Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The High Maintenance Child

It's gripe time again and this time I have another bone to pick with my least favourite parenting expert, Michael Grose.
I've had a rant about him before when he dared to tell me my goal as a parent is to become redundant!
Once again an email came through from the school with a newsletter from Michael Grose that 'might interest some parents'.  It started with...

Here’s what a mum said to me recently after a parenting seminar………

“I would have stopped at one child if my second child was born first.”

Can you 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 you will have a later born that will require more of your time and energy. In other words, you will have a high maintenance child.

High maintenance kids are demanding, exasperating and exhausting. They can be tearful, self-indulgent, argumentative, bossy and just plain stubborn.

High maintenance kids always want more – more possessions, more of your attention and more of your time. They never have enough. Spend all day with a high maintenance child and they wonder why you won’t spend the night with them too. High maintenance kids can be like jack-in-the-boxes at bed-time. Put them to bed and they come out ten minutes later wanting a drink, a kiss or one more book. They want none of these. What the really want is YOU!!!! Enough!!!

They also take you away from your other children. You would love to spend more time with Perfect Pete but Turbo Terry, Argumentative Aaron or Whining Wilhelmina just keep doing those things that they do so well.

There is no magic pill if you have a high maintenance. Yes, some children who are diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but most high maintenance children don’t fall into the this category.
They are extreme attention-seekers who need to be weaned off their parent’s B-grade or negative attention. We become so adept at responding to these kids’ misbehaviours that giving them attention becomes habitual.

If you are the type of parent who likes to be helpful then you’ll be at the beck and call of high maintenance kids all day.

Break the habit of giving attention when they misbehave. 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.

Up to this point I was nodding my head understanding exactly where he was coming from.
And then it all goes awry...

But you have to change your own way of reacting so your child doesn’t get payback from keeping you busy with him or her. It is hard because the reactionary habit is ingrained.

Oh yeah, change the way you react. Like I haven't tried a million different ways of reacting already!!
Great advice!

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.

Alternatively, you can keep giving them heaps of B-grade attention when they are less than perfect and my hunch is that they will still grow up to be well-adjusted adults. However they may also become high maintenance workmates, friends and spouses who take up much of the time and energy of those around them.

Thank you so much for that little slap in the face Mr Grose!
Now I am completely paranoid that I'm am nurturing a high maintenance adult.....great!

Here are some strategies for reducing the impact of high maintenance kids:

1. Make yourself scarce: It’s hard to ignore high maintenance kids so it’s best to keep yourself busy, or make yourself scarce. This can force high maintenance kids to draw on their own resources. Just be prepared to give them plenty of attention when you are around them.


2. Do the unexpected: Sometimes doing the unexpected or doing something from left field is your best ally when you have kids who make continuous demands on your time. If you have a child who continually whinges, invite him to sit down and listen to you have a good old whine about your day. “You’ve had a bad day, you should hear about mine……” They’ll be off like a shot rather than listen to a whining parent.

Ha ha, you think that will work? Good one!

3. Attend to more to needs, and less to wants: Be clear in your own mind about the difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’. High maintenance kids have more wants than needs. For instance, they may want ice cream but they don’t need it. They need food. A toddler may need you to cut his food up but he wants you to sit with him while he eats. He doesn’t need you to sit with him. Understand the difference between wants and needs. Attend more to needs and less to their wants.

Oh, so insightful.

This is an extract that I took from my latest book Thriving! Raising exceptional kids with confidence, character and resilience. 

I'm sorry, but this just left me feeling that he has no idea.
I don't know why he grates on me so much. Perhaps it's because he comes across as a 'know all' to me, and I find that attitude extremely irritating.
The thing that upsets me most about so called 'experts' is that they think they know best, they think they're helping, but I've never once felt supported or encouraged by the things they say. In fact, I feel the complete opposite...a total failure.
It's not like I don't have a few behaviour management techniques up my sleeve. I managed to get a class of close to 30 pretty lively Year 5 & 6 kids under control last week. 
But my little man is different.
All the regular tricks just don't work for him.
One thing you cannot do is talk him into something. It's just not possible.
Once he gets something in his head, that's it.
And most people (including his grandmothers) just don't understand this.

Remember the blog bashing I got when I dared to call my child 'difficult'?
I don't think the PC term 'high maintenance' is any better, but essentially it's exactly the same thing.

Yes, my boy can be difficult.
Yes, he most certainly can be high maintenance.
He can be so frustrating he has me tearing my hair to speak.
I do get to the point where I'm yelling, screaming, smacking...the perfect 'worst mother of the year' behaviour.
But mostly I try to be calm and rational with him.
And mostly he's a perfectly behaved, well mannered, intelligent little boy.

But here's the thing.

That's him. That's his nature.

And here's my question...

How much can you really alter your child's personality with your parenting techniques??

My theory is, you can't.
Apart from abusive situations which really can alter a child's nature,
I believe they are who they are regardless of what you do.
I also believe that your personality dictates most behaviour.
I think back to my own childhood, it wouldn't have mattered what my mother did or didn't do (wooden spoon included), I'm essentially the same person I was when I was 8.
Show me someone who isn't.
Oh yeah, hopefully all of us can hold it together in public and socially,
but put you in your own home and something major upsets you, don't you turn back into that 8 year old? Don't you??  Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, back on track, I'm not saying my son has free reign to be obnoxious.
I'm telling him all the time what behaviours are appropriate and what are not.
I'm teaching him the best I can.
But when all is said and done, I don't think I can change him.
Nor do I want to.

I just wish everyone could see him through my eyes.
Because I love him as much as centillion* plus one...

He loves it when I say that.

* In case you were wondering, centillion is a real number. It's the largest number with a conventional name. We discovered that when my boy wanted to know what the biggest number in the world was at the age of 3.


  1. At uni, I've had to read bits and pieces of Michael Grose's work. Whilst its definitely interesting stuff, bits of it seem a little prescribed and 'one size fits all'.

    You're his mumma, you know him best, and you know what is best for him.

    You're doing a great job xxx

  2. Well he got it wrong because I have two high maintenance boys! Boy 1 due to being on the spectrum, Boy 2 due to his personality. And I agree, Thea. You can try and change the negative behaviour but the nature of the child is what it is and all we can do in the end is love them. Centillion times plus one (yes, I get told by the boys there is no such thing but I just do it to be unique, lol. Bit like infinity and beyond really.).

  3. Agreed, agreed, agreed Thea. You're a very sensible mummy ;)

    I don't think you can change your child's basic personality. I'd be reluctant to try. Sure, teach them social skills, teach them how to manage their less-than-desirable traits (ie neediness or temper) but never make them feel bad about being the way they are.

    All this seems so parent-centric. He wants parents to change their child, for the parents benefit. So they're not so 'annoying' or something. I think that's so selfish. Let your kids be the way they are. Isn't that what we are here for, as parents,to give our kids attention? Isn't that our job?

    Great post Thea :D

  4. I could have posted a lot of this about my little guy. Difficult, check. High maintenance, check. Frustrating, check. Sweet, lovable & oh so intelligent, check.

    I hear ya Thea, but some people just don't understand, least of all the "experts".

  5. Oh god - we get a leaflet in the newsletter every week from this guy - My bub has been "high mainteneance" and "anxious" sine BIRTH. nothing we did ever made one bit of difference. I remember getting a leaflet about anxiety in children and how to deal with the anxiety - to teach them between the differece of catastophising and not - yeah that helped :s
    you are so so right - I am still 8 and nothing my parents did changed this (although I reckon I'm part 8, part 15, part 20 and part 56 :) )
    Gah - seriously could he be less practical!
    Brilliant post - please excuse illiterate comment :s

  6. A lot of these so called Parenting experts have lost touch with the real world.

    I am yet to meet one that I like, I can't even stand that Michael Carr-Gregg who says how your suppose to raise teenagers.

    Parents learn through the own rights & wrongs of parenting just like children learn rights & wrongs through out life.

    Parenting would be a bit more easier without these so called experts telling us how to do it.

    (((( Hugs ))))

  7. I actually love reading stuff by all the experts and then taking in the stuff that feels right to me. (Perhaps I've been like that all my life - can never read enough about stuff that interests me.) My 2 most favourite books in the world on parenting are The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman and an out of print book called 7000 Days. I also really like what Andrew Fuller writes about "Tricky Kids".

    As parents, I think we're also responsible for letting our kids grown into the adults they were meant to be (in spite of us!). I agree with you Thea - you can't change your little boy, and you shouldn't want to. And you are a reflective parent so I think that's about as good as it gets xx

  8. Oh Thea, you're a lovely Mum.

    I've said it once and I'll say it again, Jack has given us a run for our money. He's a beautiful kid, he's just FULL on. What works with my other two hasn't and never will, work with him.

    Bet they'll make our lives interesting as we get older hey xx

  9. mmm you know I agree with you.
    Something I am noticing as my kids get older is that I am saying to them more - "that behaviour isn't socially acceptable." "People won't like you if you treat them that way."
    On the other hand I'm also trying to teach them that what people think of them doesn't matter...
    The fine line of wanting them to make friends but not becoming a people pleaser.
    Self control and self development can be encouraged but not controlled. We were all created free willed beings.


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