The High-Maintenance Child

I will always remember attending the ADD meeting where a mother presented to us the story of her high maintenance child.  He started and was expelled from Kindergarten on the same day!

He continued apace as a high-maintenance child in school and at home for the next 14 years until graduation from high school. She displayed a photo of him proudly headed to the stage; however, he never made it onto the stage because of an impulsive act that led to his sudden exit from the hall, and his expulsion from school.

Fifteen years on, he is now a happy emergency technician. 

Keep hope alive!

hopeAt Confident Parenting,  we understand just how difficult parenting can be at any time, but especially when faced with raising a child that offers special challenges-the high-maintenance child.

It is exhausting trying to parent a high-maintenance child, especially those who have extra challenges that go beyond temperament.

In past blogs, we have discussed the importance of temperament in both child and parents, and this factor alone can decide whether or not parents are raising a high-maintenance child

For some parents, their high-maintenance child faces difficult issues and choices that require a high and ongoing level of medical care.

For other parents, their difficult challenges are connected to their child’s cognitive issues- a high-maintenance child dealing with lifelong developmental delays that mean they will never have independent lives.

There are parents that end up dealing with neurodevelopmental issues within their family-ADD, sensory issues, severe executive dysfunction (organization of self and ideas), anxiety, and so on.

For other parents, their high-maintenance child deals each day with social-emotional issues that make school and home difficult for all that fall within their circle.

The roots of a difficult childhood are numerous, and the path each family will take will be different.  However, what each family has in common is the exhaustion and pain that often accompanies working with their high-maintenance children.

Parents may love their child to pieces, but they can be emotionally and financially draining, and they can seriously disrupt the rest of the family’s life.

For the parents faced with their high-maintenance child’s medical or cognitive issues, the path can be very painful.

For these parents, there comes the realization at some stage that the door begins to close for a complete and full life on their child’s own terms. 

Accommodations may be possible; advances may be possible; however, in the end, parents often must come to terms with what the future may bring for their medically-impacted child.

For many parents, the State and community often offer important support, and parents dealing with such a difficult scenario should use every service possible to make life easier.

In the end, such parents offer such high-maintenance children undying love and support, and they deserve our praise.

Parents of other high-maintenance children have their own challenges.

ADHDOn our Confident Parenting website, we offer parents a FREE neurodevelopmental assessment of their child that highlights both strengths and challenges.

This screening offers information on eight domains of the brain that regulate every aspect of your child’s life-cognitive; social-emotional, physical, and behavior.

High-maintenance children face greater challenges in one or more of these areas than the average child.

All children have strengths and challenges; however, with high-maintenance children, the challenges are much more accentuated than the strengths and dominate the child’s interactions in school and at home.

In the end, what parents need to be successful in raising their high maintenance child is a strategic plan that may see them supporting their difficult child into young adulthood.

This is what we do at Confident Parenting in partnership with parents.  We create the plan and then support parents in its execution-all from the comfort and privacy of your home.

What sort of behaviors do parents of high maintenance children confront on a daily basis?

My wife had the honor of studying children with noted child expert, Stanley Greenspan at George Washington University in the 1980s.

Greenspan described five high maintenance types of children

The Highly Sensitive Child tends to:

  • Have a more intense reaction to change
  • Become overwhelmed more easily
  • Tend to be much more clingy
  • Be cautious, fearful, shy
  • Show anxiety
  • Act moody, irritable or depressed.
  • React negatively to lights, touch, cloth
  • Be unable to control his emotions
  • Read people

If you are the parent of this type of high maintenance child, the authoritative style of parenting that we describe in an earlier blog on our Confident Parenting website will work best for your highly sensitive child.

The authoritative parents that offer empathy, in conjunction with firm limits and encouragement likely will see their child grow over time.

The Self-Centered Child tends to be:

  • Quiet
  • Low energy
  • Uninterested in others
  • Looking internally; not externally for stimuli
  • Passive
  • Independent of others

Parents with this type of high maintenance child need to be persistent in gently pushing their child to engage with the world.  Parents of such children may not receive a whole lot emotionally in return for their often intense efforts-their child’s tuning out may simply be her default method of communicating.

Capturing their attention for more than a very short time may be difficult for this type of high-maintenance child.

The Defiant Child tends to be:

  • Negative
  • Controlling
  • Have problems with transitions
  • Enjoy power struggles
  • Passive-aggressive
  • Perfectionists.

For these parents, their high maintenance child does not play by the rules. They do not care about losing privileges, their toys, groundings, etc. They do not do well with an authoritarian type of parent that seeks to enforce the rules.

As their high-maintenance child raises the stakes through yelling and ever worsening behavior, his parents need a response that is consistent, measured, and does not back the child into a corner.

The Inattentive Child tends to be:

  • Inattentive
  • Lacking focus
  • Restless and fidgety
  • Unable to sustain mental energy
  • Forgetful
  • Disorganized-unable to organize any part of his world

Pity these parents for they often feel like they are making no progress in their parenting with this type of high maintenance child. This is often the child exhibiting some form of ADD behaviors that are exhausting for the parents to try to manage.

These parents will find their path made easier by creating a daily structure for their child that is very predictable and easy to follow.  Structure! Structure! Structure is the key when dealing with these high maintenance children.

The Active Aggressive Child tends to be:

  • Physically impulsive
  • Easily frustrated
  • Express anger by hitting
  • Cannot  block negative behaviors used to doing
  • Under sensitive to touch or sound

active-aggressive-childThis type of high-maintenance is likely dealing with serious aggression/bullying issues that will require professional support to figure out their roots.  These parents need to build empathy and respect for others in their child.  Parents who provide firm structure and limits, as well as lots of opportunities for consistent, warm encouragement and engagement can build this child’s positive qualities over time.

This child likely needs to be taught communication skills other than hitting, and needs to understand that actions have consequences, good and ill.

Parenting the high-maintenance child is not for the faint of heart.

It requires tremendous energy, patience, and commitment to a long-term plan for your child’s success.  Like the kindergarten mom mentioned at the start, you have to learn to hang in and hang on.

In my work with parents that are involved in supporting their high-maintenance child on a long-term basis, part of the plan I develop with them includes creating a self-care plan aimed at mom and dad.

Parents are in for the long haul in dealing with their high-maintenance child, and each needs to look after him/herself as an individual, and themselves as a parenting partnership.

You will spend the rest of your life devoted to your high-maintenance child.  However, in order to give of yourself as completely as you wish, you need to take care of yourself and each other.

It may just be a five-minute cup of coffee, a night out, or it might be a weekend away, but unless you make such times available, you face burnout-physical and mental exhaustion, and that helps no-one.

Ask for help.  Your family and friends are not mind readers.  They understand that you have a high-maintenance child that requires extra support, but unless you tell them exactly what they may do to help, they can’t do anything for you. Use them! 

Don’t forget your other kids. They need your love, attention, and support, too, and in a home environment in which time is a critical resource.  A high-maintenance child impacts all members of the family, and finding those opportunities to support your other children is important.

Remember always that you are not the only family dealing with high-maintenance children, and while the specifics may be different with each, the emotional impact is not.  Finding a support group that speaks your language and understands your issues is important.

Life can be harder for high-maintenance children and their parents.  Evenly-tempered children are a joy for their families; but there is much joy to be had for the parents of the high-maintenance child, as well. 

They are just a lot more work! 

If you wish to know more about developing a parenting plan to support your high maintenance child, contact us at