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8 Things You Need to Know About Parenting a High-Needs Child

On a regular basis, my husband and I find ourselves laughing about the extreme personality differences in our home. We are both pretty laid back, a little messy and tend to fly by the seat of our pants. One of our daughters is our complete opposite. She is really orderly and has a difficult time adjusting to changes. For the most part, this aspect of her personality is really endearing. She cleans up her toys with very little instruction or prompting, has systems in place for most of her games, and stacks her books in a specific order on the shelf at the end of the day.

But in many cases, at least in our family, children who are type A can also be high maintenance from time to time. This can be difficult for us, since my husband and I don't really identify with her extreme need for order and routine. We're learning that parenting a high needs child can be really doable or really difficult, depending on your approach. After four years, we are finally starting to figure out a few things that make parenting a high needs child a little bit easier.

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1. Focus on their positive personality traits

With any child, it is easy to focus on the negative aspects of their personality when parenting is hard. Make an intentional effort to notice and praise your child for the best parts of their personality.

2. Make an effort to understand their viewpoint

In the heat of the moment, during a meltdown or an argument, it can be really hard to understand why your child is being so stubborn or emotional. But, in my experience, my daughter has a totally logical explanation for her anxiety or frustrations most of the time. When I make an effort to ask her and understand her viewpoint, it's easier for me to respond in kindness instead of frustration.

3. Prepare your child for big changes

Big changes in routine can be really difficult for children who need routine to stay calm. Spend time preparing your child for big changes, explaining their new routine and allowing them to feel like they are involved in the change.

4. Model emotional health

Children learn how to handle emotions by watching their parents respond to difficult situations. Don't be afraid to show emotion in front of your children, but work to model emotionally healthy responses to hard circumstances.

5. Validation goes a long way

During a really hard phase with our daughter, I sought out a little extra help for coping with extreme emotions we were dealing with during the big transitions in our days. We were struggling to get through meals and naps and somedays it was difficult enough to ruin our entire day. While our instinct had been to respond harshly or ignore the behaviors, we were told to validate our daughter's frustrations verbally while still asking her to behave appropriately. That little piece of advice made all the difference!

6. Whenever possible, stick with your routine

Sometimes the monotony of doing the same thing every day can be exhausting for parents, but most toddlers thrive in routine and need structure in order to feel secure. When your child knows what to expect from each day, this can help them remain calm and cooperative.

7. Ask for help

If you feel over your head when parenting a high needs child, consider enlisting some help. Whether you need some tips for keeping calm when your kid is stressed out or you just want your toddler to sleep through the night, there are resources available for struggling parents and children. Talk to your child's pediatrician, hire a mother's helper once a week, attend a parenting conference or consider hiring a sleep expert to spend a few nights in your home.

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8. Take breaks, and take them often

Parenting a high needs child is exhausting. If you aren't taking care of yourself and getting plenty of time to recharge, it is nearly impossible to respond calmly to their needs. Enlist the help of in-laws, friends or a local parents' day out (see No. 7). By getting the rest you need, you are equipping yourself to be the best parent possible.

Photograph by: Twenty20

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