I was not an easy child by any stretch of the imagination. I was (and still am) an intense person. When I experience an emotion I tend to feel it to the extreme. This showed a lot when I was younger as I showcased many tantrums, fits of laugher, and many tears. Everything felt so intense to me from the way a story was read, the feeling of my blankets, scenes in a show, food, family, friends, feelings, frustrations, and the list goes on. My mom would affectionately say that life was turned upside down after I was born. My older sister slept through the night very early on and was a very calm and agreeable child. When I came along I argued everything and showcased my emotions and thoughts at every opportunity.
This can be a huge struggle for parents.
Especially first time parents.
It was a struggle for mine.
My son is also a spirited child. But here is the kicker. I didn’t learn about spirited kids until my son was about nine-months old, and when I did it was as though this light bulb kicked in and everything – EVERYTHING – made much more sense.
As a newborn, and still now at almost three-years-old, my son does not like to be touched. He doesn’t like his hair or back rubbed. In baby groups when it was suggested to stroke certain parts of an infant’s face or back to calm them to sleep I often felt confused and wondered why my child was so different and absolutely hated these things. Often the things I tried to do to soothe him made him more irritated and angry.
Also from birth to now he has been extremely sensitive to loud noises. He will sometimes cry and run out of the room if I turn on the blow dryer, often wants to leave over-crowded places where there are too many people and too much noise, and makes comments about the degree of volume in any given situation. I can now physically see him start to shut down when we are in an environment that is too audibly stimulating for him.
The smallest change in structure, routine, course of events can be extremely upsetting for him. While some children may be able to brush changes off and adapt easily, my son is not one of those people. I remember feeling so overwhelmed when he was a newborn, and also confused. I could not figure out why no one told me how difficult it would be and why it didn’t appear that others were struggling in the same ways. He was so hard to get to sleep, to keep asleep, to calm, and to keep in a happy state. As he got older and was able to communicate, these things became much easier, but he is still a spirited child through and through.
Learning about the spirited child was incredibly eye opening and comforting for me. Gaining this knowledge finally gave me the feeling like I understood my child and could actually identify with him because I too am spirited.
For a long time – too long – I felt like my son was different, difficult, misbehaved, and as though I had done something wrong. But this wasn’t the case at all. He experiences emotions and events more intensely than others, and there is nothing wrong or embarrassing about that. He is who he is and I want to celebrate the person he is, as I’m sure we all do as parents and care providers.
Spirited children are often characterized as moody, sensitive, high energy, persistent, and intense with difficulty adapting to new situations. These things can be seen negatively, but I encourage those with or without spirited children to look at them from the positive. Spirited people are often ones who will stand up for what they believe in, are high achievers, compassionate to others through their own intense feelings, have a strong distinction between right and wrong, and can be heavily organized because of their need for routine and consistency.
The more time we take to identify with my son, to be calm when speaking with him, listen to his needs, fostering the energy and channeling it, celebrating persistence, identifying emotions, and always giving him 5 minute count-downs when activities change, the more we can lessen the severity of the emotions he feels.
Having a spirited child can be down right exhausting. But celebrating it for the positives, educating yourself and becoming knowledgeable about it, and working with it rather than against it transforms that spirited (often referred to as “difficult”) reference to an uplifting one.
My mom has even started reading Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and it has changed her perspective and relationship with my son and I.
This book changed my life when it comes to parenting my child and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a spirited child or who thinks they may have one. It gave me useful tools to working with my child but also altered my perspective so that I could fully support my child, through tantrums and all.