She's Not "High Needs" ~ She's Vivacious!

By Heather Minelli-Johnson

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vivacious as "lively temper, conduct or spirit." 

I remember making my wish list of things before Julia was born. I wanted a Jumperoo - man those things are cool! It is a free standing jolly jumper with toys. I definitely needed a swing - Matthew spent hours in his swing and we could have a whole day of napping with him in the swing. It was wonderful…feed him, change him, put him in the swing and nap. Next, was an exersaucer. Matthew loved his and it entertained him for long periods of time. I needed floor playmats and lots of toys…Oh! And a bouncy chair and Bumbo. I wanted a three wheeled stroller because I loved walking the trails around our house. I thought all of these things would make my life easier and keep my baby occupied during the day so that I could go about my business as usual.

The first night with Julia was the hardest. She cried and cried for hours on end. I don’t know what went through Mike’s head that night, but I know I wondered what the hell we had got ourselves into. This was supposed to be easy…we had waited ten years for this moment. We were older, more mature and prepared for this baby. Why couldn’t we stop her from crying?

My doula came to visit us the next day and assured us that she would get easier to deal with around three months. I couldn’t imagine going through three months of no sleep. I was told that I needed to let her cry and that I couldn’t pick her up all the time. She just looked so little and vulnerable that I couldn’t imagine letting her cry it out. I tried the No Cry Sleep Solution at one point. For about five minutes and then I couldn’t handle it anymore. My husband told me once that we should just let her cry and that it would not hurt her. I told him that it would hurt her because she would lose trust in us. He tried a few more times to get me to let her cry, but eventually he gave up.

Julia needed to be held all the time and she would easily get bored in certain positions. She was not happy in the swing and would cry harder if you put her in there. Occasionally she would fall asleep in the swing, but not enough to make it worth keeping. She was "colicky" so I cut out dairy from my diet which helped quite a bit. But she still cried and needed to be held. She seemed to be sensitive to smells. She would cower from loud noises. She resisted being swaddled. She hated the bathtub and would cringe whenever I would carry her down the stairs - no matter the position I was carrying her in. She did not like being around people that were not her parents. Even at a few weeks old she had stranger anxiety. For the first time ever, my grandmother was not able to calm a baby. She hated all of her plastic toys. She would only spend a few minutes in her exersaucer before she was bored. To entertain her, I would spend hours on the floor every day playing with her, singing to her and just talking to her. I kept telling people that she was hypersensitive to life.

 Julia in our pouch sling getting ready for a nap

Eventually, I started using my sling. I had a hard time getting used to using it but I am happy that I remained persistent. Julia was so content in the sling. It did not matter how cranky she had been - as soon as she was in her sling, she was calm and quiet. Even the sounds that used to scare her didn’t when I wore her. She was comfortable going down the stairs and she interacted with other people. Currently, Julia is in the sling right before her morning nap where she falls asleep, before her afternoon nap where she falls asleep and often, before bedtime, where she also falls asleep. I also use my sling whenever I shop or go to church. I now own three slings; one pouch style and two ring slings (one for the house and one for the car). I would walk Julia in her awesome three wheeler stroller every day until she started to scream every time she went into it. We stopped walking because it was so miserable. And then I realized that I could take her for a walk while she was in her sling. We started to enjoy walks again and when she was up heart-to-heart at my eye level, I could talk with her about what she was seeing.

I remember the day when my cousin commented on the fact that I was going to have a very needy toddler because I was practicing attachment parenting. I had no idea what attachment parenting really was so I became worried that I was doing something wrong. I started reading Dr. Sears',  The Attachment Parenting Book, to learn more about the parenting style I was using with my daughter. What I learned was that I did not pick this style of parenting, but had it pushed upon me by my daughter. Was this a bad thing? No, not at all. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to have this type of parenting brought to my attention. I did not choose AP: I listened to my daughter and followed what she needed from me. If she had been an easy baby, it may have been simple to forget about her while she played with her exersaucer, or spent hours in her swing. I would not have had the opportunity to really learn about my daughter and her personality the way I have. We have such a strong bond from the hours of holding her in my arms and lying on the floor beside her. I would not exchange the time I put into our relationship for anything. Who cares that I did not do the dishes right away or didn’t get to watch my favorite show on TV. I may not be able to go out with my husband on a date right now - but she will need me like this for such a very short time in her life. This will not last forever, even though it may sometimes feel like it.

Looking back, I wish I had known what I know now. I did not need all those plastic toys. I needed a sling (or three), a lot of patience and understanding. The backyard was also great to have as it broke up the evening with our hour long discovery walks.

My high needs baby is now seven months old. Many things have changed and many have stayed the same. We still spend a lot of time in the sling, but now that she can crawl she is busy exploring her surroundings when she is not in the sling. It didn’t take her long to roll over, sit up and crawl - she had places to go and people to see! She still prefers sleeping in my bed with her hand on my arm to make sure I don’t go anywhere, but occasionally, she’ll give me a few hours sleep on my own. I no longer consider her a high needs baby; she just has a vivacious personality and I can’t wait to see the great things that she does in life!

I remember being asked a short time ago if she was "high needs" because she was a breastfed baby. I just answered no at the time, but I have since had a lot of time to really think about the answer. Julia is high needs because of her personality. I could have chosen to ignore her cues, let her cry it out, forced her to conform to my lifestyle, but it would have killed her spirit. She may have cried harder and I would have begun to resent her because she was such a "cranky baby." Or maybe at some point she would have given up crying, not because she was happy but because she no longer trusted me to take care of her needs - an example of learned helplessness. She wouldn’t be the amazing little girl that I see today.

Julia will never be that quiet little kid. She will always be loud and adventurous and curious. I do not mind being with her all the time, and I know that it is what she needs right now. I am not spoiling her; I am giving her what she needs at each step of the way. I will not be one of those moms who look back only to say that my baby was so much work, or that I will think twice before having any more kids because it was too hard. My daughter was a gift - "high needs" and all. I have learned so much from raising her and I have grown as a person and as a mom. I have become passionate about many things because of her high needs, breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping, natural products and wholesome foods. I will never resent the time and effort I have put into this little angel. I hope other parents can be encouraged from the experiences Julia and I have had - whether they have "high needs" babies or not. Because all babies will benefit from gentle, attached parenting.

Heather Minelli-Johnson is mom to three unique, beautiful children. She says, "I wish I knew then what I know now about raising children. I hope to share with parents what I have learned so that they don’t make the same mistakes that I did with my first two children." Read more from Heather at The Minelli-Johnson Family site.

If you have a baby others may deem "high needs," you may benefit from reading any of these excellent and helpful books:

The Fussy Baby Book
The Baby Bond
The Science of Parenting
Why Love Matters
The Continuum Concept
The Attachment Parenting Book
Our Babies, Ourselves
The Baby Sleep Book
Attachment Parenting
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
Natural Family Living

"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."
~ Maya Angelou



  1. Our experience with little Dude as an infant was very similar, and we approached our relationships with him in much the same way you are. At six years old, he remains vivacious. He's also curious, bright, self-assured, unafraid, honest, and a host of other qualities we all want for our kids. I think the only thing we could've done to delay him finding those things in himself would have been to, as you said with Julia, break his spirit. There is no 'molding' or 'shaping' of this one; he came into this life knowing without doubt who he intended to be and while that means he has his lessons to learn - patience and tolerance being high on that list - he will not be swayed from his course. I respect and admire that about him, and when he's an adult, if I've done my job of demonstrating positive attitudes and productive decision-making, I expect his personality will serve him well.

    Loved reading your account. Brought tears to my eyes; seems like just yesterday little Dude was that baby who did not want to be anywhere but in my arms or his daddy's, in the middle of the action. Today he's this amazingly fun and interesting companion, and I look forward with great anticipation to watching his life unfold over the next however many years we're blessed to be here. Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. So glad to hear from someone past the baby stage! :) Always wondering how my "vivacious child" will be as she grows.

  2. Cheers to you and your beautiful baby! You are truly a great momma :)

  3. My never-wants-to-stop son (3.75yo) is in the other room right now, building a new train track layout and narrating a wild story (I can hear it from here). It appears to involve his entire body, judging by the noise and shaking tchotchkes.

    He never wanted to be put down and just wearing him about the house or sitting in place was rarely sufficient when he was a baby. We needed to move and we needed to see everything. Everything. Everywhere. Every single day.

    The first thing he says to me when I stumble out of the bedroom in the morning is "Where are we going today?" And I mumble something about waiting for my coffee and needing to have the dexterity to put in my contacts. Eventually, we go. Instead of wearing him these days, he's astride his runbike and heading down the block. I had to buy a kickscooter to keep up.

    It's a running joke in our household that he never wants to be still because I had such an active pregnancy. I was never comfortable sitting still. I had to be walking, hiking, or swimming to be comfortable. Sitting meant sciatica and rib pain and kicks right in my diaphragm. My husband threatens to make me stay on bedrest with the next pregnancy, but he knows that my body won't allow that. I'll be out there chasing my son and having a blast.

  4. Your little one reminds me of my first.. Shes almost 4 now (turns 4 at the end of the month) and is a delightful child. Very curious, very much into exploring everything, fearless (which is causing me some gray hair) etc. Shes wonderful and I wouldn't change her. Im glad she was my first since she really helped me develop into a parent so my second was a lot easier to take care of even though she was also very vivacious as well.

  5. I totally agree. My first child was a baby ever. My second child, my son, cried for 9.5 straight months (literally...24 hours a day, 7 days a week). To be fair, he had hernia's, but his surgery was at 2.5 months and he STILL cried for 7 more months. So was he "high needs"? Yes, he was. He also wouldn't go to anyone unless is was me or my mother. Hated everyone, including daddy, until the age of 2. He was the most demanding child I've ever seen, but after living through it (he is now 3) we are so close, and he is so utterly adorable.You are so right, I could have ruined him by ignoring him, by choosing any other method than the one I instinctively chose. Yes it was hard, but it was also worth it.

  6. Been in your shoes with my daughter as well. The fussy Baby book saved us. I instinctively wore her in a sling and breastfed her until she quit at three and a half. I don't regret a minute of it as we developed a very close relationship that continues today.

    She is now a happy healthy sixteen year old with a penchant for travel. She is spending the year as an exchange student. We have none of the typical teen problems and enjoy her to no end. Just listen to them and trust your heart. And when they get older trust their hearts as well.

  7. Your story touched me. My son who is 8mo now, is exactly the same way. I wish I had put him in a sling more often, and I am looking into getting a Moby Wrap to try. I listen to my son, and our world goes by what he needs. He has (and is still!) teaching me to relax... let it go... things don't always go according to plan. Very hard to do for this OCD mama! I am blessed, and wouldn't have it any other way. Good job mama! :)

  8. Wow! I could have wrote this story myself. Beautifully told!

    Attachment parenting chose me also... I am mother to a precious 18 month old who has taught me so much about love, patience, the list goes on... Most of all, he has made me grow and develop into a better person and the kind of mother I'm proud to have become. I will never regret all the time I spent helping him adjust into this world through baby wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and staying at home with him. Today he is secure, kind, well behaved, curious, intelligent, funny, etc... a genuine joy to be around. I am often asked by friends how I could possibly stand being a stay at home mother... how do we fill our days? I couldn't say exactly... certainly no day is the same, each is a new day of play, joy and discovery. Without him, I may never have discovered the true joy of spending time with my child. He may be "high-needs" in the mind of others, but he will never be that way to me. I'm glad he chose me because he has taught me the true meaning of love :)

  9. thank you for reminding me. sounds jus like my daughter. although at 20 mths now, she still very much prefer to be carried by me, especially at home. guess i just have to adapt to her instead.

  10. Thankyou for summing it all up. I still get challenged by my husband, my family and my friends EVERY DAY about the gentle way that I approach Luca. And then in the next breath I receive praise for how intelligent, peaceful, well mannered and engaged with the world he is.
    I sometimes feel like i am a shell of who I used to be, but other times I feel like I am growing from this experience.
    I don't know where it's leading, but I have a two year old who never fit into the normal approach, who is shining because I listened to him and wore the criticism.
    I was 'just like him', as an infant, and I was let to 'cry it out'. Apparently I took 8days of screaming and then I 'shut off' from my Mum. Now I have really strange need to avoid engaging with her on deep or serious levels.
    I don't want that with my son.
    Thanks for voicing this - I hope by sharing it and getting my friends/family to read it, I might not seem like I'm 'so odd'.

    1. Keep doing what you are doing, I get challenged all of the time by the gentle way I approach my son too, and yet people praise me for how well taken care of he is. I don't want him to shut down, I out of despair have let him cry a few minutes only to realize it breaks us apart and grab him right away to soothe him. He has horrid sleep issues but I rather struggle with them than ever let him cry at night. Trust me, it is all worth it. I have no relationship with my mother and the way she approached parenting was in a cold manner.

  11. Geez, are there actually babies who will sit and play with plastic toys or sit in an exersaucer? I haven't met one! :) Certainly not mine....

  12. oh my. this could have been my story...

  13. If only AP was taught at antenatal classes! Julia is lucky to have such a great mummy!
    I wore my first two babies a lot, in a Maitei carrier, then the Ergo Baby carrier, and then the Manduca. I was looking forward to wearing my third baby too. But she had other plans and was "high needs" in completely different ways: She only liked to be carried looking over my shoulder, else she would scream. She was happy sitting in a reclined position in the stroller, but not in the baby carrier :-(. She wouldn't fall asleep on my breast but only held over my shoulder or screaming to sleep. At least this changed gradually from when she was 3.5 months old. I'm so happy she enjoys being in the baby carrier now :-). She still prefers to fall asleep sitting upright in the stroller over being rocked to sleep though :-(. It took me a while to accept that she has her own ideas of being comfy!

  14. i am ever amazed to see my niece and nephew babies sitting or laying calmly. my first and only son was never that way! he refused his cradle, excer-saucer, playpen, anything which allowed his parents any freedom (how i saw it at the time!). he wanted to nurse aaaaaalllllllll the time. he also wanted to be in near-constant motion. i remember taking him to the doctor because of his constant fussiness. "honey, all babies cry", she told me. sigh. so his father and i held him/carried him, in arms, front packs, slings, giant hiker backpacks. he went everywhere we did...riding ON us. when i slept, he slept ON me; what i ate, he wanted to eat; it was exhausting but at 9 months he learned to walk/run and slowly, slowly he relaxed, but maintained his confident charismatic personality. although he had his own bed, he slept with his father and me through age 4. sometimes he still does.
    now he is 12. he is very active, intelligent, capable, talkative, hyper-perceptive, goofy, dynamic, compassionate young person. and yes, when i am relaxing in a chair, or going somewhere, he still wants to be there NEXT to me, doing what i am doing, engaged and connected, discussing ideas and making light in that normal pre-adolescent way. it's still tiring but in a more consistent way.
    i look back to my son's babyhood and consider that HE was the reason he remains an only child. his father and i gave everything we had to this child's intense neediness and just could not handle the thought of more kids, no matter how much joy he brought into our lives. in our minds, all babies must be like him, constantly demanding and high-needs, and even one more of him would have been too much.
    he's a special guy but i'm glad we made it through his babyhood intact!

  15. My daughter is very similar- the first 2 weeks of her life involved quite a bit of crying, until I realized that she just wanted to be held or nurse. After that she was fine (although heavy, lol). Now at 11 months she is so smart and funny already! She still wants to be held a lot of the time, but now that she can get around better it's a little easier for me. I'm glad that Iwas able to trust my instincts and go with that. It made everything SO much easier!

  16. Although I wanted to use "Attachment Parenting" with my now 2.5 year old son, I had no idea how much he wanted it too! I call it Attached Parenting. He only wanted to be nursing, looking over our shoulders, or snuggled into a peanut position on my chest. He only wanted me. Within a few weeks Daddy was an acceptable parent. He demanded my attention from the first day of my missed period and hasn't let me go yet.

    Thankfully it was our close connection that led me to believe that something was wrong the first few weeks and month. After being dismissed by a few Dr.'s, I found one that diagnosed him with acid reflux despite the lack of constant vomiting that the other Dr.'s wanted to see. Within two days after starting Prevacid we had a new man.

    He weaned from me at 16 months. He was finally on enough solids and sleeping in his crib. He just didn't need that part of our relationship anymore. However, I knew something was amiss. My instincts told me something was "off". Again, the Dr.'s dismissed me and I found someone who would listen. He was evaluated and found to have developmental and severe speech delays. Since then he has received a lot of intensive play therapy and is catching up with everyone else.

    People constantly told me to let him cry, don't nurse him so much or for so long, why is he sleeping with you, he's big and healthy - there's nothing wrong with him, he'll talk when he's ready, not all children point, not all children eat food at a year old, and on and on. I just ignored them and let my heart led the way. I always ask myself this "If I was him, how would I want to be treated in this situation?"

  17. I love this story! my 2 month old sweet babe is exactly as you have described Julia. It is nice to have some affirmation that we are on the right track with our parenting style and we are certinatly not the only parents with a busy babe(we too are resisting lables, especially the 'colicky baby label). Fortunatly I come from a long line of women who have practiced attachment parenting, they would be questioning my choices if I let her "cry it out".
    On the other hand I have already been accused of manifesting her behaviour by the way I parent from my mother in law (who incedently managed to raise a high needs baby girl using baby training to ba a woman with very low self-esteem who cannont develop and maintain positive heallthy relationships). On our last visit she took my content sleeping baby from my arms and left the room. She came back with no baby in her arms and muffled screamimg floating down the hallway. I immediatly got up and went to her as my MIL rolled her eyes. As I write this I am housbound for the morning waiting for the swing she has purchased for us to be delivered, I hope she kept the recipt as I have little faith it will provide as an acceptable substitute to our arms!
    Although the end of the day is increadibly trying as we struggle to find the position and movement that will calm her and allow her to drift off to sleep, we already appreciate her strong personality and curious nature and the moments of quiet alertness watching her learning and interacting are that much more special.

  18. This sounds exactly like my daughter! Although, this was 4.5 yrs ago and I was lost in the uneducated modern system and was told to let her cry it out and all that bologna (but THAT i just couldnt do- but I wish I knew about slings)...I had her on soy-formula (I was never even asked in the hospital if I was going to breastfeed, it wasnt an option to them?) and tried all the dr recommended stuff. No one gave me I was tired and depressed and my poor girl was so unhappy. I 'discovered' AP when my girl was 2...I've been trying to mend our issues since...still fighting the 'advice' of dr and family and now being labeled as 'helicopter mom'- poo on them, since I've stopped making my dd fit into MY life and started listening to her cues, life has gotten much better for both of us.

  19. I can't believe you used the sling in the car. No car seat?

  20. To the last Anon - She means she has a sling to leave in the car (to grab and go when you make runs around town). Not that she doesn't use a car seat while driving. A lot of us leave a babywearing item in the car so it is always there for grocery, post office, errand runs.

  21. I can relate so much to this, I don't practice AP, I don't baby wear or nursed. However I do co-sleep (his crib is attached to our bed so it's like an extension of ours) and I always keep my son around because that's what he wants, i give him natural foods because thats what he tolerates the best, and when he was an infant he was never put down, i felt warm holding him and only left him in his crib to do something quick. I have been told countless of times to let him cry it out because he's 2yrs and doesn't sleep through the night, but I just can't do it. I feel the same way, like it will break his spirit. He is a handful toddler and most days drives us craaazy, but he's adventurous and curious and always happy. He's so unique. He did socialize with people more as an infant though and as a toddler he only seems interested in other kids his age, or his toys.

    Different methods of parenting work amazing, because our little ones are born with different personalities and needs. I also felt like this is the way my son wanted me to parent, it's not AP, but it's still a demanding way to parent, which has shaped him into an amazingly cute little person. I think it has all been worth it : )


  22. This was my daughter, who is now 4. Right from day 1, could not be put down at all, preferred movement, always curious and on-the-go. Like you, I didn't choose attachment parenting, it chose me! I didn't set out to co-sleep, extended breast-feed, babywear, but those are what worked for my daughter and what she needed. She still needs contact, and most nights she needs a quick walk around in-arms in order to fall asleep, but she's moving through and learning the skills she needs at her own pace. She's confident and happy, in large part due to, I believe, us providing for her needs and setting up that good attachment from the beginning. Baby number 2 is due in October. Who knows if the next one will be similar or "easier" - either way, I'm as prepared as I can be and willing to adapt to his/her needs as they arise.

    Thanks for posting this!

  23. From what you are describing it sounds like your daughter is suffering from poor gut flora. Not saying that the carrier doesn't work and you shouldn't use it, they are GREAT! However reading through the start of this post, it was very clear to me that her gut flora is compromised and can be easily fixed, making her more comfortable, and settle her up for life long health. Colic in the natural health world is one of the very clear signs, and all of the other this you described are constant with that.



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