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Toddler Tips

High-Need Toddlers

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 3, May - June 1998, pp. 90-91

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I have a high-need toddler. At 21 months old, my son has finally become comfortable staying with someone else for a time while I run errands, meet a friend for lunch, etc. But until recently, we were literally "attached" all of the time. Even his father could not take him away from me without hearing him scream. When he was an infant, it seemed selfish to put my needs ahead of his, so I didn't. As a result, I am 40 pounds heavier and depressed! Life is still only tolerable at best. How have other mothers who believe in attachment-parenting coped with a high-need toddler?


Your son and my son could have been twins separated at birth! But don't despair. My son is now beginning to want to spend time with his father, because of all the time my husband has spent with him (with me in the room, of course!) Meanwhile here are some things that helped me cope.

  1. Read and reread THE FUSSY BABY and The Baby Book, both by William Sears MD (may be available through the LLLI Online Store). They'll reassure you that attachment parenting is good for your high-need child, and you are not "making him" that way. I also recommend Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It will give you insight into your child and practical ideas for coping.
  2. Go faithfully to your local LLL meetings for support. Daily phone contacts with women I have met at meetings with children of similar temperaments helped me keep my sanity.
  3. Rest when your son rests. Most high-need children are high-need through the night as well. Though there are many things you could be doing during his (probably short) naps, the rest will leave you better able to cope with his demands.
  4. Know this will end. On my worst days I look at my son asleep at my breast or quietly playing independently and remind myself that in a very short time, another person will become the most important person in his life, and I'll get only a weekly phone call or visit.
  5. Don't forget physical reasons for his high-need personality. At 15 months we discovered my son (who had chronic ear infections) constantly had fluid in his ears and needed tubes. No doubt the fluid caused some physical discomfort, even when he didn't have an infection. Also, consider food allergies; an intolerance for any food can cause discomfort. A sick or uncomfortable child will want to be with his/her mother.
  6. Finally, do things you enjoy with your child. Go to the mall, park, or zoo. Take walks in the woods as a family. Play with modeling clay. Go to a fast food restaurant and play on the playground afterwards. It is important to have fun with our children. Remember childhood is very short. Good luck.

Lynn Mazza
Milton VT USA


My daughter is 20 months old and we too are still "attached." This was a big surprise to me at first, but now I see her need to be close as perfectly normal. I adjusted my viewpoint by thinking how I am growing stronger with this challenge. It is character building to mother my child so intensely. I find support with people who parent as I do. It helps to know there are families like ours. Over time I found I could use the sling or backpack to accomplish tasks when she was especially needy. I also came to realize I could meet my needs with her there. We cook, clean, sew, shop, garden, exercise, visit with friends, roller-skate and speak Spanish together. Now I see only her delight in our special relationship. Our relationship is more valuable to me than "getting away" is. I genuinely enjoy being with her.

Heidi Rigert-Browne
Lancaster CA USA


It was quite a shock for me when I discovered that my baby was high-need. I had always believed that if I took care of myself while pregnant, I would have a "good" baby. Well, I do have a good baby, just not one with the temperament I expected! Here is what has helped me.

First, I had to learn to believe in my instincts. There are so many people who will try to make you believe that you are "making your child this way" because of how you are parenting. I know that my child's temperament is the one he was born with it; I did not create it. By attachment parenting, I am helping him to feel more secure. I am confident that he will grow up to be an independent child and adult.

Second, I needed support, which comes primarily from my husband, who also believes that our son was born with his temperament. It also comes from a group of friends that I "met" on the internet who have high-need children. We "talk" every day, and it probably helps me maintain my sanity more than anything. I can relate a story about something that happened, and they understand perfectly. I also have found the books Raising Your Spirited Child and LEARNING A LOVING WAY OF LIFE helpful. Raising Your Spirited Child very accurately describes the high-need temperament and has much information on how to interact with this temperament type. LEARNING A LOVING WAY OF LIFE is a collection of mothers' stories, and many of them are from mothers of high-need children. Reading about how they coped with their children and how wonderfully their children turned out was a real boost for me.

I also have gotten help. My husband has worked hard to convince our son that they can do fun things together without me. Beginning when my son was about the age of your son, I started going away for longer and longer periods of time. I now feel completely comfortable leaving my son with my husband for an entire day—they have a great time together! Last summer, when my son had just turned two, I found a teenage girl who would go to the pool and other places with us. She would play with my son while I swam laps or did other things for myself, such as get my hair cut. This was a gradual process, but was worth the time and effort involved. She still helps me out—this afternoon, we are all going to the dentist!

Finally, trust that things will improve. My son turned three in April, and the difference between when he was your son's age and now is phenomenal. He will actually spend significant periods of time playing by himself. We also have a five-month-old, and my older son has adjusted well. I think that the fact that my three-year-old is still nursing has helped. Some days are rough, but I think that is true regardless of a child's temperament. He is still high-need, but we do have a life, and a fun one at that!

Susan Smylie
Adkins TX USA


I also have a "high-need" child. Her need for me has been so intense that at age three she is still not comfortable with substitute caregivers, including her father. My supportive husband and friends have helped me to resist the societal idea that one needs time away from baby (or child) to be happy. Instead I make "mental escapes" while my daughter is entertaining herself.

Through experience, I've learned that we need to leave our apartment for at least a short time each day, even if just to check the mail. We take frequent walks, which have a positive effect on both my mental and physical health. My daughter has logged many miles in various baby carriers and strollers. I especially cherish late night hours to myself, if I haven't been worn out by her or nursed to sleep by my infant son.

Having a high-need toddler doesn't necessarily mean being stuck at home day in and day out. An inquisitive toddler can add life to common activities such as shopping and laundry. A toddler reminds us that life is an adventure where each moment counts.

Emily Niven
Astoria OR USA


You are not alone. My first child was a high-need toddler also. We were "attached" until she was eighteen months old, which is when I began leaving her for brief periods with her father. My husband was a big help because he understood the importance of our parenting style.

When Thalia was 21 months old, my second child was born. At three-and-a-half, Thalia still does not like to be away from me. High-need children ask more but they give more back, too, when they are able, and Thalia has become a highly-sensitive, thoughtful, and helpful child. Having her needs met helped Thalia understands that the baby, Ilia, needs to have her needs met, just as she does.

It also helps her to understand that her father and I have needs, too. At 21 months, Thalia usually was able to accept a calm explanation that we need to be quiet so the baby can sleep, or that I want to take a shower by myself this time. I think what made Thalia's toddlerhood the best time of my life was doing activities that met both our needs. My daughter loved the long walks we all took, helping me clean house and garden, and doing poses from our Yoga videos, which helped me to lose weight and keep up my energy level.

Remember that you can give only what you have been able to nurture in yourself. It helps me to keep in mind that my children will probably parent in the same way I am, and I will want them to know how to take care of themselves when they are mothers.

I am concerned to hear that you are depressed. Since our children are the main focus of our lives we sometimes assume that many of the things we feel are related to them. While caring for a high-need child is a consuming job, perhaps you should consult a physician to make sure there isn't a health issue that needs to be addressed. Good luck.

Liana T. Kowalzik
Weston WI USA


I can empathize with the situation. My son, Declan, age three, was glued to me night and day for his first two and a half years. At times, I wanted some space for myself! One thing that really helped me and was fun for him as well, was to get some exercise and take my son along with me. We have a bicycle trailer and have used it a lot from the time he was three months old until today. I got exercise and some time with my husband, who rode along, while Declan and our other son, Kynan, got to see scenery or take a nice nap. Exercise really helps eliminate depression and weight gain, and it does you good to get outside and see the sights. It will help you hang in there and have some fun while your child gradually becomes independent at his own rate.

Sue Ann Kendall
Champaign IL USA

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