sharpening a pencil for 45 minutes if the alternative is school work

Or spend 7 hours building elaborate lego every though I've asked them 57 times to pick up the stuff in their room and clean the bedroom so I can actually walk in without going head over heels.

Or in my case, create knitting patterns including calculating equations for the number of stitches, yardage of wool, how increases will change the angle, all without a calculator rather then work on a uni assignment that is due soon...

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Pooks_

Not in my experience, my kids were both born intense in their own ways. I’ve relied heavily on support and services to get us through. For the first few years I was exhausted, baffled and waiting for it to pass. Now I’ve earned my stripes and can cope better, give myself more grace, have learned a lot of skills and strategies- also there’s much more sleep which helps. Oh, also I’ve stopped feeling guilty about screen time. Blessed blessed screen time. 

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CrankyM
7 minutes ago, Pooks_ said:

Not in my experience, my kids were both born intense in their own ways. I’ve relied heavily on support and services to get us through. For the first few years I was exhausted, baffled and waiting for it to pass. Now I’ve earned my stripes and can cope better, give myself more grace, have learned a lot of skills and strategies- also there’s much more sleep which helps. Oh, also I’ve stopped feeling guilty about screen time. Blessed blessed screen time. 

I sometimes suspect this is the case here too. I'm used to it now. I know how to deal with it.

Also sleep. OMG sleep is absolutely vital. I can tell the days where enough sleep has not been had and they suck.

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Crombek

My high needs baby/toddler/child *has* actually started to calm down now that he is 8. But it has taken a LOT of work to get him here & I full expect we will cycle through easy and difficult stages over his development.

The biggest thing for us has been really focussing on behaviour as communication. We had him assessed at the beginning of the year & while he doesn't have ADHD he does have some other issue that mean that processing things are trickier for him, and he has very quick, big, deep feelings. And an absolute bucketload of anxiety. 

I second the recommendation for Ross Greene's work. I also always recommend Circle of Security parenting courses for kids like this - not because you don't know how to parent, but because these kind of kids almost need a therapeutic parenting response. 

Raising your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka is also helpful. 

Start building in emotional awareness, mindfulness and emotional regulation activities. All day every day. Everything is a teachable moment. 

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mandelbrot
7 minutes ago, CrankyM said:

Or spend 7 hours building elaborate lego every though I've asked them 57 times to pick up the stuff in their room and clean the bedroom so I can actually walk in without going head over heels.

Or in my case, create knitting patterns including calculating equations for the number of stitches, yardage of wool, how increases will change the angle, all without a calculator rather then work on a uni assignment that is due soon...

ADHD as executive functioning disorder? Yes.

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Ayende

Your replies have been very insightful guys, thank you so much. You've given me a lot to think about.

CrankyM - I didn't know of hyperfocus, thanks for the heads up.  DD has never focussed to that extreme- maybe maximum 1h of an activity if I'm doing it with her, or 30min by herself - but I will definitely keep a close eye out for that or any other ADHD symptoms. She'll be starting kindy next year so it'll be interesting to see how she goes in a more structured environment.

I'll also definitely think about OT input. The meltdowns are definitely my biggest issue at the moment- I'm actually getting daily headaches and dental issues from clenching my jaw through them. Anything to slow them down will be helpful.

Crombek - more resources, thankyou! I love resources. Emotional regulation activities do seem to help...the days are often much worse when I've had a bad night sleep and don't have the energy to work through it with her. I will look into your suggestions.

DD currently goes to daycare 3 days per week (while I work when I'm not on maty leave) and I was considering increasing this to 4 days or adding a dance class/something physical next year.  Is there any particular activity that you guys found helpful?

Edited by Ayende
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CrankyM

@mandelbrot Yep. The executive functioning side can be so awful. And then it trigger's anxiety because you just don't know where to start. Which can then trigger a meltdown if it get's too overwhelming. My older child in particular struggles with this. Half of the issues when he was OP's age were drawn from "too many options", "too many changes", "not enough routine". Parent's are saying this but I can't figure out the next step or even where to start. The breakfast scenario mentioned? You had to be specific. Do you want breakfast is too wide of a variable. Do you want toast or weetbix? I'm making weetbix and using the blue bowl today were much better because they narrowed the variables. Lowered the expectation. Adding something like. You can eat in your PJs, or lets change into x first, helped

Edited by CrankyM
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mandelbrot
25 minutes ago, Crombek said:

The biggest thing for us has been really focussing on behaviour as communication. 

<snip>

Start building in emotional awareness, mindfulness and emotional regulation activities. All day every day. Everything is a teachable moment. 

Behaviour as communication was an absolute lightbulb for me when someone one EB talked about it. Why were we having meltdowns every morning about putting clothes on? It was nothing to do with the clothes, it was him saying that he needing to feel taken care of by me dressing him.

We started mindfulness meditation at night with DS at 3.5ish. We haven't been as diligent as I would have liked, for all sorts of reasons, but those kinds of things are absolutely something worth building in at an early age.

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Ayende

To clarify about this morning - she only eats a handful of foods (I have wondered about sensory issues but everyone always insists it's normal toddler stuff) so breakfast is always the same.  She had a meltdown because I went to unplug the breast pump instead of going straight to the kitchen so she thought I wasn't getting her breakfast.

She's a pretty independent kid - she's been picking her own outfits for the day since she turned 2, and I often get her to choose between two options because I noticed that she's happy when she feels in control (if I suggest just the one option she'll say no automatically...then have a meltdown because she actually did want it).

Routines are great! Bedtime is a breeze actually because it's the same thing every night - it's the only thing that doesn't turn into a fight.  

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~Jolly_F~

Have you looked into it at all? As in gotten referrals to specialists?

What you say about the tantrums/meltdowns is a huge flag for me. That was my kid, still is my kid at 9. 

I want to say it gets better but for us it’s a no but we manage it easier because we know more.

Eta - the more you post the more I think you should consider seeing a developmental paed and discussing ASD! 

Edited by ~Jolly_F~
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