Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My Intense, Spirited Child

Hi everyone. I never seem to have enough time to write my blog posts these days. I have a million ideas for them in my head, but that's where they stay. I am usually holding or entertaining Nicky, and while I am a master at typing with one hand, usually its just too annoying and Nicky knows he doesn't have my attention which he does not like. Right now he is in his swing, by the way, which usually keeps him calm when it doesn't put him to sleep. I also use a baby carrier such as a sling at times for the same purpose. My child's disposition is not what I anticipated, I'll admit that straight out. This little guy is intense, very emotional, sometimes fussy, quick to make his needs known, and not afraid to scream bloody murder if they are not met. I hate using words like fussy and colicky. First of all, he does not cry non-stop like some babies. He is often quite smiley and happy. He loves people and action and is very content when he's on the go or interacting socially. But, he gets overwhelmed and overstimulated fairly easily, his startle response if very easy to trigger, and when he gets upset he goes from zero to pissed off in a few seconds.

Some people have referred to infants like this as "high-needs" or as I labeled my post, "intense." In fact, Dr. Sears has described high-needs babies in 12 ways:
  1. Intense - talked about this already
  2. Hyperactive - this just a description; it doesn't mean the kid is going to end up having ADHD. Nicky is very active. He loves trying to stand and likes to kick his legs all the time.
  3. Draining- all of the holding, patting, bouncing, walking, entertaining, burping, etc.
  4. Feeds Frequently- because it helps them settle and soothe them and can help them work out air bubbles as well
  5. Demanding - he knows what he wants and lets you know it to
  6. Awakens Frequently - I'll talk more about this later on
  7. Unsatisfied - just when you think he's having fun doing something, he changes his mind
  8. Unpredictable - see above; the plan is always changing
  9. Super Sensitive - he freaks out at the smallest things - sometimes Scott and I can't even figure out what the original trigger was for it
  10. Can't Put Baby Down - my arms are tired
  11. Not a Self-Soother - he isn't good at finding a way to help himself feel better or fall asleep. He tries to suck on his hand or fingers or your fingers or just about anything else but he can't get it to work to his liking and that makes him mad!
  12. Separation Sensitive - so far Nicky likes most people and goes quite readily to them, but we'll see what happens when he get him babysitters
I understand the high-needs label because he does require a lot of my time, but I feel like his needs are no higher than any other baby's, he's just more persistent in making sure those needs are met! Most any baby loves to be held, played with, rocked, bounced, etc. but my child demands it. He loves motion and often requires it to settle down. When he was a wee infant, Scott & I used to have to bounce him to sleep by holding him while bouncing on our exercise ball. Now he prefers to be rocked or bounced while you walk around holding him (he doesn't care for the rocking chair or being held while you sit still). He has a hard time sleeping and fights it at all costs - he doesn't want to miss any action! He has to either be swaddled, bounced, or nursed to sleep, and then needs to continue being held. If you put him down, he will immediately wake himself up. Yes, I know that you should lay a baby down while he/she is drowsy and not asleep, but this little guy will not cooperate. He will not fall asleep that way, is totally grumpy, and screams to no end. I am not a fan of crying it out in the first place, but even if I was, this kiddo could and would scream for hours in that scenario. And he is not a horse - I am not trying to break him. He is a child that is supposed to be dependent on me right now and his cries all have a purpose so I don't want to train him to stop crying. Some babies are much more easy going and not as needy. I didn't get that model:) Sure, it is more demanding of my energy and time and can be quite stressful to take care of him 24/7, but I believe that I am helping him form the healthy attachment to me and Scott that he will need to feel secure and trust us. Once he does that, and as he grows into toddlerhood, he will become independent because he knows he has a secure base to come back to. I worry that people will think I am spoiling him, but I know I am not, because for one, you can't spoil an infant - they really are dependent on their adult caregivers and are not capable consciously of manipulating us. They have needs, expect you to meet them, and cry and behave in such a way as to get those needs met. Pretty simple. This is out of reflex. They don't think to themselves, "Let me see how I can make Mommy jump!" since they aren't that sophisticated yet:) As he becomes older, I will have plenty of time to shape his behavior and encourage his independence. The worst thing I could do right now is have my intense baby come to distrust that I will take care of him - he will then just cry that much harder.

If you have not yourself had a high-needs baby or known one very well, I think it is very hard to relate to what I am saying. These babies are not terrors. They are still very lovable. In fact, Nicky is so expressive and emotive and that helps us bond. Also, I feel like he is helping me become a good parent with lots of different skills because I am always on my feet with him, trying new things, and maybe more tuned in to him than I would have been if his temperament had been a more mellow one. I have to be patient, loving, and attentive. I do think that his gastrointestinal problems have contributed to his upset at times, but believe me, his personality is firey whether or not his tummy is cooperating or not. I believe its a combination of temperament with development (or lack thereof) that set this up. Some experts have called it the "fourth trimester syndrome" meaning that babies are used to conditions in the womb and their bodies, especially their nervous system, are not yet developed enough to handle all the stimulation their receive in the outside world once they are born. So, they become overstimulated. They are calmed by things that remind them of the womb like swaddling, motion, white noise, shushing noise, and heart beat sounds. Also, some references have said that high-needs babies are often quite precocious, outgoing little toddlers and children who like to be the first to do things. In fact, here are some words used to describe high-needs babies as they move from infancy to toddlerhood to childhood and then adulthood:

Infant: alert, intense, draining, demanding, cries impressively, loud, inconsolable, super sensitive, high-touch

Toddler-Child: busy, high-strung, exhausting, spunky, energetic, stubborn, impatient, strong-willed, interesting, tantrum-prone, tender

Teen-Adult: enthusiastic, deep, passionate, resourceful, opinionated, determined, insightful, compassionate, sociable, empathetic, caring, affectionate

I guess I better anticipate having a spunky toddler who will need consistent structure and rules to help contain his energy and will:) I think I am up for the challenge, at least I hope I am!

For now, Scott & I have become experts at tricks to calm Nicky and his tummy. For anyone who has a similar baby, or is expecting a child soon, I recommend reading the book or watching the DVD "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp. He denotes 5 strategies called the 5 S's to calm babies by recreating a womb environment. They are:
  1. Swaddling -many babies are done with swaddling by 3 months but Nicky still needs it - he wakes himself because he hits himself with his hands when he startles in his sleep. I wish I had known about the Miracle Blanket when he was born. We just got it and it is the only swaddling blanket that works, in my opinion. It actually holds the baby's arms in place and it has enough fabric to wrap around the baby snugly a few times so he/she won't break out of it plus no Velcro or snaps that might irritate baby or wake them up when you use them.
  2. Stomach/Side position - for holding the baby, not for sleeping
  3. Shhhh- making the shhhh sound really loud in Nicky's ear can bring him out of a screaming fit and calm him right down
  4. Swinging - Nicky likes being rocked in a person's arms as well as his swing, although I wish he had a swing that went from side to side and not just back and forth. He likes the side to side motion better and the back and forth sometimes initiates his startle reflex.
  5. Sucking - on the breast, bottle or pacifier. Nicky loves to suck. And I am giving him back his pacifier as soon as the new ones I ordered show up in the mail. The model I found is more like the breast nipple so hopefully it won't interfere with breastfeeding anymore. Problem was I couldn't find them around here. Thank goodness for drugstore.com.

Nicky is getting more sleep at night these days - because of swaddling which we had given up on for awhile but went back to out of desperation. The little Houdini always breaks out of it but for the last few weeks it has usually given us 4-6 hours of sleep for the first stretch of the night which we appreciate. We're hopeful that the Miracle blanket will help keep that consistent because when Nicky breaks out of the swaddle, he wakes up. If he breaks out of it early in the night, we are screwed! Only sad thing is that the Miracle blanket is one-size-fits-all but is really only made for the first 4 months. Our little chub doesn't even fit in the foot pocket, so when we just use the arm wraps and leave his feet out, it looks like a straight jacket! Oh well, he sleeps and that keeps him happy. Now we just need to work on getting his naps on a more regular schedule and taking them outside of Mommy's arms. Dude, I'm tired! Pray for me please. It might be an exhausting few years, but hopefully I will be up to the challenge. If you have a high-needs child, please email me or comment and we will commiserate.


The Pulvers said...


I appreciate your link to the Miracle Blanket -- an investment we might make depending on the disposition of Max who will be joining us soon :)

I can relate to your experiences of an intense, spirited child. Miles didn't have the GI problems, which I'm sure intensifies things. But he required a lot of work in the sense that we had to carry him around in an upright position so he could see, not simply hold him. He even hated the Baby Bjorn until he was old enough to be facing out, after which time he loved it but then soon grew too big for it. He really seemed to want the visual stimulation, and as he grew and became more mobile, the more content he became because he didn't have to rely on us to move him around. Also, we had to be very structured about teaching him to sleep because he didn't want to miss anything and was stubborn about "letting go." We used to marvel at the couples in restaurants enjoying their meal while their baby slept peacefully in the carseat b/c Miles would not do that - I ate so many meals standing up/walking around with him. We used some of the Ferber techniques around 4 months, when we were assured that he was getting all the nutrition he needed during day/evening (he was bottlefed, so easy to quantify). Life became much easier when we mastered sleeping through the night, and Miles is thankfully still a good sleeper, but it was definitely an acquired skill that took diligence during his infancy.
Hang in there!

Dayjamas said...

I can relate! I have a 2.5 year old daughter who is very intense and spirited. She had an extremely difficult time sleeping on her own as an infant (waking up whenever we tried to put her down) and she's still not sleeping through the night. She co-slept until seven months and it took several more months of "sleep training" until she'd sleep in a crib for more than a few hours at a time. I read almost every book on sleep, tried lots of methods, and the only thing that really worked for us was time. It's been a long road, but we are surviving and things do get better. We're now trying to work through power struggles and tantrums of a very persistent, strong-willed, outgoing, highly intelligent toddler. What I've found is that discipline books and advice geared towards the average kid do not work for us. So far the best resource I've found is Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It's comforting in knowing that the writer understands what you're going through, and is able to offer a lot of applicable advice. If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd make a bigger effort to find more parents in our community with spirited children, because it can be lonely. I also would've taken more time out for myself when she was an infant (although looking back, I don't know if she would've allowed it!) :-) Anyway, I think being a parent of a spirited child is a blessing. You might have to work harder and stretch yourself more, but it strengthens you as a person. And sprited kids usually grow up to be sparkling adults! Take care.

maiahs_momma said...

I am a mother of 3 beautiful children, and it seems that our middle child (a boy) is very "spirited". I too am reading that wonderful book called "Raising your Spirited Child", what a great book. I do however think it should have my son's picture and name on the front cover, lol. We are going to see a pediatric team of doctor's at our local children's hospital about him. We are stuck, we need help with him...we also think there are underlying allergies and perhaps other issues with him. He is 3 1/2 and loves pacifiers, he would have 30 if I would let him I am sure. He won't give it up, and he seems to be starting to have dental issues because of them. I know I am not alone with having a spirited child, but it still feels lonely.
Thank you so much for posting about it on your blog :)! Hope things work out for you, and if you haven't already read that book I mentioned above I recommend it :).