This week, I would like to continue to unravel the intricacies of the spirited child. Having survived the toddler years of raising two, intensely spirited boys, I am an unofficial expert. Last time, I wrote about intensity. This week I will be covering persistence. Even if your child is easy-going, I believe at times, all children show us their spirit and understanding how it shows up is helpful. In ‘Raising Your Spirited Child’ by Mary Kurcinka, she goes in detail about all the traits and mysterious wonders of strong-willed children. This book was a lifeline for me as I tried to understand why the heck my headstrong oldest son acted the way he did. Part of it had to do with his extreme level of persistence.
“Getting [spirited children] to change their minds is a major undertaking. They love to debate and our not afraid to assert themselves.”
When I finally began to grasp and accept the level of my oldest’s persistence, it was eye-opening. I wasn’t crazy. He really was that stubborn. He was the kid I had to put in time-out a hundred times before he would stay. If I would get him to stay, and he was only allowed to come out after an apology, he would refuse to apologize for hours. I’d never experienced anything like it. I had been an aunt, a childcare worker and a nanny and I had yet to come across someone so determined.
I came to a fork in the road. Having recognized his deep ferocity of will, did I continue to box him in, or did I let him run free? I did both. When I drew a line in the sand, he was not allowed to cross it. That meant, if I felt like a rule or behavior was important enough, I was going to have to mentally and physically prepare myself for the fight ahead. I chose one battle at a time. For instance, I felt that sitting in his stroller was as much about safety as it was about controlling his behavior. When we would walk the dog, if he attempted to climb out of the stroller a hundred times, I would stop a hundred times and put him back in. It took a long time and endless repetitions, but he learned. If he wanted to keep moving, he learned to stay put. Also, not to completely squelch his freedom and personality, I would choose times that I felt were safe, make sure I had my running shoes on, and allow him to walk ahead of the stroller. Essentially, this meant that I had to sprint after him to keep up (note the running shoes).
Choose your battles wisely. The great thing about raising spirited kids is that you come to learn what you truly value very quickly. Everything else becomes non-essential because you won’t have the time or energy to make sure his or her socks match. Trust me, it is a marathon, not a sprint, but at the finish line awaits a uniquely awesome kid that you get to call your own.
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.