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Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Activity, Attention Span and Persistence. Nov/Dec, 2017.
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I have a 9 month old who sleeps fairly well. Not a problem until lately, she wakes up and can't go back to sleep.....
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Activity, Attention Span and Persistence.

Long drives, waiting for appointments, sitting through religious ceremonies and participating in adults' events such as dinner-parties are common problem areas with active and inattentive youngsters, and indeed with most young children. Families and teachers need to adjust their expectations to developmental level and to temperament. Although there are ways to help children cope in these situations, at times the best solution is not to expect them to manage such long periods of inactivity. This can be difficult for some families to do when it comes to very highly-valued activities such as going to church, temple or synagogue, especially if they have previous children who did not give them any problems in these situations or if they cannot remember causing trouble in this way when they were children.

Maria was very devout and her four oldest children had always behaved so well in church. Her youngest son, Miguel, aged three, was causing her deep unhappiness with his restless behavior during Mass. When she first worked with a professional who was not from her own culture, she was very offended when told to adjust her expectations. She felt her devotion and her church were not being respected. After all, in her view, there were so many problem children who would benefit from religious training. When she worked with a new counsellor who was from the same culture and religion, she acknowledged that at times she felt that Miguel was truly sinful for behaving this way. When the counsellor distinguished between sin and innocent childhood behavior in religious terms that were acceptable to Maria, Maria agreed to place her son in the church child care program and to try bringing him back when he was older and more able to truly benefit from the service.


When active children must sit for long periods, they may be given permission to move their legs, play with a squishy ball (or two) in the hands, play with a hand-held game, listen to an audio-tape through headphones. On long (to the child) car trips, some children will cope better with a parent in the back seat talking to them or reading a story. There are also the time-honored games of counting cars of certain colors and watching for landmarks.


Frequent stops and run-around breaks can also be very helpful. Parents who plan ahead and time their trips to fit in some breaks can greatly prevent problems.


Rather than trying to force the child to settle down, it is often more effective to move with the child, starting from the child's interests and building outward from there. Once the child's attention is captured the child may become very focussed.


Highly active toddlers and preschoolers may spiral out-of-control quickly, especially if other temperament traits such as low sensory threshold, high intensity or high distractibility are present. The context in which they become overexcited or overwhelmed often provides clues as to which trait or cluster is coming into conflict with the environment: "With two-and-a-half year old Melissa, there was a law of nature. We could tell by the number of adults in a room whether she would 'lose it' or not. Lissy's limit was two adults talking. Beyond that, she turned into a little wild cat." Melissa was an intense, active child with a low sensory threshold.


Prevention is always preferable to dealing with an overexcited or overwhelmed child. At times, the child's distractibility can serve as an asset in these situations, especially with toddlers. Being carried over to look at something captivating may calm the child quickly simply because the child is so distractible.


Many parents have found water a valuable medium for calming down an excited or overwhelmed youngster: "Magic water works like magic with active Nima, when he is all wound-up. I fill up the bath-tub, put some drops food coloring in the water and he plays happily while I sit and watch, polishing silver (which we never get to use) or mending his pants (which always seem to be needing knee-patches)."

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