Tag Archives: adhd

Planning for Success

This post is the final part of my series on raising spirited children. To read the first six parts, click on the following links:


So far we have learned how to recognize that ADHD is over-diagnosed, spirited children are normal, how positive labeling is so important to establishing good relationships with spirited children, the temperaments common to spirited children, tips for sleepless nights, ideas for picky eaters, and methods for successful discipline. What is left?

In the notes I wrote while reading Raising Your Spirited Child and The Difficult Child, I noticed a theme developing about preventing difficult behavior, and creating a foundation for a happy and healthy, functional family. I’m mostly happy with how things are going in our own household, although as any parent knows there are new challenges to address every day. Yet I do like to be inspired to reach higher. I know where my faults are (on one effective discipline survey, half of my answers suggested I used ineffective discipline techniques), and I’m learning to pinpoint specific behaviors in my children that need to be refined instead of getting overwhelmed by three children with unending needs.

One point I disagreed with in The Difficult Child is that they seemed to think that if there is a spirited child in the family, the parents, and the entire family, are likely to be strained and pitted against each other. Although Papa and I are sometimes at a loss for solutions to one (or more) of our children’s behaviors, we do not feel our family is “strained”. It is not easy at all, but we are a team, and together we will work through any challenges that raising three spirited children will bring up.

To help parents plan for success, The Difficult Child offered one activity to get them started. It is a bit time consuming, but if you are still stumped for answers over how your child’s temperament is affecting their behavior, it may be worth your time. First, list your child’s difficult behaviors. For example, he is resistive, stubborn, or selfish. List everything you can think of that really bothers you and be as specific as possible. Then write down examples of how s/he expresses those behaviors. For example, she is demanding – she wants to be the center of attention. Include the settings where these behaviors typically occur.

Once you have this exhaustive list, narrow it down to those behaviors which you feel are very important to improve. For example, those behaviors resulting in harm to herself or others. Be sure to include your spouse in this activity because you each may have different feelings about what is most important, and as a family it will be most effective if you are on the same page in deciding what behaviors to work on first.

Next, you make a “temperamental profile”, in which you categorize the difficulty of each temperament; very difficult, moderately difficult, and slightly difficult. For a review of the ten temperaments click here. In the final step, do your best to link the temperament traits to the problem behaviors so you can recognize where they are coming from. This final step will help you to determine the best methods of discipline for each behavior. Keep in mind that some behaviors may require a change of environment, stimulation, or prevention techniques. For a review of discipline methods click here.

Raising Your Spirited Child offered a more simple, four step plan called “The POWER Approach”. Predict the temperament traits they have and how they might affect their reactions to a situation. Organize the setting so your child can be successful in a setting or location (e.g. what activities can be brought along to help? Is there a hideaway for introverts?). Work together to help him manage his intensity, help her find “yes”, to enforce rules, and get their attention. Make sure they know the agenda, what to expect, and consider how they might feel in a particular situation. Enjoy the rewards! Be sure to talk with your child about the things s/he has done well, give them encouragement for their progress!

Planning for success also means encouraging good behavior, not just discouraging bad behavior. If you’re going to empty a child of selfishness, you must at the same time fill her up with kindness. If you want to discipline rudeness, you must also teach manners. This is the discipline method taught by Charlotte Mason who said,

“This is the law of habit, which holds good as much in doing kindnesses as in playing the piano. Both habits come by practice; and that is why it is so important not to miss a chance of doing the thing we mean to do well” (Vol. 4, Book 1, p. 208)

For those discouraged by the work ahead of them, she also says:

“For let this be borne in mind, whatever ugly quality disfigures the child, he is but as a garden overgrown with weeds: the more prolific the weeds, more fertile the soil; he has within him every possibility of beauty of life and character. Get rid of the weeds and foster the flowers” (Vol. 2, p. 87) 

Spirited Kids Part Four: Sleep

I’m totally falling behind on this series. There are so many good things to talk about, and once you lose momentum it’s hard to find it again. But while my children have not decided to change their temperments, neither have I forgotten that I did have readers waiting for the next post on spirited kids! Long story short, today I am finally going to talk about sleep.

Please note, this post is in reference to children over the age of 12 months. Babies do not sleep through the night, nor should they be expected to. Their bellies are tiny and need food more frequently than children. If your baby sleeps through the night, count your blessings! But please don’t force them onto a sleep schedule!

But to get on topic, I would be willing to bet that regardless of temperment, ALL kids go through periods of insomnia, night waking, or irregular sleep cycles. Parenthood is full of challenges and sleep will always be one of them! Yet there does seem to be a distinct correlation between children with intense personalities, and those who have more frequent sleep issues.

For some kids, their high intensity level makes it difficult (or nearly impossible) for them to stop moving long enough to calm down for sleep. That would be my daughter. Other children have very irregular cycles (eating, bathroom habits, sleeping, etc.) and it is unpredictable when and for how long they will sleep. That would be my daughter too. Some do not transition well at bedtime and still others are very sensitive to their sleeping environment (sight, sound, feeling of sheets, etc.). That would be more like my eldest son. I’m sure there are other examples, but I think you get the point.

Whatever the reason, lack of good sleep obviously has negative consequences for the whole family, and leads a difficult circle of lack of sleep leading to frustration and anxiety to more lack of sleep. So how do you put an end to this?

From someone who has been in the trenches, I can tell you honestly, there are many different coping techniques and while some may work beautifully, you should know there is no magic pill (like you really need me to tell you that!). The reality is that as soon as you think you’ve got it figured out the season will change… and so will your child’s sleep patterns. The good news is that you can learn to understand the reason behind the sleep issues, and learn how to manage them so everyone in your family is at least more comfortable.

As I have mentioned in the first three parts of this series (#1, #2, #3), the first step is to identify your child’s temperment. This step really does explain a lot and can help you to feel like you’re on the same team with your child. Your child isn’t trying to work against you (unless s/he has a real attitude problem), s/he just hasn’t learned to manage their personality to fit their needs. But you can help them.

Once you have identified potential causes of your child’s difficulty sleeping, you can look for specific ways to help, based on their temperment. For example, a child who has very irregular body cycles needs stability in their life to help them develop some amount of regularity. Daily routines, like a quiet activity before bedtime, gives them something to depend on and look forward to, eventually reinforcing the concept of “winding down” for the night.

Just as important as winding down is releasing energy, especially for children who are highly active. Getting 30 minutes of sunshine a day, running and playing in the dirt (or snow) is so wonderful to their health and spirit, and releases restlessness which can keep them up at night.

Although you as the parent know your child better than anyone else, I would like to give you one more specific example of how you can help your child sleep. A very sensitive child who complains about bedtime should be given the opportunity to explain what bothers them. A simple thing like the darkness, the feel of their pajamas, or the sound of the wind outside could lead to a sleepless night, but if you give them a chance to talk, you may be able to brainstorm ideas on how to create a more comfortable and safe feeling environment for sleeping.

Raising Your Spirited Child offers a four step routine for easier sleep which can be adapted to any temperment:

  1. Transition activity (eg. getting changed and brushing teeth)
  2. Connect and calm time (eg. Lego, books, or drawing)
  3. Cue for sleep (eg. prayer and singing a lullaby)
  4. Switch to sleep (eg. gathering teddies, pacifier, last sip of water, and leaving the room)

Share with us! Have you had a hard time helping your child(s) sleep, or stay asleep? What methods have worked for them?

Stay tuned for scenario #2 which you may encounter with a spirited child: Food, and getting your kids to eat it!

Spirited Child part 3: Understanding Temperments

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).

I think we know where Atlas falls on the intensity scale!

The 10 basic temperment traits are as follows:

  1. 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.
  2. Self-control. Many spirited children find it difficult to control their behavior, seemingly unable to act appropriately even when they know right from wrong.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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”.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

Spirited Children part 2: Positive Labeling

Today is an appropriate day to be writing about labels. I spent most of last night consoling my teething baby, at least the fourth all-nighter I have pulled with sleepless children in the past three weeks. With an average four or five hours of sleep each night, my reserve is wearing thin, I only have vague memories of being rested. Needless to say, negative labeling sounds real tempting right now. Labeling to explain my situation to others, labeling to express frustration, or simply because I can’t think straight.

I haven't been getting many pictures outdoors, so here's some pics from last January.

Parents who have low-key children have no blasted idea how much work it takes to train spirited children, let alone giving birth to three of them in less than four years! Glen and I have worked hard to teach our children appropriate behavior, so now everyone at church and most of our family think we have the most pleasant, easy-going children they’ve met. Of course they’re offering a compliment when they speak highly of our kids, but the selfish part of me (especially on little sleep) makes me want the kids to express their difficult side in public so people see how much work it takes to raise them.

But that’s the fatigue talking. I actually see my children in a positive light most of the time because I like them and many aspects of their personalities. Which brings me to labeling, and the importance of positive labels on spirited children, my second post in my series on raising sprited kids.

We all give negative labels to our kids when our tongues slip. We try to justify it, but we know deep down it’s wrong. We know it reinforces difficult behavior, lowers self-esteem, and puts emotional distance between our children and us. Calling names and diagnosing disorders is easy to do out of frustration, but if you are trying to enhance life with your spirited kids you need to avoid it like the plague.

Positive labeling on the other hand, or, labeling a behavior as an expression of a tempermental trait (whether talking to yourself or to your child) helps you to remain objective and to communicate understanding. I have heard of specific instances when suddenly deciding to label positively has resulted in an immediate change for the better in a child’s behavior.

Not only does it open the lines of communication, using positive labels helps spirited children to recognize their temperment traits and learn self-control. Stanley Turecki, author of The Difficult Child says, “Instead of reacting to what you think the child is doing to you, you try to make a firm but kind statement related to his temperment”.

Keep the statements simple and kind, and remain calm. Here are a few examples:

  • “I know it’s very hard for you to sit still”
  • “I know it’s hard for you to pay attention”
  • “I know this sweater doesn’t feel right”
  • “I know that new places make you feel nervous”
  • “I know you are very busy”

If you show your child that you are not angry at them, that you understand they’re not trying to be difficult, they will begin to respond more positively to you as well. You are on the same team!

Accept your child as an individual with special characteristics. Point out to them the good things you see in them. This kind of labeling will be internalized by them as self-acceptance, and one day, a positive self-image.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, Temperments of the Spirited Child, in which I will share more positive labeling ideas based on specific temperment traits, as well as begin talking about management techniques based on the things that make your child unique.

ADHD or Spirited?

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
  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility
  • 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.

She does a decent job hiding this from family, but I see it. a lot.

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.

When he first saw the tree, that intensity was coming out everywhere! Look at his fingers curling!

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.