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What is a "High-Need" Baby?

by Jeri Carr

Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and father of eight, coined the term "high-need" after being blessed with a very intense baby who challenged many of his former beliefs about babies. His first three children were the "usual" type of baby (the type called "good babies" by many people), but his fourth baby was high need.

Parents who have not parented a high-need child tend to have a difficult time understanding the challenges a high-need child bring to family life. Some of those challenges can be seen in the following traits that high-need babies commonly share. They need to be held all the time; they hate sleeping alone in a crib. They need to nurse all the time. If their needs are not met, they cry and cry and cry and cry.

As difficult as those challenges might seem--especially to a new parent who has read the normal advice about babycare, the term "high-need baby" does not mean "bad baby." It is not meant to be a negative term. In fact, many parents find that using that describing their baby as "high-need" helps them to think of their babies in a more positive light and helps them to understand them better and accept them for who they are.

High-need babies have many special qualities. These babies bring great joy and are wondeful "teachers"--they will teach their parents much if their parents care to learn and listen and parent in a responsive manner. Exceptionally smart and sensitive and intense, high-need babies do what it takes to get their needs met.

Sadly, some baby "experts" scoff at the idea of some babies needing more than other babies. Some claim that if you simply put babies on a eating/sleeping schedule from day one, their needs will be met. Some claim that you can hold a baby too much. They say that a baby should sleep alone in a crib, and some even go so far as to warn that sleeping with your baby is "passive psychological abuse." They wrongly teach that parents can create "high-need" babies by parenting in a responsive manner.

Believing and knowing that a baby expresses a true need when he cries silences all of these claims. Understanding these things to be needs rather than simply being wants, and understanding these things to be needs and not an expression of the baby being manipulating, selfish, etc., helps many parents have the confidence to meet their baby's needs. They know they are helping their baby meet his or her potential and not spoiling them. A need that is met will go away.

If parents ignore their baby's needs, it can have a highly detrimental effect. Their child's needs will resurface later when the child is older, perhaps as an adult, for, as Dr. Sears explains it in his book Parenting the Fussy Baby and High Need Child, "Babies who are 'trained' not to express their needs may appear to be docile, compliant, or 'good' babies. Yet these babies could be depressed babies who are shutting down the expression of their needs, and they may become children who don't ever speak up to get their needs met and eventually become the highest-need adults" (pg 39).

This article was first published on Suite101.com.


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