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Current Issue of BDINews
Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Communicating with your spirited child, April, 2017.
Dear Kate:
I have a nine-year old daughter who is spirited beyond belief.....
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Issue Theme: Communicating with your spirited child.


Communicating with the High Maintenance Child

Communicating with your child starts very early in your relationship. Some would even say it begins with the ideas you have about your baby when he or she is in the womb. Certainly, in the earliest hours and days of life, parents are communicating with their infant by the way they feel about, handle and interact with him or her. But, even at this early stage of life, as when the baby grows older, parents' facial expressions, tone of voice and responsiveness are related not only to the parents' feelings and attitudes but to the baby's temperament and other features of individuality.

Many parents of children with high maintenance temperament traits started off very early in the relationship in effect miscommunicating with their children because their babies were so hard to read. Not being able to soothe a fussy infant, never knowing when he or she will be hungry or tired, and coping with an infant who doesn't like being handled or wants to be held all the time is frustrating and often worrying. It's too bad we don't get much earlier intervention with these (usually) neurologically intact and normal infants. They are at risk of very disabling problems, in the form of behavioural and emotional disorders, and I believe that parents experiencing these types of difficulties with fit deserve to be included in early intervention programs as much as parents whose children have developmental delay or a diagnosed disability.

Anyway, for most parents reading this newsletter all of this is ancient history and remembering those early years simply raises feelings of guilt and/or anger. It is important to move beyond the past but also to acknowledge that the miscommunication that began those many years ago may still be occurring. The solution of course, is not to try to repair the past, but to accept the fact that there ARE tensions in your relationship and that, because these are very long standing, solutions will not come easily. Most certainly you should avoid any counsellor who thinks your interactional history with your child is insignificant, uninterpretable or irrelevant. And any professional who suggests quick fixes based on what works with average children in average situations ("Go read this book on *Active Listening*" may also be the wrong person to see, though the suggestions in such books can be useful when properly timed and adjusted to fit YOUR child).

How to repair communication problems will depend very greatly on several factors: your child's age or developmental level, the presence of other complicating factors such as cognitive problems or a language delay, the general tone of your relationship, and perhaps most of all, the readiness of both of you to work to make things better. This last factor is key in repairing communication. You may well want to have a better relationship with your child but your child may see your desire as evidence of your guilt and he or she may continue to use communication as a way of punishing you for what has been going wrong. This punishment in fact is very likely to INCREASE when you first acknowledge there is a problem, if your child achieves the insight and/or acknowledgment from you that you have in fact been part of the problem.

On that note, don't expect forgiveness from a child. Forgiveness is an adult task and burden for a child who has the right to harbour the fantasy, while a child, that parents should be almost perfect. Instead of asking for your child's blessing, the best you can hope for, many years, is a truce. In fact, the less you demand forgiveness now, the more likely it will be offered to you when you least expect it, many years down the road. Here's a true story:

"Mom," said 22-year old Brianne. "I know why Josh is blaming you so much. I did that when I was his age, too. He doesn't have the maturity to see that you have done your best and even done better than most parents could under the circumstances. I think you're a saint!"

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