My boys are what you would call spirited. Learning more about the depth and breadth of their spiritedness has helped me tremendously. They aren’t necessarily trying to be purposefully defiant, they are showing me that I am missing the mark somehow (not being fully present or accepting them as is). In this blog post, I am going to go into more detail about a specific characteristic of the spirited child. Hopefully, if you happen to be raising one, it will help you understand them more. This and other characteristics are outlined in the book, ‘Raising Your Spirited Child‘ by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Intensity is a characteristic shared by most spirited children. It means they have intense reactions that seem to bubble up from nowhere. A sort of zero-to-sixty momentum of emotion that can knock you right out of your senses. If you are not prepared, your own reactiveness only adds fuel to the fire. For the first four or five years of my boys’ lives, I walked through the world in a sort of dazed anticipation of what might set them off. It usually had to do with me imposing rules on them, or their not wanting to follow the rules of where we were (i.e- library, play group, playground). If a rule didn’t make them mad, then it could be a number of other things that would. I remember distinctly fighting tooth and nail with my oldest when he was three because he wouldn’t eat a grape. How could he not eat a grape when that was all he wanted for weeks before? His new and intense hatred of grapes completely baffled me. With time, I learned to manage their intensity by coming to ‘expect the unexpected’. Sometimes we could last through a play group without incident (very rare), or, if we had to leave storytime at the library early, we just did. I learned that parenting for me wasn’t going to necessarily be easy, but this time in my life wouldn’t last forever. I didn’t go out with them in public as much as I wanted (they still marvel at the wonders and sights of the mall since we hardly ever went there when they were small), and when I did, I knew it could go either way so I always had an exit plan in the back of my mind. I want to be clear, I never used their intensity as a way to avoid disciplining them. I’m sure part of why we battled so much is that when I gave them a rule, I wouldn’t back down. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed of their reactions. Stay calm, keep your exit plan at the ready, and most importantly, love your kids without condition. You will get through to the other side.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent
Kurcinka, M.S. Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense-Sensitive-Perceptive-Persistent-Energetic (Revised Edition). 2006 New York, New York. HarpersCollins Publishers Inc.