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Current Issue of BDINews
Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Friendship. January, 2018.
Dear Kate:
I have 12-year old twins in special education who have completely opposite learning disabilities.....
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If supervising play is an onerous task, do share the task with your parenting partner or even a skilled sitter. Try your best to have the other child's family do their share but if they don't, carry on being hospitable to their child anyway, for YOUR child's sake. Help to make things successful by educating other families about your child's high maintenance traits and how best to work with them.


Children whose lives are overbooked with activities do not have the time to put into developing intimate friendships. Many families of high maintenance children rightly include a lot of structure in their children's lives. However, while participating in gym class with another youngster may be the background of a friendship, unless there are opportunities for private conversation and time to get to know each other in various ways, such a relationship is unlikely to feel deep and satisfying. Intimacy is better fostered in the home and through activities like sharing meals together, having sleep overs, and by being given time to play privately without competitive pressures. In today's busy world, parents often do not realize that they are not providing sufficient opportunities for friendship-building. It can be very worthwhile to hire a sitter skilled with high maintenance children so that children can stay at home and be with friends when adult life becomes hectic.


Dr. Sean McDevitt, Editorial Consultant, recommends that parents see what works well between a 'high maintenance' youngster and a playmate and then try to do more of it. For example, two youngsters might be especially focussed and cooperative in building a large project together but revert to clowning and wild behavior when taken to a public event such as a movie. The lesson? Simple! More building projects and fewer public outings for this pair - at least for now. Here is a true story shared by a parent: "When my family moved into a new neighborhood our seven-year old high maintenance son was lucky enough to discover a similarly high maintenance boy of the same age right on our block. The two of them discovered they had a shared interest in insects and thus began a week-long game of "Bug Museum".

They first started by collecting bugs and bringing them to their mothers to see what kind of reaction they got. But these mothers weren't about to screech in fear or complain about the mess. They each knew their sons badly needed a compatible friend. One boy's mother took the boys off to a hobby store where they picked up bug-catching nets. Then with the other parent the boys visited the library and took out books on bugs. In time they set up a "Bug Museum" in the backyard playhouse of one of the families. They sold tickets to everyone who wanted to see the bugs on display. Thus was the beginning of a friendship that lasted for years. All because two mothers picked up on a common interest and went with it, instead of against it. (They drew the line when the bugs started being brought into the house!)"


Parents of high maintenance children often need to discipline their own child during play times. They may need to do the same with the other child, too. Communicating with the other family in an open way and developing a shared agreement about discipline strategies to be used with both children can be very important. Often separating the children for a short while to prevent escalation of problems is useful.

This strategy is compatible with friendship development. Actively intervening with suggestions for helping children solve problems can be very helpful, too. Many parents have found that developing a shared agreement to call the play date to an end if real aggression occurs to be a very effective behavior modifier with children who truly value their time together. If you do this, remember to give the children another opportunity to show you they can play without hurting each other very soon after this event.

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