When you are awaiting your bundle of joy, you get loads of advice. Some helpful, almost all given with a sense of duty towards giving the parents-to-be a better understanding of what it means to be the caregivers to a new human being. My personal favorites are 'don't wake a sleeping baby' and 'cherish every moment because it goes so fast.' There's also the well-meaning 'if you hold her, you'll spoil her' but usually the people giving that advice have either never had a baby or held their baby ad infinitum to keep her from screaming all night.
I've gone through the advice and admonishments from family and friends six times and no one has ever been very helpful when it comes to parenting a challenging child. To this day, I can ask one of my seasoned parenting relatives and friends for coping strategies and mostly all I get is 'this too, shall pass' types of responses. Either no one knows how to parent a child who is needy from Day 1, or this information is only leaked to the most seasoned and die-hard of parenting professionals and is on a need-to-know basis only.
Sure, I get the unwanted and oft unfriendly 'you are just spoiling her, let her cry,' and when I try to explain that this philosophy doesn't jibe with our attachment parenting approach, I then get the 'don't be a lazy parent' diatribe. Attachment parenting (AP) does not make challenging children. Rather, AP style gives an otherwise needy child the reassurance that the parent will respond to their needs. Even calm, cool, collected babies (babies my husband has termed "easy babies", but is there such a thing?) will respond positively to being parent instinctually and individually instead of by the book. I get that giving her every thing she wants is spoiling her; giving her love and attention just lets her know that I'm willing to do the job I signed up for.
I also don't understand why it is that, when a person tries to vent about having a challenging child and is at a loss and needing a hug or possibly even a valium, others try to minimize their frustrations. "You're just over reacting and over parenting. You need to let her know who's boss." "It really isn't that bad, is it?" "She's got control and is running you." Really? My lovely baby of almost nine months is controlling me? Wow, we need to get this kid on Oprah because she's gonna be a prodigy!
So, what is a challenging child? I have birthed and am raising five children, one of them a recent high school graduate and a challenging child, and I can only describe them like this. Child One, the aforementioned grad, was always demanding something. Time, energy, stuff, attention. She was in high gear from the minute she came into this world screaming and seemingly ticked-off at being here. I didn't realize that there were other types of children and then comes Child Two. She was a dreamy baby, the kind that dozes after her meals and seems content just to be here and watch the world go by. Child Three, an NICU baby of only 30 weeks gestation, was also an 'easy' baby and only fussed when he was at the absolute boudaries of uncomfortable.
I was beginning to think that Child One was a fluke, when out comes Child Four. She made me think that Child One was an easy baby. Number Four was not only demanding, she was also serious in those demands and would not sway no matter how long we tried to hold out. Anytime she cried and was not responded to immediately, the wailing intensified until she would be in such a state that she would vomit and would then be unconsolable for hours on end. We learned very quickly that any instance of discomfort would lead to an all out melt down in T-minus .05 seconds if we did not respond.
With Child One, we could delay picking her up or feeding her and she was resourceful enough that she would get her needs met otherwise and would allow for some bending of her rules. Not so with Four and we learned to anticipate and actively participate in order to save our sanity. We're currently parenting Child Five and she's giving her older sisters a run for their money.
The challenging child is not trying to control the adult. What she is doing is trying to control how the world responds to her and, more importantly, this child demands that her needs get met and will not take no for an answer. I believe Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha Sears, RN, when they say that parenting a high need child (their terminology for the challenging child) is difficult, but doable. In their The Fussy Baby Book, the Sears' tell of their own fussy, challenging child and how raising her caused them to re-evaluate what they did as parents, professionals, and people.
Further, they also suggest that parenting the challenging child is more about controlling situations than about controlling the people involved in those situations. Fussy babies might not like Aunt Hilda's advice on swaddling and prefer a more free-range form of sleeping with just a thin night gown or sleeper on. Challenging children will insist that their needs be met and it is up to the parents or other caregivers to meet those needs by assessing the situation and adapting it to the needs of the child. My own challenging children have definite preferences and have make those preferences known with little to no hesitation or misunderstanding on their part. What is difficult is knowing how to change the situation and not wanting to simply change the child to meet the situation.
***Coming up next, Raising the Challenging Child -Part 2 "Coping Techniques"