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Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Coping with High Maintenance Traits. March, 2018.
Dear Kate:
Derek, is now two and has always been a "crybaby". As an infant, he would not nap unless someone held him......
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Coping with High Maintenance Traits: Shifting to a Positive Focus
Making the Positive Shift (cont).

One way to help yourself make the shift to a more positive frame of mind is to pay attention to the words you use about temperament-related behavior,whether to yourself or the child. Many parents enjoy doing this exercise: first think of the trait in a negative way and write down that term, for example: "hyper". Then think of a more neutral term, for example: "overactive". Then think positively: "active". Then let the positives flow: "energetic, exuberant, zestful, enthusiastic.....". Get the idea? Write down those words and try to use them when you are interacting with the child: "Hey, Sam, you're energetic today. Time for a run around the yard?" Many parents have told me that by identifying temperament this way to their children at an early age they have set the stage for their children to identify and manage their own temperament-related behavior at an older age. It is a wonderful thing to hear a six to ten-year old come and say: "I need more time to get ready. You know how I hate changes", or "This is the kind of place I get really restless in. Can we leave soon?" Even if your child has a high maintenance profile and is burdened by neurological problems or some other condition, this method is helpful in giving the child some sense of control in situations which they find difficult. Quite often, this sense of control seems to reduce the degree of stress and promote a higher level of functioning than originally expected. For example, having stated "Can we leave soon?" and heard an empathic response a child may in turn say: "I can wait a little longer". Such is the power of being understood!

A third way to make the positive shift is to put yourself in your child's shoes. I don't necessarily recommend trying to imagine having your child's temperament. That is a very hard thing to do (although it's wonderful if you can). Think of yourself and your own traits. Then imagine yourself being much younger, more helpless and in a situation in which your traits just did not fit. Chances are you can remember such a situation from your own childhood. As the emotion rises, NOW switch and think: "Oh, this is how my child must feel." Feeling empathy for your child can help you make the positive shift because you no longer blame the child for being the way he or she is.

Another way to help a child see the positives of temperament is to use positive prophesies. As temperament traits which are causing a struggle at an early age can be less problematic as children mature, you can remind children that they are growing up and will cope better soon. "I know you don't like unusual flavors. Lots of kids don't. Chances are you will like them more when you are older". Since our taste-buds become less sensitive with age this is a fairly safe prophesy! Listen to the words of one Jack, the father of a twelve-year old with a very feisty temperament and a serious learning disability. Jack told his son in all seriousness that he could look forward to being his own boss one day. "I know you hate being given direction by adults. One day you will be an adult and can take charge of your own life. If you have children, you will be in charge of them, too."

This comment may give the older high maintenance child something very intriguing to think about. Many of them will tell you they resolve to be quite strict with their children. What message do you think they might be giving us? For those of you who are profoundly challenged by high maintenance traits and secondary problems in your child, I don't mean to make light of your problems with all this emphasis on positives. We have to face the sad parts of life, too. One parent once challenged me to find a positive reframe for her daughter who had a severe disorder that nobody knew how to treat. I suggested she realize that a research breakthrough might occur any day, that her daughter was teaching her parents and doctors some very important lessons and that at least the family had found some support (unlike many others). She still insisted: "But that's not about Kara. Tell me something positive about Kara." I said: "You tell me. She's your daughter!" This mother burst into tears and then later, after she dried her eyes, said: "The only thing I can think of is that she has taught me that life has a tragic side to it and the bravest thing you can do sometimes is to face that." "That is some lesson," I said. "That's the gift of wisdom."

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