Behavior & Environment

Strategies for Managing a High Needs Child

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All kids have social and emotional needs that we need to meet throughout the day. However, some kids have a very high and seemingly never-ending need for attention, physical touch and conversation from their caregiver. These are the ones who run through every bad behavior they know to keep your attention on them, the ones who follow you around the house and would literally suction to you if it were possible, and the ones that interrupt every conversation you have with another child or adult. With these high-need kids, it seems impossible to provide enough of what they want and need. Working with them can be exhausting and filled with frustration, anger, doubt, guilt and stress. Here are three tips that hopefully will help.

  1. Instincts tell us that kids are born a certain way. We can tell from infancy that some kids are born independent, some kids have a hard time with transitions and some kids have high needs. Research confirms this. Recognizing that having a high level of need is part of who a child is, not just an annoying behavior choice, can go a long way to staying in a positive, calm mind space. This doesn’t mean the child can’t learn appropriate ways to get their needs met, it just means it will be harder for them.
  2. You have the right to set boundaries to protect your mental health. Being a caregiver doesn’t mean you have to meet a child’s every need, especially when those needs never seem to end. You can say no to another conversation, you can require more physical space when sitting on the couch reading together and you can remove yourself or the child from the shared space for time alone. Boundaries don’t mean you’re a bad caregiver or you’ve failed the child. They simply mean you recognize your limits and are prioritizing self-care, a necessity when caring for others.
  3. Acknowledge the child’s feelings. It’s easy to dismiss or diminish the child’s needs because they seem so intense and over the top to us. However, they’re real to that child. Acknowledge how they’re feeling and what they need, and at the same time work with them to develop skills and habits that help them manage their feelings and find appropriate ways to fill their needs.