Thursday, 17 February 2011

Attachment and the High Need Child

Though we long suspected it, we only really learnt that our first (Harris above, doesn't he look like an angel?!) was extremely high-need once we'd had our second child, and she reacted completely differently to the same treatment. Realising this in retrospect has been incredibly cathartic. But at the time, and as much as we adore him, it was absolute hell. 

Of course we made it more difficult on ourselves by living in a camper at the time, so all those helpful suggestions - like putting them down in their cot and going and sitting in another room, or taking a bath to try and take some time out so you don't lose your rag - really weren't much help! We always say that Harris cried for most of his first year and that's not far from the truth. When he was a baby, people said he must have colic and that it would wear off after 3 months. Well those first 3 months absolutely c-r-a-w-l-e-d by, particularly after Matt went back to work and I was left confined to a camper van with a constantly screaming baby! When he didn't stop at the 3 month mark, and started to drool we surmised he was now teething. 

And after that it is all a blur. We just coped, because you have to, and because, despite everything, you love them and you want to do your very best for them. It's just you're going crazy in the process! People (strangers and friends alike) would helpfully ask "What's wrong with him, have you taken him to the doctor?" And as a first-time mum, I would doubt myself and occasionally wonder if something was horribly wrong with him. But he grew and thrived and started on solids fine and started to interact with other children, and learned to play and all without any sign of illness of any sort. 

18 months on, I have since met many other mums who have experienced something similar and I find great relief in sharing horror stories and finally coming to terms with the kind of child Harris is. Because, as much as well-meaning peeps will have you believe you can impose your own strictures on your child, they fail to remember that we are all born with a personality ready-made. And it just so happens that some come out grumpier than others! A friend recently lent me Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer For Toddlers which notes 5 different types of child temperament: Angel, Textbook, Touchy, Spirited, and Grumpy. The key is to recognise which type your child is, broadly, and tailor your parenting style accordingly. This is important, not just to preserve your sanity, but above all to ensure your child is able to thrive and connect with you and the world at large in the best possible way for her: 

"One child may be "born shy," because she inherits a gene that gives her a low threshold for the unfamiliar, but her parents can help her feel safe and teach her strategies for overcoming her shyness."
Attachment vs Detachment
For me there is simply no alternative to attachment parenting. Like many new parents I had long resolved not to be like my own folks. Not that I had an awful childhood in any way, but nevertheless my parents' resolve to bring us up to be "independent" (as was much the fashion in the 70s and 80s) has left me with lifelong self-confidence issues. Not least because I still don't have a great relationship with them (glossy, surface interaction is fine, but I've learnt not to try and dig deeper). That lack of attachment has carried through into my adult personal life and I still have real problems forming and maintaining relationships. I am incredibly lucky that my husband is similar enough that we can usually (after many years' experience!) work out what to do when we're at cross-purposes with each other.

Detachment, for me, is all wrong. You cannot expect a solitary flower to flourish, all on its own and without help. If through some miracle it survives it is not without scars. Attachment is not about spoiling, but nurturing. Teach your children by example how to love and look after one another, and that will give them the best possible foundation for a happy life.

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