Is Yours a Spirited Child?
I just read this great book – Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.
To get a picture of the spirited child, look at two children watching the TV together. Both are the same sort of age, good friends, fascinated by the programme. One is intent, still, focussed, quiet. The other is also intent, plus constantly moving, kicking, leaning in to her friend, chatting, a ball of energy. It’s this second one who is spirited. These children are distinguished from others in that they are intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, often uncomfortable with change. Previously they might have been called naughty, stubborn or difficult, and treated as problem children. And you may be challenged by them! They may not hear what you say as they are so involved in what they are doing. They may talk at the top of their voice when feeling passionate about something. They may be prone to tantrums or be aggressive on occasion. S0 – a child who has a tantrum at breakfast when they were expecting pancakes and was given waffles, a child who gets super-distracted en route to getting dressed, a child who doesn’t hear their name when you call them, a child who is too excited or interested in something to sleep, a child engaged in a life and death struggle with a sibling for a particular toy – sound familiar?
The main traits of the spirited child are: 1) intensity of emotional reaction, experiencing every emotion and sensation deeply and powerfully. They may get highly excited, exuberant, grief-stricken, or furious. 2) persistence, they stick to their guns, don’t take no for an answer. 3) sensitivity – they have super sensors, so getting to sleep may be difficult. 4) perceptive – they stay on task, notice things others miss, get distracted, have a vivid imagination. 5) adaptability – they tend to adapt to change slowly, don’t like surprises, need forewarning. 6) regularity – tend not to fall into a schedule on their own, are irregular by nature. 7) energy – always on the move, need to run, jump, move their body in order to feel good.
And as with many children-focussed issues, the real challenge is not the child, but the parent. How do we best deal with these spirited children? First off we have to rethink our labels – most labels for spirited children are negative – loud, argumentative, aggressive, demanding, wild, and so on. The challenge for us is to rethink these words in positive terms, or we sound critical and our children may become self-critical. So try describing your child as selective rather than picky, dramatic rather than obnoxious, zestful rather than loud and so on. This puts a useful demand on you to stay positive, which has a big impact on your child. The other parental issue is how to stay in what the writer calls the green zone. A spirited child becomes upset more easily and stays upset longer than other children. They startle more easily, their pulse races, their blood pressure rises, stress hormones flood their system. So it takes skill and effort to calm them and coach them in how to compose themselves, so they can move from their red zone to their green zone. You as the parent need to watch your own stress level so you can stay in your own green zone! If you move into your red zone in response to their red zone, you’re in trouble and so are they. Your job as parent is to communicate from the green zone and coach your child. If they don’t hear, squat down to their level, establish eye contact, commiserate with how annoying it is to discontinue their activity and help them find a stopping point. Help them to manage their intensity – water play, visualisation, baths, telling stories, physical contact, soothing and calming activities – you are the steadying hand to help them diffuse their intensity. Other things which help are physical and outdoor activities, foot massage, back rubs, bear hugs, reading to them. Time out with them can be used, not for punishment but for you both to calm down. It’s also important to teach negotiating skills with them and their siblings, as there may be conflict between a spirited child and their siblings. Get them to look for solutions that both can live with – you’ll improve your own diplomacy skills!
This way you can start to feel relaxed with your spirited child – enjoy!