Spirited children used to go by a rather different moniker. Difficult.
I’m not about to condemn anyone who still think of spirited and difficult as synonyms. You know what? Raising a spirited child is difficult. So is raising a mellow one. Parenting, done right, is hard. I can think of very few things worth doing that are easy.
My Spirited Children
My daughter M meets anyone’s definition of spirited. She’s quick to anger and quick to joy. She gets frustrated easily by things she deems unimportant while focusing for hours on solving problems she finds intriguing. She has little patience and enormous ambition. She falls deep in the spirited range of the scale on the spiritedness quiz. Many textures, flavours and sounds put her on edge, but she is intensely creative with art, food, and music. Actually, she’s intensely everything. She’s just intense.
The only way one could think of my daughter J as mellow would be to meet M first. The only way J can keep her body still is to put her mind in overdrive. J notices and analyzes everything… unless she’s got her nose in a book. When she’s reading, lightning could strike a tree next to her and she wouldn’t notice.
Why Spirited Children Are a Challenge
Parenting a spirited child is exhausting.
These kids’ intensity extends to every aspect of their lives. Where a cool kid will ask why the sky is blue, a spirited child will ask why the sky is sometimes blue, sometimes grey, and why the colour of sunrise varies. The spirited child won’t rest until he or she has an answer that makes sense. The concept of using television as a babysitter is completely foreign to those of us who have spirited children. Their minds never stop. Television would merely give them more to question, more to discuss with me.
Spirited children question everything, from the basics of nature to the reasons behind their parents’ rules. Spirited children often need less sleep than their peers, leaving us parents less time to recharge our batteries. We parents expect to have a period of time before the teenage years during which our children simply take our word as gospel. Many spirited children begin to question the reasons for our rules and expectations by the time they’ve mastered 2 word phrases.
Spirited child need their parents, teachers, and mentors to have a deep level of confidence. They need the adults around them to be able to react to their questions and insights productively. Adults who didn’t have a habit of self-analysis before encountering a spirited child run the risk of feeling undermined by spirited children and often react in one of three ways: lashing out at the child, withdrawing from the child, or indulging in self-recrimination.
Spirited kids’ inherent ability to see two or three levels deeper into their experiences than many of their peers can be the basis for enormous success throughout their lives, but only if handled with sensitivity. Spirited children’s energy can easily be misdirected toward destructive behaviour, especially if the adults around them react defensively to children’s questions and insights.
Alongside the need to question everything comes stubbornness. It’s infuriating and inconvenient, often embarrassing, and sometimes dangerous. The last thing that you need when ushering your child through a busy parking lot, for example, is to have a discussion on why the parking lot is dangerous.
Why the World Needs Spirited Children
About a month ago, ldskatelyn asked on Facebook, “What do you do with a super stubborn child? Other than completely lose your mind? (‘Cause I’ve already tried that and it didn’t work so well.)”
This was my response:
- Choose your battles.
- Listen. With M and J, stubbornness is usually simply a way of telling me that they don’t feel heard. I found that an, “I understand that you want A, but I am telling you B” response resolved 90% of our issues.
- Give choices. Provide two options that you can live with and let your child choose. They feel empowered. You get your way.
- Think long term. Do you want your daughter to be a person who does whatever her friends tell her? Or do you want her to stand up for what’s right?
Point 4 is the beauty of the spirited child. Spirited kids will change the world for the better. In questioning everything, they question things that need to be rethought. Infuriating though it may be to have every single choice I make be second-guessed by 8-year-olds, my daughters have forced me to parent consciously, thoughtfully, always seeking improvement.
I know that my girls will stand up for their friends. When her class whispered “mean things” at the sight of a blind student walking through the school halls, my daughter M called them on it. Along with her friend Jocelyn, she gave them a lecture on compassion, understanding, and appreciating differences. When one teacher forgot to implement another’s stricter rule during recess, my daughter J brought it up with the more lenient teacher, who thanked her for the information and told her it was okay. When a teacher humiliated another student in class last year, J talked to me about it. She then elected to speak to her teacher about how uncomfortable she had felt. In all cases, their feedback was well-received and other children were better off (or at least no worse off).
I know that my spirited children will always think for themselves, and in knowing that, I am confident that they will have, on balance, what I wish for them: a healthy, productive, happy and whole adulthood.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the single mother of 8-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.