The “Difficult” Baby: Part Two

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By Tracy G. Cassels

baby-crying-cribIn the last post, we covered what classifies a baby as “difficult” these days (crying/fussiness and clinginess), and how maternal characteristics and attitudes can affect a baby’s temperament and how attachment status is strongly correlated with temperament.  Most importantly, we ended on the finding by Megan Gunnar and colleagues that found the clingy difficult baby (“fearful infant”) showed a differential pattern of cortisol activation to a stressor based on attachment status; namely, that only the difficult and insecurely attached infant had a high-stress response, not the difficult and securely attached infant[1].

In this part, we’re going to look at the last piece of pertinent information—viewing the difficult infant as a ‘plastic’ infant—and then finishing with a look at what we can do going forward.

The Difficult Child as the ‘Changeable’ Child

There’s a wonderful article by Drs. Jay Belsky and Michael Pluess on the misconception we tend to have about individuals we label as “at-risk” as being only sensitive to the negative that there is in the world or their environment[2].   That is, for years, we’ve viewed certain temperaments (like the difficult temperament) as being simply more prone to experience certain events more negatively.  Heck, I even alluded to such research in the bit on Attachment Parenting – after all, infants who are difficult are more likely to be insecurely attached for whatever reason is behind it.  But what we have failed to consider when adopting this view is that it may not be that these individuals, or in this case babies, are simply more influenced by the negative, but that they are more “changeable”.  These are the individuals who will experience an adverse environment and fall lower than most, but who also may fly higher than most when given an enriching environment.  As written in the paper as the tenet of this differential-susceptibility hypothesis:

[T]hose putatively “vulnerable” individuals most adversely affected by many kinds of stressors may be the very same ones who reap the most benefit from environmental support and enrichment, including the absence of adversity.  (p. 886)

In this paper, Belsky and Pluess review the literature on the topic with respect to the “difficult” child, and it’s not scarce.  The findings show that children with sensitive, responsive parents not only fail to show this vulnerability to negativity, but can do better.  For example, one study found that these difficult children who had sensitive, responsive mothers were more moral than those with mothers who used power-assertion techniques[3].  In fact, the difficult children who had low power-assertion parents at 22 months scored the highest on the moral self at 56 months.  The interaction looks like this:

This is the type of interaction that causes Belsky and Pluess to argue that we should not view these difficult children as being only “at-risk” but rather more malleable than their easier counterparts.

While not discussed in the Belsky paper, the aforementioned work by Megan Gunnar and colleagues also demonstrated a similar interaction with respect to cortisol activation during a physical exam and inoculations.  I previously mentioned that the highest cortisol reaction was in children who were difficult/high fear and who had insecure attachments, but even more interesting is that the difficult/high fear children who had secure attachments showed the lowest cortisol increase, suggesting they were the least stressed out of the entire group.  Again, the interaction looked as follows:

The point here is that these children are not just at-risk for negative outcomes, but if nurtured and cared for in a loving, gentle way, they are the kids who will thrive.  They are the ones whose environment plays a large role in the person they will grow up to be.

What Do We Do?

What does this mean?  Beyond the obvious fact that certain people are more likely to have a “difficult” baby based on their own behaviours and attitudes, it should highlight the fact that it may be possible to change this.  And even when it isn’t possible (because we all know there are difficult babies who are just, well, difficult, regardless of parenting assumptions and beliefs), we need to make sure we still provide these children with an environment that leads to a secure attachment because that will help them immeasurably.

In line with the previous article on abuse and parenting (see here), mothers who were known to abuse their children responded more aversely to the cries of a child than those who did not abuse their children[4].  Given that this aversive reaction can be found prenatally, it may be used to identify those who are at a higher-risk for abuse and allow for greater education prior to the birth of their child.  Many women today feel anxiety about child rearing because they have so little experience with what it entails.  Their only experience is from their own parents, which is probably why we see the transmission of attachment across generations[5].  One way to fix this and to help women (and men) feel more confident in their parenting abilities is to increase people’s exposure to children prior to having their own because without that exposure many parents have insufficient experience to overcome any deleterious effects of their own upbringing and also can end up with unrealistic expectations of their children which only make matters worse.  I’m not sure how practical this is though, so at the very least we need to change people’s expectations about what it is to have a child.  Too many people go into parenting expecting their life to remain close to it is, but with a little person who will sleep when you want them to and only eat when you want them to.  Yes, you might get a little sleepy, but by and large, they should be able to resume many aspects of their life and that’s just not the case.  If these are your expectations, anything other than that will seem “difficult”, and many people will then respond with even harsher parenting techniques to try and get that child to fall into line with these insane ideas of parenthood.

I imagine this may explain the difference between the securely and insecurely attached infants.  The securely attached, difficult infants are probably the babies that are truly “difficult” by nature (or because of some as-yet discovered reason), but their parents went into this whole parenting thing with appropriate expectations.  By having appropriate expectations, they’re able to parent these children with love and compassion, knowing that holding their children more and not leaving them to cry-it-out are exactly what these kids need to feel secure.  And we see in research that these “difficult” kids can absolutely thrive when paired with parents who provide this environment.

It also may be possible to help families simply by having them employ certain attachment parenting practices.  I draw this conclusion based on the success of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in dealing with anxiety and depression (two of the biggest predictors of poorer parenting behaviours).  In CBT, there is no Freudian examination of why we behave the way we do, the focus is on tackling the symptoms with the knowledge that sometimes you have to “fake it to make it”.  Someone’s depressed?  You tell them to go out.  Anxious?  Face the fear head-on (via exposure).  Now this is obviously a simplified view of therapy, but the essence remains and works quite well for these types of disorders.  How?  Well it’s not entirely clear, we know hormones play a role and in the case of attachment and the difficult child, the closeness between mother and child should promote the release of oxytocin and other positive mood-inducing hormones while suppressing the more negative mood-inducing hormones.  This can help the attachment and potentially work to reduce the anxiety and depression that certain mothers face.  In short, we have to try and get more parents on board with developing secure relationships with their children however it’s done.  This will not only benefit the child (as we’ve seen), but can hopefully help the mother in handling the problems that may lead to these psychological states to begin with; after all, oxytocin is a very  powerful hormone.

Finally, I truly believe we need to be very careful about the blaze attitude our society has about many parenting practices, notably things like cry-it-out and the reduction of touch.  We are constantly told that there is no harm to infants to employ these harsher parenting techniques (yes, they are harsh, and for my own response you can see What You Need to Know About Crying-It-Out), and while I will admit that the damage may not be strong universally (kids are resilient; though I believe there is harm each and every time because of the messages being sent), if done with the wrong child, it can be devastating.  Are you willing to risk your child’s moral development or cause your child to endure greater stress responsivity in certain situations?  I don’t believe many parents are.  But only when we get beyond the notion of every difficult child being unchangeable and of the importance of being loving and caring when change doesn’t happen will we be able to convince parents that these methods are not worth the risk they pose.

Do you have a difficult baby?  How did you handle it?

[1] Gunnar MR, Brodersen L, Nachmias M, Buss K, Rigatuso J.  Stress reactivity and attachment security.  Developmental Psychobiology 1996; 29: 191-204.

[2] Belsky J, Pluess M.  Beyond diathesis stress: differential susceptibility to environmental influences.  Psychological Bulletin 2009; 135: 885-908.

[3] Kochanska G, Aksan N, Joy ME.  Children’s fearfulness as a moderator of parenting in early socialization: two longitudinal studies.  Developmental Psychology 2007; 43: 222-237.

[4] Frodi A.  When empathy fails: aversive infant crying and child abuse.  In B Lester & Z Boukydis (Eds.), Infant crying: Theoretical and research perspectives (pp. 263-277).  New York: Plenum (1985).

[5] Benoit D, Parker KCH.  Stability and transmission of attachment across three generations.  Child Development 1994; 65: 1444-1456.

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  1. Kristy says

    When my daughter was a newborn, for about 6 weeks I would constantly nurse her, hold her until I thought she was out good and put her in her crib only to have her wake up in about 5 – 20 minutes. So I’d nurse her back to sleep and try again, eventually getting her to sleep in her swing for about 2 hrs and at that point I would bring her to bed with me. She has always needed to be in constant contact with me, crying if I leave the room even for a second. Most of her life she has been in my arms or my carrier because that is where she is content. Such a sad baby without me but with me she is content, happy and thriving. I kinda hope the next baby will be similar because otherwise it will be a new learning experience. I think I’m lucky that she has been so high needs because otherwise I would be missing out.

    • says

      Kristy – I love that someone else feels that way! My daughter is “high needs” and I love all the moments we have together that I know others have missed with their less needy children. She’s very outgoing too now (at 20 months) but she still loves her some mom time and cuddles and I just can’t imagine having it any other way!

  2. says

    What a brilliant article. I think you make some excellent points. People often try to imply that the reason my daughter has a ‘high-needs’ temperament is because of my parenting of her, and I try to explain that if I didn’t parent this way, she would be much more unsettled.

    My daughter has a ‘high-needs’ temperament, and I’ve always tried my best to respond to her needs as well as I can. She’s now 18 months old and I’m finally starting to see the pay-offs of all that hard work. She’s very intelligent, vocal and empathic, and is slowly starting to gain confidence with new people and new situations. There are still difficult times, but overall she’s an absolute joy. I’m so glad I ignored those who told me to let her ‘cry it out’ when she wouldn’t sleep, and not to hold her too much. Far from spoiling her, it’s made her into a wonderful little girl. I wish I could go back in time and tell my previous self that I was doing it right, and that it’s worth it. :)

    • says

      We have such strange views of child development these days it’s no wonder people think we need to do things like CIO for kids. Good for you for not listening!!! As you see now, you absolutely did the right thing for your child :)

    • Na says

      Ignore them, good on you for trusting your mama instinct and tuning in to your daughter. When I was pregnant, I had to do some blood tests. The person who took my blood sample was the first person to give me parenting advice, which I hold on to. He said people will put their fingers on you and say you do this and that wrong, but you must look at your child and yourself, do what is right for both of you. If something works on Monday but doesn’t on Tuesday, then do things differently on Tuesday. I didn’t believe anyone would say I do things wrong as a parent, but wow I was wrong and he was right. I held on to his words, I hope his words help you too. There were many times I doubted myself. You’re more prone to do that when you have a high need child. Thank God after every phase and stage I can look back and be thankful I did what I did. Not perfect, but more than good enough. Im glad you’ve started to see more of how wonderful your daughter is.

  3. Jespren says

    I’ve never liked the term ‘difficult child’, it places all the onus upon the child and, I think, both implies they are static beings who can not be conformed (formed) and they are doing it on purpose.
    I think young children, and certainly babes, have needs. Some people, even as adults, have more needs than others. (Of course adults tend to confuse needs with wants, but I don’t believe a young child has that ability) both my kids, in different ways, have been somewhat ‘high needs’. All that means is I, as their mother, need to try harder to meet those needs. My son (now 3 1/2) ate constantly as an infant and had problems with acid reflux, throwing up (because of gerd), and was/is very snuggly. He’s also a climber who takes all of 5 seconds to get himself into a dangerous physical situation since he’s been mobile at 2 months. But he’s also outgoing, not the least bit shy, and not remotely clingy. My daughter, by comparision, was very easy to feed, and, once I eliminated peanuts from my diet, had very little gas or digestive issues. She’s not prone to trying to break her neck by climbing cupboards at 6 months and in general is a good sleeper, (for better or worse) not very cuddly. But she’s a bit shy (still pretty outgoing, only brief ‘stranger danger’ response), very possessively clingy, and more ‘fussy’, finding a cry to be a more common response to stress than her brother. Meanwhile my parenting style is virtually identical, co sleeping, baby wearing, baby led weaning, breastfeeding, firm, consistant, and expecting them to do what they are capable of, etc.
    People, of all ages, are different. My parenting style certainly didn’t change, I gived my kids what their need, and I? Not upset that they need more (or less) than some other people may need. Frankly I think the high needs kids, provided they learn to differentiate between growing wants and needs as they age, are likely to be the more interesting adults!

    • says

      I think you’re entirely right. And I do realize that parenting will not always dictate how a child is – I was hoping it would clarify that it *can* but that parents who do all the attachment things can still have “difficult” children, but they’re still doing the right thing.

      I like the idea of kids with more needs being more interesting adults – why do you think that though???

      • Jespren says

        Purely an opinionated suposition on my part. Seems to my observation that a ‘high needs’ child is very commonly a sign of higher intelligence, creativity, rapid mental development, and/or a different way of looking at things. The most intelligent, creative, or inventive adults are usually classified as ‘ecentric’ what’s ecentric except the adult term for ‘high needs’? From the mathmatician who can’t drive because he gets too distracted by fractal equations in tree leaves (like a professor my mom knew) to the musician who feels music along their skin (which apparently is a recognized syndrome) to the artist whose emotions are calmed or excited by the colors around them; from Howard Hughes’s OCD to Enstein failing basic math, interesting adults are ‘high needs’ people. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that ‘high needs’ kids are a strong indicator of the type of emotional, mental, or general outlook that drives people to great hights of intellect, creativity, or ingenuity? Yes, my examples are all on the extreme ends of things to make a point. But my own observations and talks with other moms, the ‘high need’ kids are also the one’s who have the capacity to sit and figure things out, and who hit milestones like pretending early. Not saying a ‘low need’ kid can’t or isn’t highly intelligent, nor a ‘high need’ one automatically so. But the low need kid who just sits contently and watches, to me, just doesn’t portray the same creativity and mental development as the high need kid. I mean, fear is just a form of creativity, crying shows a consistant and sustained attempt at comminucation, clinginess shows an understanding than ‘the world’ is different than ‘my world’, the constant exploring and getting into stuff is adventurious, creative, and curiosity, pretty much everything we think of as a ‘need’ is really an important and healthy development that is just occuring before the child is fully able to communicate with us.
        Like I said, purely observational opinion, but makes sense doesn’t it?

        • says

          It makes a lot of sense. Like I said – I like it :) (Of course, it helps that I happen to have one of those high-needs babies – and yes, her pretend play skills emerged very early.) It also highlights, to me, how we may be killing this inventive instinct with the parenting practices society promotes for these children. In an attempt to make them like the others, parents are told to not touch them, leave them to cry-it-out, etc. and I can’t help but wonder how that affects not only the security this child feels, but their imagination and ability to be that eccentric individual. To me, I believe that when your basic sense of trust is gone, you lose some of that spark that makes you more unique because you have to spend your time worrying about safety instead of these other, wonderful imaginative things.

  4. Kylie J says

    I’m an early childhood teacher, I have a difficult baby although I don’t like the term ‘difficult’ its how I feel about it. Our baby was born violently and sustained a fractured collar bone, from the moment he was born he felt pain. He was then diagnosed with colic, which turned into all day screaming and refusal to feed. Now he has been diagnosed as having silent reflux. He screamed because he was feeling pain, he woke every 20 minutes because he was experiencing discomfort. We have never practiced CIO methods but have found a lot of health professionals advocating for things such as ‘hands on settling’, leaving the baby in the cot screaming while you stand their and pat him, then pick him up and do it again when he settles. This doesn’t work with a ‘difficult’ baby. I began doubting my parenting, should I just keep doing this put him down pick him up? Should we go to the sleep school that the pediatrician has made a referral to? Why do I feel like I respond to my babies every need but he still reacts like I’ve left him to CIO? How do you know if your responding sensitively enough?

    • Tracy says

      I dislike the term too, but sadly it’s what is often used in the literature (and daily life)! I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough go, but as to your question – your child can never be responded to too sensitively. How much do you get to hold him during the day? With a baby whose experienced that much pain and discomfort I would be very careful before trying any sleep training or schooling. Right now he knows his cries will bring you to him to care for him and that is of the utmost importance. Keep holding, breastfeeding (if you are), cuddling, and allowing him to cry if needed. That will be best for him!

      • Kylie J says

        Thank you Tracy, it has been a difficult time for all of us. We both decided against the sleep training, I’m an early childhood teacher and my studies have looked at the effects of stress on a developing brain. My husband keeps bringing up a point when I tell him it’s not good to let him cry in a distressed manner, he asks what the difference is, if he just cries that distressed cry even when we are holding him as opposed to putting him in cot. My answer is just that he is experiencing something that is upsetting him and he knows we are here for him. It’s really hard in moments like this, I begin doubting my knowledge and parenting skills when even the attachment parenting practices that seem to be our natural instincts are not helping to calm him. Regarding breast feeding at 4 months our son refused to feed, we were told that he was associating feeding on the breast with sin due to reflux. I worked hard with a ABA lactation consultant from birth (as I also experienced very painful nipple vasospasm) to regain my milk supply but after weeks and weeks of watching my supply dwindle and our baby dropping weight dramatically we had to start on a special Hypoalergenic formula. With all the pain he has experienced, I’m hoping that parenting with a sensitive touch will eventually help him be ok in his world. I think you may have written an article about breast feeding and Brussel sprouts?! Sometimes these discussions about difficult babies and parenting styles upsets me, as I feel that I am trying really hard to meet my babies needs and parent with a sensitive attitude, however our baby still remains stressed and has days of chronic stress. But like that breast feeding article, even though it may upset parents with a trulely high needs baby, make them question if they are being sensitive the right way, it is still a topic that has a bigger issue at heart, infant mental health and the role of positive parenting. Please forgive any spelling mistakes, I’ve typed one handed while holding my baby to sleep.

        • Tracy says

          I actually did a piece on here about crying-in-arms versus CIO – – which talks about the crucial distinction if your hubby is interested :) Beyond what you say there are neurological differences too.

          The brussel sprouts piece was from I Am Not the Babysitter (great site too) but I hear you on how difficult it can be when people expect you to have a perfectly happy baby if you just parent this way or that way. But please know that your baby is definitely getting the best start given his circumstances from having you be gentle, supportive, responsive, and loving. Hopefully the piece I just linked will help make that distinction too :)

  5. kim says

    I’m happy to stumble upon this article. I felt that my babies were very difficult although nobody else saw this. They needed to be worn at all times and walked, walked, walked day and night. Nobody else could see it because I did whatever it took to attend to them so they wouldn’t cry and fuss. They’ve grown into very independent, intelligent, happy children, but sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who can pat my back. It was hard work.

  6. Kelli says

    My son was a difficult and colicky newborn, and would cry and scream at every diaper change. I followed Harvey Karp’s advice, and it worked, but was exhausting. 9 years later, it turns out he has sensory processing issues. Thank God that after 3 months the colicky behavior stopped, and he was happy and funny. I just figured that parenting was gonna be difficult, mad tried to take it in stride. I am glad he was my first. It would have been more difficult if I had my daughter first.

  7. dana says

    I also have a child who has always spoken up a lot when having a need. At times, it was difficult and exhausting for me as I tried to be responsive and calm. She is now a happy 10-month old, I feel more secure and less stressed, yet there are times when her crying still gets to me. The most difficult moment is when travelling, because she really hates being in the car. We’ve tried new or unusual toys, short singing videos, even taking her out of the car seat. I realize it’s very risky to hold her while travelling, but what could we do instead to help her accept the car seat? At the moment there is no way for the two of us to drive together alone. Do you have any suggestions? Many thanks!

  8. Christina says

    Yes, everyone has their own views of what a difficult baby is, and how to handle it. I think the most important thing is to listen to your child and let him tell you his needs.

    There is no doubt that I had one of the more difficult ones. No, he didn’t cry every hour he was awake (which I HAVE heard of), but he was extremely fussy, and I can count on both hands the times he fell asleep without first wailing about it for 30 minutes or more in his first 12 months of life. He slept the first 6 months of his life in a swing, mostly on high. I would have loved to be able to co-sleep with him. I would have adored being able to rock him to sleep. I literally wept with joy the first time I was able to rock him to sleep at 7 months without a pillow between us. No one could touch him while he was trying to fall asleep, other than a firm hand on his chest and a tight swaddle while in the swing. Car seat travel was the worst. I got a ticket for going 70 in a 45 because I was driven to distraction by his wailing. I was green with envy at other mothers who’s babies just fell asleep in the stroller while out for a walk. OMG, sometimes I want to scream at mothers whos’ child ALWAYS wants to be in a carrier. I would have loved it if my baby had taken to a carrier. Instead he screamed. And so Daddy and I had to use the special hold that caused Daddy to have rotator cuff issues…until our arms fell off. And then, we had to put him down. Yes, he screamed less on the bed than he would have in a sling/Ergo/whatever. P.S. – In response to the article “My Baby Cries Too” – if I had touched him, it would have meant an hour more of crying. Sometimes you just need to see to your own baby and let other mothers parent theirs.

    Was I overly sensitive to his crying? Yes, but all mothers are SUPPOSED TO BE SENSITIVE TO THEIR BABY’S CRY.

    I was desperate and depressed. I was on Zoloft and went to group therapy for months 3-12. I continued to pump till month 15 (he refused to breastfeed directly at 6), because I was terrified that formula wouldn’t work for him. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I’m still not, and he’s 20 months old and co-sleeping half the night. Just this morning he woke up at 5AM (8:40 to bed) and refused to go back to sleep, no matter what soothing measures were applied. That’s typical, btw… 8-10 hours at night. No, he doesn’t make it up at nap time – usually it’s 1.5 hours on the dot.

    Who are these magical parents that doesn’t loose it every now and again? Who can be that person that constantly responds only with loving-kindness to tantrums, hitting, kicking, screaming, and clinging? God only knows, my husband and I both try. We carry him when he wants to be carried, we hug and kiss him and play with him when he wants attention. We are firm about car seats, and bedtime routines, and teeth-brushing, because we have to be, but we always try the nice way first. However, one of us always ends up snapping at least once a day.

    Show me a parent who doesn’t get angry, who doesn’t sometimes snap, and I’ll show you a parent who doesn’t really care.

    So how are you supposed to be sensitive and responsive to the child who won’t brush his teeth, instead of ‘power assertive’? How are you supposed to be to a child who won’t sit in the car seat? Shall you bribe him with toys or food? Is that the sensitive and responsive route? What about the studies that show that bribery leads to children who are less moral? What about bedtime battles? What do you do with a 12-24 month old who doesn’t speak English and can’t be reasoned with? How should you quell his tantrums and get him to nicely walk to his room and stay for book-reading instead of running around the house like a crazy person? (No, bedtime is not TOO LATE)

    It’s nice that you have all these scientific studies with quite general terms like ‘power assertive’ and ‘sensitive and response’, but they mean absolutely nothing without context and reference. Graphs are lovely, but anecdotes and/or descriptions of behaviour are required to provide definitions.

    How to end this rant? I’m not sure, but I will say this. Until we go back to living in communal villages where everyone helps out with the babies, CIO is going to be a reality. Nobody can hold a high-needs infant (ESPECIALLY not in the special hold) constantly. Everyone needs to sleep sometime, and with both parents working, the problems are compounded. Good luck in your crusade.

  9. Celeste says

    I think the expectations that people enter parenting with have a huge impact on their perception of their child as “difficult/high needs”. My expectation was that my baby would indicate when she had a need and my job was to respond to that need. I expected that I or another loving caregiver would hold her almost constantly, that I would nurse her whenever she seemed hungry or upset, and that her needs for parenting would be present throughout the night just as they were present in the day. I was also extremely privileged to have a circle of family and friends who were either supportive of my approach to parenting or did not comment on it negatively. An outside observer with different expectations would probably have considered my child needy and difficult, but I considered her normal and because her needs were consistently met when she expressed them or even before, I experienced her as an easy going, happy baby.

  10. Kimber says

    My 2nd son is 10 months and is high needs. He needs lots of holding, nursing and playing with me. I also feel he is further along than my 1st son (who was an easy baby) was at this point. I let him nurse whenever he wants, we co-sleep and he is almost always touching me when he is playing. I love it! My husband is of the CIO mindset, but his 3 kids are insecure (elementary age) so I don’t think it worked out for him. My 1st son knows I’m his safe place so he is more outgoing and less insecure.

  11. Roxana says

    My baby was ‘high needs’ from the begining….turns out the reason for her not being ok with me leaving her for 30 seconds alone was that she had a tongue&lip tie, which meant for her first 2 months she wasn’t feeding well, she was constantly hungry. So I did what any sane person would do in my place. I carried her, we coslept, fed her every time she cried for it, went to the bathroom together, etc. I did these thing because it transformed her. It worked for her, and having peace was worth it’s seconds in gold.
    Even though her ties were clipped at 2 months she continued to be pretty ‘high needs’, only crying during teething periods. For me she is a difficult child. I do everything to simulate the environment she needs (secure, social, non allergenic foods, breastmilk, etc).
    You know what this tells me? It tells me that both me and her would have thrived in a tribal environment. I would have slept and she would have gotten the stimulation she needs.
    From the begining I had the feeling she would learn very fast, faster then I could provide her with new things for her to learn.

    One more thing I want to add. It feels like our society, by being more individualistic and less comunal, is promoting insecure, untrusting and soft bendable people. We are being taught to bet people who bend down and accept their fate,(think CIO, spanking, school sistem) while constantly praising the brave and creative, thus creating even more jealous and distrusting individuals (people who bend to the rules that are often unhappy that even doing ‘everything right’ they get little to no compensation).
    About expectations…I never thought parenting is easy…just that I would be good at it. Who knew how sour and ‘finished’ I could feel on days when I get no/bad sleep?!
    I agree that parents would benefit from some baby lessons before getting a baby. Maybe people who wanted to have a baby sign up for a ‘class’ that is just 1/ week babysit babies of different ages? I have friends my age who don’t want babies yet because they think its too hard. As much as I agree it’s hard I also think you can’t know for sure until you’ve taken care of one…
    I will personally continue to raise my child the way I do, it feels good even when I can’t ‘see’ the results on a daily basis. And maybe instead of 4 children like I initially wanted I will stick to 2.

  12. Scarlet says

    My sister has 11mo twins and one of them is high needs. My sister makes her out to be almost weird and manipulating; she will scream out for attention, when attention is being paid to her she smiles very “smugly” apparently, like “hahaha I’m pretending to need you, but I’m just tricking you” (this is how my sister explains it). My sister struggles to give her attention a lot of tge time because her twin needs attention too. She is not an “attached” baby and my sister uses Tizzy Hall’s tips (demands) and routines with her twins. Thoughts?

    • says

      Unfortunately that’s a common view of a high needs baby but often the types of routines and tips that are promoted by people like Tizzy Hall are the opposite of what many high needs babies need :( Of course a baby will smile when they get the attention they are so craving – don’t you? But it’s not tricking or anything like that – it’s a call for closeness! One easy way to give the type of closeness one needs is to simply babywear the high needs one. Being that close all the time often does the trick!

  13. Justine says

    Thank-you so much for a fascinating article and like-minded comments from real experiences. My 15mo is high needs and has been since birth when she suffered 4 mo of colic (an undiagnosed upper lip tie). She’s very vocal, independent and fearless. But oddly also insecure in her attachments. I’ve worn her in a sling and have always rocked her to sleep in my arms – she would scream the house down on the few occasions that I tried something else. I’ve doubted all of this and whether in fact my responsiveness was making her worse. Ultimately I think it’s just her personality (and perhaps a side effect of the painful colic). I find the best way to help her to manage her moods is thru teaching her tools like breathing, quiet time, songs, dance, play: tools that I hope will serve her in adult life. It’s good to have reassurance that I am going down the right path.

  14. Melissa says

    I realize that this article is a couple years old, but I just stumbled upon it. The first part in the series actually made me feel pretty bad about myself. My son was definitely a high needs baby and might have been classified by some as having “colic” as he screamed for hours in the evenings. I am a first time mother and was not prepared for how much babies cry– however, family and friends confirmed that my son cried more than most. I did find, however, that I was REALLY sensitive to his crying. When he would cry, it felt like every cell in my body went on alarm and I needed to tend to him immediately! It honestly really stressed me out. My husband often commented that I needed to not let his crying stress me. However, I didn’t find his crying stressful because it was irritating. I found it stressful because it was DISTRESSING for HIM.

    Back to my original point- the first article made me feel bad because I practiced attachment parenting practices and he was still “difficult”. As an infant, I wore him for 6-8 hrs a day, held him for every nap, breastfed on demand, co-slept ect, and he STILL cried. While I admit to being unprepared for parenting from a lack of exposure to babies, I was often made to feel by family and friends that I “made” my son the way he was. He was so “difficult” and virtually no one except my mother understood how hard it was (my older brother was the same way). After many unsuccessful attempts to go to family gatherings where my baby just cried the whole time, it was like other family members just gave up and got annoyed by him. I eventually realized that I just needed to stay home with him until he was older and could better handle the stimulation and new people/surroundings. So, I missed many family events and upset family members who just couldn’t understand “why I was such a wimpy first time mom and couldn’t handle it.” Much of this is just my own feelings of the vibe I felt from others- they weren’t directly said to me.

    Sorry for the long vent, but the first article really struck a chord with me, bringing up ideas that I was somehow the reason that my son was so high needs. The second article clarified a little more. For other moms of high needs babies, there is a Dr. Sears article that highlights the characteristics of high needs babies AND reasons why some of the “difficult” traits are really strengths.

    Over time though, I have come to realize that I was meant to be my child’s mother- he SO needed all the attachment parenting type responses. Thank God he was not born to a mother who practices CIO and other “hands-off” parenting practices. His gentle little soul could not have survived it.

    • says

      I’m very, very sorry that’s what you took from the first article. I do see the research and how it can be interpreted that way, but as the mother of a high-needs child, please know that’s not at ALL what I think about it. It was just to bring up that in our society there are people who believe they have a “high-needs” baby when they don’t. The difficult bit is within them, not their child.

  15. Anna says

    I also have a ‘difficult’ baby from the view of Inlaws as she has a cousin born 2 weeks later who is the easiest baby.
    She was like it from day 1. Demanding that her needs were met when she needed them to be.
    After crying every waking moment if she wasn’t cuddled up to my chest in the hospital the midwives took her so I could get some sleep then returned her shortly after when they realised she was never going to settle without me. She was placed on my chest, I was told I was going to have fun with this stubborn one and I was told to go to sleep and they’d check on us through out the night.

    For the 1st 4 months she screamed if being held by anyone but me, screamed when she was over stimulated, screamed if she was uncomfortable and even the littlest bit wet, screamed if in the pram, car trips were a nightmare.
    Would only sleep when she was in my arms or laying on my chest.

    We co-slept, breast feed on demand, baby wore, if she needed a day just cuddling on the couch then that’s what we did, I let our world shrink to be just our house when we could get away with it and I went with her flow. No strict routines as they just drove us both crazy. Once I came to the conclusion to follow my baby it was so much easier and we both were happy.
    Then as she’s grown older and can cope more I’ve expanded her world back out slowly, met new people and spend a lot more time out and about.
    It passes and they get better, you get better at knowing there needs and you adapt.

    I think she’s quite fascinating now at 10 months. She’s ever watchful and you can see the little cogs moving as she maps out her world. (Velcro and snap bibs have been worked out this week and are off about 2 minutes after they are put on with a triumphant wave over her head and a huge smile)


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