Having a high needs toddler is no joke. My daughter is just as unpredictable in her mood and temper as when she was a tiny baby. Although things do improve with vocabulary and gentle communication, there are still all those high need characteristics to deal with.
Right now, I'm 36 weeks pregnant, and going through almost the entire pregnancy with my toddler, I've had to change some of my expectations (of myself and my toddler), and I've had to adapt. If you are in the same boat I have been in, I know your frustrations and your desires. Here are some tips for getting through pregnancy while raising a high needs toddler with grace.
“I need you” vs. “I need to rest”
This is, in many ways, the hardest battle. When I am dealing with morning sickness, exhaustion, and general discomfort, it can be hard to deal with my daughter's need for closeness. It is tempting to ignore her when she asks for help with something, to play, to be the center of attention. This is a good time, I think, to make sure your child knows they won't always be the center of attention. When my daughter felt overcome with a need to be close to me, there were several different things I did, depending on my needs at the time:
- I instituted “cuddle time”. My daughter is not a cuddler, and this is true of the majority of high needs kids. Touch me, but don't restrain me. I would lie on the couch and let her crawl all over me, protecting my growing belly as much as possible. Often, a few minutes of this would give me a break while giving her the attention she needed.
- I read to her more often. If my daughter brings me a book to read to her, I almost always stop what I'm doing to read it. It is one of those things she enjoys that I can do without spending energy, so I always take advantage of that.
- I involved her in more of my day-to-day activities. Although my daughter is not yet two, she can help me cook and clean in her own little ways. She can put the cloth napkins on the table, she can pour ingredients into a pot or dish, she can wipe off the table, etc. Anything she can help with makes her feel special and needed.
- As a last resort, I try to distract her interest. Sometimes, what I'm doing needs special attention or doesn't allow for her involvement. When this happens, I try to find something else to occupy her, like drawing, playing with her toys, or handing her her child-sized broom.
“Carry me!” vs. Imbalance of pregnancy
Children take a long time to get past their need for the comfort of being carried. I love carrying around my daughter, but this has become increasingly difficult as my girth throws off my balance, and I am scared of dropping her. To protect both of us, I've set some pretty strict limits on carrying but also have allowed holding in other ways:
- I will not carry her down the stairs, but I will, on occasion, carry her up.
- I will not carry her for walks.
- If she asks me to pick her up just to hold her, I rarely refuse. As long as she wants me to stand there and hold her, I will accommodate.
Big feelings vs. Hormones
It's hard when two emotional people are each trying hard to control themselves but also have a monster warring inside. As with any time you or your child are dealing with a temper, here are some ideas for dealing with those crazy emotions:
- Give one another space. If that means you need to leave the room in order to keep from lashing out verbally or physically, do so. The guilt you would feel for reacting badly will outweigh your guilt over leaving an upset child for a few minutes. When you've calmed, come back, explain why you left, and try to help your child get through his/her feelings too.
- Ask your spouse or someone else to take over. Spouses are pretty handy, this way, and are often willing to help.
- Remind yourself regularly that your hormones make everything seem bigger. Also remind yourself that your child is sensitive to how you are feeling and is likely mirroring you. If you are calm, your child is more likely (though not guaranteed) to be calm. If you are feeling irritable and able to explode at the least pressure, your child probably feels the same.
- Be the adult. Keep in mind that your child is, indeed, a child, and does not have nearly as much practice with emotions as you do. As hard as it will feel at times, set the example you want them to follow.
Pregnancy with a high needs toddler is exhausting, but remember this: the same toddler that is sensitive to your hormones and lack of energy is likely confused by what is going on and wants to understand. Spend time with your child, explaining what is going on, and let him know he is still loved. Above all, try to focus on the qualities that often shine in high needs children: compassion, helpfulness, a desire to entertain, etc. Praise these good qualities often, and your child will not be the worse.