I read two enlightening books this summer about raising intense children. At the beginning of each of them, a survey (described as non-scientific of course) was given to help the reader determine how intense a particular child is, if at all. On a scale of 0-30, with 0 being not a difficult child, 4-7 points being some difficult traits, 8-14 being a difficult child, 15+ being a very difficult child, and 30 points being a “mother killer”, Nemo and Daphney (and Glen!) scored 18, Atlas scored a 7, and Mama scored a 6. That’s right, I too can be difficult sometimes! With that said, you should know that I have not figured out how to master this whole spirited-child business, but I am absolutely qualified to write about it!
Because I know there are many other parents out there who have highly intense children and are at a loss as how to manage them, I thought I would share my notes from reading these two books, Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, and The Difficult Child by Stanley Turecki. My notes do not touch on all issues surrounding intense children because I only wrote about the things most applicable to me, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for here, do check out the books above at your local library.
Although I didn’t cover all topics in my notes, I still wrote way too much for one post, so this will be first in my series on spiritied children. This post will primarily discuss the question, what is a spirited child?
Using the scale of 0-30 at the beginning of the post, you can determine for yourself how spirited your child(ren) is by scoring him/her on the following temperments as: 0 = no problem, 1 = ocassionally a problem, 2 = often a problem, 3 = always a problem. The temperments are:
- High activity level
- High intensity
- Irregularity (sleep, eating, bathroom habits, etc.)
- Negative persistence
- Low sensory threshold
- Initial withdrawal to new things
- Poor adaptability
- Negative mood (quiet, sullen)
Stay tuned for a future post on temperments in which I will more fully describe each of the above traits. You may be surprised if your child scores higher or lower than you expected, but I hope that this series will help you to find useful management techniques no matter where they fall on the scale. It has been said that spirited children are at an advantage to other children, that as adults we often wish we had many of their temperments, they simply need to be guided to use them appropriately.
To be honest, when I cracked open the first book, Raising Your Spirited Child, I spent the first few chapters laughing and feeling like crying. Laughing because this woman could have been talking about my children, and wanting to cry because I was confronting an issue that has become quite a challenge in my life. But as I continued to read I became more encouraged, read stories of other real-life families with similar kids, and ideas to try with my own children.
The other thing I realized, which you may find useful if you have more than one spirited child, was that spirited children express their intensity in very different ways. For example, Nemo expresses his intensity inwardly (high intensity, negative persistence, low sensory threshold, initial withdrawal, poor adaptability, negative mood) while Daphney expresses her intensity in very physical outbursts (high activity level, impulsivity, distractibility, high intensity, irregularity). Because they are so different, I was tempted to downplay the temperments that don’t stand out as much (namely, in Nemo). But in reality both personalities are highly spirited and require just as much effort to direct. So regardless of how your child displays his/her spirit, begin be recognizing it as unique from other children. Don’t make the mistake of judging or comparing him/her to other children. It won’t help either of you.
One thing I loved about The Difficult Child was how it placed spirit, or intensity, in the range of normal behaviors. Says the author, “Human beings are all different, and a great variety of characteristics and behaviors fall well into the range of normality”. He goes on to admit that, “some 15% of all children under age six are tempermentally difficult and hard to raise”. Raising Your Spirited Child carried a similar message. We are not alone.
But is it ADHD? Prevent Disease recently published two studies estimating that 1 million children in the U.S. may be wrongly diagnosed with ADHD. That’s 1 in 5 children who were diagnosed and put on stimulants that probably didn’t need them after all. The study concluded that in their kindergarten study group, the youngest children were 60% more likely to get diagnosed than the oldest kids in the class, a percentage that has to make you wonder, is it a disorder? Or is it just immaturity, a spirited personality type which has yet to be directed by a parent?
In the end, however, it really makes no difference what you call it. Some kids, whether you label them ADHD or not, are just plain more difficult. It doesn’t make them sick, bad, or strange, that’s just the way they are, and no amount of labeling will change that. Stanley Turecki says it so well:
The distinction between the ”normal” child and one diagnosed with a “disorder”, ADHD, is often unclear and irrevelent to helping your child… the principles of understanding and managing their (ADHD) behavior are the same as for other difficult children. And always remember: Even if your child is “diagnosed”, never think or say, “She is ADHD.” A disorder is not her identity. The issue is not the label: The issue is what can be done to help your child.
My children have not been diagnosed with anything. Honestly, they don’t even have a pediatrician. Yet it was plain to me from the time Nemo was a year old that he, and then Daphney, and now Atlas, are a little further down that range of “normal” than your average child. I never saw that as a bad thing. In fact, Glen and I are a bit strange ourselves I’d say, lol, and having extra-special kids is in many ways a treat.
I love my kids. They are three of the best kids in the world, and I really mean that. Their sensitivity, problem solving skills, compassion, and intelligence regularly impress me. But on the days they are not intensly posivite they are intensly difficult, and I can get so bunched up in a knot I want to throw myself out the window. It is at those times when I am quickly reminded that normal management techniques for parenting usually don’t work. at all. on spirited kids. So while I accept my children as individuals, I was excited when these two books found there way to my bedside.
Do you have spirited children? Are you intrigued about effective discipline, adequate fostering of good behavior, family team work and more? Stay tuned for the next chapter of this series, Positive Labeling: the effects of negative labeling, and how positive labels can help you and your child.