This is the part of the series where it all comes together. Understanding the various temperments of a person explains their behavioral tendencies (the good and the not-so-good), and why some people have more spirit (or intensity) than other kids. In reading The Difficult Child and Raising Your Spirited Child, I found the discussions on temperment to be most interesting as all the things I had learned so far about spirit were finally coming together, and I hope as you discover more about parenting spirited children, understanding your child(ren)’s temperment will make a positive difference in your relationship too.
Both of the books I read spoke of 10 basic temperments. Everyone varies as to where they fall on the scale of intensity for each trait. For example, one child may have a very high sensory threshold (low on the intensity scale) and at the same time they are “negatively persistent”, which means they get locked into issues and won’t let go easily, a spirit-filled trait. A person can be generally mild mannered and be very intense in one or two areas, or be very spirited and fall on the low end of the intensity scale for one or two things, but someone who is at least partially intense in several areas is considered “spirited” (see the scale on the first part of this series).
The 10 basic temperment traits are as follows:
- Activity level. Many children who are spirited have a high activity level. It’s also referred to as “energy”. Surprisingly, though, many intense children do not have uncontrollable energy.
- Self-control. Many spirited children find it difficult to control their behavior, seemingly unable to act appropriately even when they know right from wrong.
- Concentration. Perhaps this is one of the most common temperments associated with a diagnosis of ADHD, but spirited kids often have difficulty concentrating on things (even things they enjoy), which means parents have to be creative in helping them to complete projects.
- Intensity. Many kids who are spirited do everything with gusto, with intense energy. Kids with this temperment are often seen as the leaders of cliches because they have the loudest, most charismatic personalities.
- Regularity. This mainly refers to bodily functions, when speaking of children. Children who are irregular (high on the spirit scale) are never hungry at the same time, sleep schedules are nearly impossible to form, and even their bowel movement habits are unpredictable. While this may be one of the less understood (or perhaps because it is less understood), it is often one that puts the most stress on parents in the early years.
- Negative persistence. The child who is negatively persistent never takes no for an answer, repeatedly asks why, and cannot let go of issues easily. This is typical for one who is called a “perfectionist”.
- Sensory threshold. Kids intense on this scale are easily bothered by temperatures, textures, smells, sounds, light, etc. They complain frequently about these things. Picky eating, trouble keeping clothes on, and even difficulty sleeping may be triggered by high sensitivity.
- Initial response. Many intense kids reject everything new. They don’t like seeing new faces, trying new food, and don’t even play with new toys. But given enough time, most kids will warm up.
- Adaptability. Kids who land on the spirited end of this scale do not like change. They throw tantrums when it’s time to go to the park, eat lunch, play a different game, or even have a friend over. They get locked-in easily and need help adapting and changing activities.
- Mood. Generally, spirited kids are either intensely sullen (even if they’re not upset) or intensely happy. There is no “content” with them, and mood swings are a common occurence, often on a second-to-second basis. Unless you learn that this is part of who your child is, it can be very unsettling.
As you read this list, I expect you naturally know where your child(ren) is on the scale of spirit, but if you haven’t already, go ahead and write down the temperment traits that are a challenge to you and your child. Then, take some time to think positively about each one. Here are some ideas I collected for each of my two older kids, Nemo and Daphney:
Daphney is an intense little girl who is an extroverted. I can tell her how wonderful it is that she enjoys being around people, and what a blessing her energy is because she is able to accomplish so much. I can tell her it’s good to do things with gusto and zest, and to express her feelings. Daphney is also very irregular, but I can tell her that she is flexible, full of surprises, and that her persistence enables her to be a great problem-solver, that she’s committed, assertive, capable, and independent.
Nemo is persistent too, but he’s also introverted. I can tell him how great it is that he can think before talking, and how he will be able to develop deep and lasting relationships. Because he is sensitive, it will encourage him to hear how loving and tenderhearted he is, that he cares about how others feel, and the ways his selectiveness will benefit him. In response to Nemo’s perceptiveness I can point out how it develops his creativity and sense of humor.
As you can see, being intensely spirited does not mean your children are unable to function well in this world, or that they are the odd men out. Instead, if you teach them how to direct their spirit, and point out to them how useful and beautiful their personalities are, they will grow up to be admired and respected by others, and to have a great sense of self-worth.
Before we can address the management of behavior issues with our spirited kids we need to stop and see the beauty in their temperments and appreciate who they are. They certainly make life more interesting!
In the next post of this series, I’ll share some ideas on one example of challenges parents face when they have a spirited child – sleep.
Please share your thoughts! In what ways are your own child(ren) spirited? How do you appreciate them as who they are, and encourage them to be themselves? We want to know!