The term serves to identify children who demand more attention and care than most
By Daniel Rocha, pediatrician *
William Penton Sears – or Dr. Bill Sears – is an amusing American pediatrician with an attachment and authoring philosophy, along with his wife Martha, a nurse, from more than 40 best-selling books on nutrition, parenting and healthy growth.
The couple had eight children, girls and boys, but it was with Hayden, their fourth daughter, that they began to understand that some babies may have needs that go beyond their parents’ normal expectations – that’s where the expression “high need babies” comes from. (super needy babies in Portuguese translation).
How to identify a “high need” baby?
Very intense crying, very voracious and frequent feeding, arched back and tense muscles ready for action characterize the intensity of “high-need babies”. They don’t ask, they demand! And out loud. They usually demand all the physical contact that their caregivers can offer: they crave touch, skin-to-skin contact in their arms, in their breasts, in their bed. At the same time, they like movement.
These little ones wake up again and again, night and day. They seem to be constantly dissatisfied, always wanting company … in their lap, of course! Furthermore, we are talking about unpredictable children.
That means, breastfeeding, rocking, singing, whispering, walking, changing positions, caressing, taking them for a ride in a car or stroller, warm compresses on the belly, bathing, changing clothes and trying all the comforting techniques known these are attitudes that may work in one day, but in the next, not produce results. Sometimes they seem to drain all the energy from the parents.
How to deal with high need babies?
Lowering expectations can be a good start. The baby feels that he needs the presence of his caregivers to develop and feel complete.
The idea that “babies should learn to be independent” is linked to how we want babies to act for our own convenience. There are no independent babies. What we can do is contribute to the formation of autonomous adults, offering security and confidence during childhood.
The expectation that he will relax alone early in life is also far from reality. For the Sears, the “high need” baby must first feel that he can count on his parents, which will later help him relax on his own. “Letting yourself cry until you sleep”, in addition to not working, disfavors the building of that trust. As physical contact and movement are often desired by them, the sling is very successful!
And remember: it won’t be forever! It is impossible to make predictions about the duration of behaviors, but you will have difficulty remembering hearing about a three-year-old child who wakes up crying every hour, right?
Dealing with high demand and fatigue can be very frustrating for caregivers, who often wonder about their own abilities. It helps to decrease the level of self-demand, to understand that you will not be able to meet all the baby’s needs.
Paying attention, finding clues to what causes discomfort, in an exercise of constant trial and error to calm the baby is one way. Faced with the feeling of being manipulated, it is important to understand that “high-need babies” are communicating, not trying to control. Offering a rattle when the demand is on the chest will not resolve – and the baby will try to say just that.
Less guilt this time! Have you ever stopped to think that crying a lot can be his way of dealing with the moment of life he is going through or having to do with his developing personality?
Sears relate high-demand behaviors to the drive to explore and experience everything. Loud protests by being alone reveal that these babies have the ability to form deep attachments, which will form intimacy in adult relationships. The strained temper would be linked to an extreme curiosity about everything.
Supersensitivity to the environment would contribute to making them more empathetic and discerning children, able to consider the effects of their behavior on the feelings of others.
For Sears, the ideal is for parents to strive to interpret the baby’s requests without repressing their form of expression. That done, over time, the? Baby high need? he can become a very determined person, who will fight for his rights, someone with a vocation for leadership, who takes on challenges and is not content to just repeat the actions of others.
However, it is important that parents help the child, during his growth, to understand his needs and what are the best ways to express them. Like? Helping the child to understand that his demands must be balanced and that, above all, they must respect the needs of others so that he can learn to be a pleasant and friendly person, in addition to being demanding.
Important considerations about “high need babies”
Although the concept of “high need babies” is quite interesting and has the power to help mothers and fathers to translate experiences and build a narrative that helps them to appease afflictions and comfort themselves, it is prudent to avoid looking at the statements made by Sears as cause and effect relationships.
Although they cite articles and scientific studies and the authors’ curriculum is enviable, there are still no methods to prove these relationships, since human existence and its relationships are much more complex than our vain science can measure.
Another point that cannot be omitted is: part of the behaviors exemplified by the Sears may be an expression of health conditions that require medical care, such as esophagitis, allergy to cow’s milk protein and developmental disorders. Therefore, it is important that the monitoring of babies is supervised by a trusted professional or health team.
Finally, it is worth noting that there are other ways of thinking and understanding babies, their development, their ways of communicating and their relationships with the world and with adults. Each child and family can identify with one or more explanatory models – and they will certainly produce a unique version of seeing their life and health.
After all, we are unique, each one of us, and getting to know each other and being surprised is what makes life so special, don’t you think?
* Daniel Rocha is a pediatrician at the Alice Health Team.