Do you have a high maintenance child?
"Thank goodness my second child wasn't born first. I would have stopped at one child if he was my first," said a mother at a recent parenting seminar.
Many parents can relate to this sentiment. Nature has a way of evening out the score for parents. If you have an easy first born then hang on to your hat because chances are the second or third or fourth born will bring you back to reality.
Most families have one child who takes up more of a parent's time, energy and mindspace than others. These high maintenance children have all sorts of misbehaviours to keep their parents busy or in their service. They may whinge or whine to get their own way. They may interrupt you just when you have started a conversation or settled down for a chat on the telephone. They may even embarrass you in front of your friends or begin to pull the cat's tail just as you settle to breastfeed a younger sibling. They can be tearful, self-indulgent, argumentative, bossy and just plain stubborn.
And what's worse, they are often only high maintenance kids for their parents. Take them to creche', pre school or school and the demands for attention reduce dramatically. "How was she today?" you ask as you pick up your child at the end of the day. You feel crest-fallen when the adult in charge replies, "Not a problem. She was great!" But worse, you know when you get home the demands on your time and attention will begin and they won't cease until she (or you) falls asleep.
High maintenance kids are demanding, exasperating and exhausting. They also take use up your time and energy that you would like to devote to your other children. You would love to spend more time with Perfect Pete but Turbo Terry, Argumentative Aaron or Whining Willemina just keep doing those things that they do so well.
So what's the solution? What is the cure? That's a hard one. There is no magic pill for parents. Yes, some children who are diagnosed with ADHD are given a pill regularly in the form of ritolin. These little pills have become very popular over the last decade as the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has increased dramatically. Only recently have we as a community begun to question the wisdom of keeping up a supply of this drug to children. None of my children have had ADHD so I would not dare to point a finger at any parent who must live with a child with full-blown, A grade ADHD. I take my hat off to your dedication and persistence as you must develop this if you are to live with such a child.
But most high maintenance child don't fall into this category. Many just need to be weaned off their parent's attention. We become so adept at responding to these kids' misbehaviours that attending to them becomes habitual. So try breaking the habit of giving attention when they misbehave. Now that's hard. When they want your attention do something completely different. But be ready for their attention-seeking stuff to escalate. It always does. Ignore the whining and it will increase in volume. Ignore a child's constant interruptions while you are on the telephone and be prepared for an ear-splitting shriek to contend with or even a mess to clean up. It is parents who generally experience the consequences of a high maintenance's child's behaviour. That is the way of high maintenance children.
But you have to change your own way of reacting so your child doesn't get his jollies from keeping you busy with him or her. Most parents never do this because the reactionary habit is ingrained and the behaviour will escalate so we give up in the face of increased misbehaviour. Misbehaviour will generally get worse before it gets better. It is the norm when dealing with high maintenance children. That's why they are such hard work to raise. Alternatively, you can keep giving them heaps of B-grade attention when they are less than perfect and my hunch they will still grow up to be well-adjusted adults. It is just you as a parent who has a hard time of it in the meantime.
Michael Grose is The Parent Coach. For seventeen years he has been helping parents deal with the rigours of raising kids and survive!! For information about Michael's Parent Coaching programs or just some fine advice and ideas to help you raise confident kids and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au