Tag Archives: raising your spirited child

Mothering Spirited Children

In a couple of recent posts I mentioned that we have been having some pretty intense parenting challenges. I have intentionally avoided expanding on the subject becuase I don’t want people, especially those who don’t personally know our family, to think I’m just complaining. All parents deal with “parenting issues”, so let’s just acknowledge it and move on already!

However, part of my mission here is to be honest about our family’s journey, and as I wrote about last year in my spirited child series, raising difficult children is part of our journey.

Sometimes I do wonder though if people think I’m crazy for saying my children are difficult. Somehow, despite their intense personalities, each of our children behaves well in public; being respectful to their elders and playing well with other children.

So last week, just for kicks, I went back to my posts on spirited children and completed the difficulty scale for each of my kids to see if their temperments have changed in the past 10 months. Please view this post to learn more about the scale. With 0 being a child that is not difficult and 30 being a “mother killer”, Pal stayed at about 7, Buddy dropped from 18 to 12 (his growing self-control is helping him to mangage his intensity), and Girlie rose from an 18 to a 23. So I’m not making it up!

And perhaps this is part of the reason why I have doubted my mothering skills as of late. What if I have another spirited child?

At the same time, there are qualities about my children that I admire simply because they are spirited. Temperments that are appreciated in adults are often expressed in very frustrating ways as children. I have the oppportunity to help them shape their temperments to benefit themselves and those around them, but it will take God’s grace to help me do that!

What is it like living with spirited children? The downsides include uncontrollable tantrums, self-imposed fasting, thoughtless aggression toward siblings, changing a 3.5 year old’s diapers, deafness to anything I say for lack of concentration, dressing the same child several times a day because they’re “too hot”, “too cold”… and none of it for the lack of training and discipline!

Then there are the upsides, which I am told tend to be stronger in some ways among spirited children than among “easy” kids. I speak collectively here, but the following examples do express themselves differently with each of my kids.

Extreme mood swings mean we often have VERY happy children, their sensitivity means they are receptive to other’s emotions, their persistence means they are learning to defend their opinions and not let others tell them what they need to do to fit in, their energy ensures adaquate exercise, their impulsivity and distractibility means they are able to change plans quickly without a fuss, their irregularity means I have more freedom to schedule appointments at various times of the day without messing up their rhythms. I have also found their mental capacities are increased, being able to solve problems and create all sorts of things others would consider beyond their age.

Papa asked me recently if having kids was harder than I expected it to be. The answer is absolutely yes, but I have also been inspired by them to see the wonder of a spirited child’s mental and physical abilities, and I’m quite sure that looking back on these days I will have some incredible memories, have learned some valuable things, and be proud of who our children will have become.

In the meantime, I have to remind myself of that to get through the difficult parts, one moment at a time. Breathe in, breathe out. This too shall pass. It’s true what they say, that birth is simple preparation for the work to come!

Do you have spirited children who are grown? Did you find that they learned to direct their temperments in useful ways as they matured? What helped you through the most challenging times?

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) 

Disciplining the Spirited Child

This post features the third scenario I have chosen for my series on spirited children. To view the rest of the series, please visit the following links:


You know that old saying, if you pray for peace God will give you opportunities to practice peacefulness, if you pray for humility God will give you opportunities to practice being humble, and so on? I think that applies to writing blog posts too. This morning I looked at my marker board with ideas for posts written on it, and I thought I should start working on the sixth post in my series on spirited children. The topic happened to be discipline, and now I’m thinking maybe it was a dumb idea to start writing it. Since 7am this morning I have had opportunity after opportunity to teach discipline to Buddy, Girlie, and Pal.

To be truthful, it really started five days ago when each of the kids had extra car rides, overnighters, and Easter events. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean we shouldn’t have done any of that, I’m glad they have so much family nearby to learn from, play with, and enjoy their friendship, but on the other hand we have learned a valuable lesson: Overscheduling is the #1 destructor of discipline and order in the home. It was a wonderful weekend for all of us, but now we are paying for it with tantrum, after tantrum, after tantrum. Just watch what happened when I put kid tattoos on Buddy and Girlie…

Nothing like a day like today to remind me how much I have to learn myself. On that note, here are some things I have picked up from The Difficult Child by Stanley Turecki and Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka about disciplining spirited children.

Before anything can be done about difficult behavior in a child, parents must realize that whatever disipline techniques they are using (and I’m not talking about punishment) are not working. Says Stanley Turecki:

Difficult children tend to get locked into certain behavioral patterns, but so do parents in response to the behavior. This kind of repeated negative interaction causes the difficult pattern to worsen… this is very common with children who are demanding and stubborn because of their negative persistence, and whose parents reason and explain too much.”  (emphasis mine)

Okay, like, just slap me in the face why don’t you?! Papa sometimes has to tell me to just stop talking because when the kids get into a rut of disobedience, I fall into a rut of whining. Not exactly your kodak moment! Turecki also says:

The constant battling arises for the most part from an established habit pattern (editor’s note: remember that phrase) between the child and the mother… Not only is the child repeatedly misbehaving; it is very important for the mother to realize that her ineffective response has also become habitual, and is in fact reinforcing the bad behavior.”

The solution to the parents’ ineffective response pattern?

“Try to aim for an attitude that is kind, yet firm; absolute when dealing with truly relevant misbehavior, yet flexible with minor annoyances, friendly and very much on your child’s side, yet very clear about who’s in charge.”

Easier said than done, and obviously it will take time to develop an effective response pattern. Thankfully, Turecki and Kurcinka offer specific tips on how to prevent and intervene during episodes of bad behavior in our spirited children.


First, learn to recognize environments, behaviors, or other triggers that set your child off on the wrong foot. Many of them you can avoid, and those you can’t you may be able to prepare your child to handle them ahead of time. Help them to notice their growing intensity before it overwhelms them. Some things proven by parents to head off an outbreak before it becomes hard to manage include: calming activities, humor, exercise, extra sleep, and teaching them that time-outs are a good way to calm themselves.

Teach them how to find yes, to reach a win-win solution. If you understand what is bothering your child, you may be able to come to a conclusion that suits both your needs, without “giving in” to their fancies. Instead of saying “no” to something, try offering a “yes” solution. For example, instead of “stop jumping on the couch!” try “come down here and dance to the music”.

Protect them from overstimulation. As I described at the beginning of this post, sometimes too much change, organized activity, or electronic equipment winds kids up without giving them a chance to vent. Give them words to describe their feelings, teach them to recognize when their getting overstimulated, and try some of the parent-solutions listed above.

When you want to get an important message to your child and it doesn’t seem like their paying attention, try sending your message in different ways; touching them while giving directions, maintain eye contact, keep the message simple, and avoid asking a question if their isn’t a choice. Tell them what they can do, and limit the number of distractions you give at one time.


Sometimes you just can’t stop the tantrums from happening. You miss the cue, you weren’t present when they got wound up, however it happened, you find yourself face to face with a wild child. What to do? Here is the six step process Kurcinka suggests:

  1. Ask, can I deal with it now? If you can’t handle it, disengage quickly. Leave the room, compose yourself, then come back.
  2. Become the leader. Stand back, become neutral, think.
  3. “Frame” the behavior. Recognize the behavior.
  4. Is it temperment? If yes, try to manage it, not punish it. Be sympathetic, use eye contact, label the behavior, offer a solution.
  5. Is it important? if it’s not temperment, is it important? If not, disengage.  A child throwing a tantrum because he is trying to get his way needs to understand he won’t get attention for his selfishness.
  6. Effective reaction. Respond sternly and briefly to tantrums that may bring harm to themself, to someone else or their environment, or they are in an environment that is not appropriate for expressing feelings.

There is a differenece between “temperment” tantrums and “manipulative” tantrums. If the child is throwing a tantrum as a result of temperment, it will seem like he can’t help it. They need to hear from you that they are overwhelmed by their emotions, that you will help them stop, that it’s alright to cry but not to kick, bite, or hit, and that you will help them to stop what is overwhelming them. Stay with them during the tantrum, touch them gently, and try to identify the source. Potential solutions to prevent tantrums include:  reducing the demands on them during peak tantrum times, ensure good sleep, offer pacing as a way to release energy, make sure rules and consequences are clear, and (outside of a tantrum) talk with them about what happened and what strategies you can develop together to prevent tantrums.

In the next, and last post of this series, I will address how you can link specific behavioral problems to specific temperment traits, but for now you should remember that the key to a happy child is prevention of bad behavior and early intervention of tantrums. Spot the danger signs, get neutral, label, then intervene. Think “cool off”: when the child is about to get wild, stay calm, look into their eyes, say “you’re getting too excited”, then tell him/her it’s time to cool off and find a time-out distraction, a change of activities. If this becomes a pattern, your child may eventually tell you him/herself when a “cool off” is needed.

There is one more specific example I wanted to share, and that is for the child who gets “locked-in”. If they get locked onto something, you must bring it to an end or the struggle will be perpetuated and increase in intensity for both you and your child. Again, be neutral (I am talking to myself too!), firm, label, and take an early stand. Say “you have asked for ____ three times already. You are not going to get it so stop asking.” If they ask why, say “there is nothing more to discuss” and stop responding, leave the room if you must and explain later that whenever you say no you mean it.

How to punish 

You’ll notice I have spent a lot of time focusing on active prevention, but there does come a point when punishment is appropriate. This is what Kurcinka recommends when it is clear punishment is in order:

  1. Be brief. “You’ve done this, it’s not allowed, your punishment is this.” Never say more.
  2. Don’t negotiate. If the child asks why, answer with, “becuase that’s the rule”.
  3. Be firm. Don’t sweet-talk or end with “okay?” (I do that all the time, just so you know)
  4. Don’t warn too much. One reminder is fine, but after that act. Follow through on consequences.
  5. Be practical. Try to relate the consequence to the action, and consider the age of the child. Some parents use spanking as a punishment, and while we do support this, it doesn’t work either every child all the time. Distraction, time-outs, and grounding are also effective options.
  6. Be single-minded. Ignore the child’s attitude, the message of punishment still gets through.

Remember the phrase I asked you to remember at the beginning of the post? Established habit pattern. This is something I really want to start working on as a family; developing good habits. I recently read Smooth and Easy Days, a free ebook by Sonya Shafer with Charlotte Mason on how developing specific good habits makes the days with your children easier. Doesn’t that sound nice?? I’m still debating which habit I want to focus on first, but whichever it is, it will be a family effort.

Stay tuned for the last post of this series, Planning for Success! How you can make those smooth and easy days a family team effort.

Eating Habits of the Spirited Child

This post features the second scenario I have chosen for my series on spirited children. To view the rest of the series, please visit the following links:


I have a friend whose young boys will eat vegetables without a fuss. She’s never had a problem getting them to eat healthy foods. To her credit, at least one of them is spirited, but her luck is something many mothers would pay big money for. Everybody knows kids hate veggies, but spirited kids don’t just hate them; they will throw huge tantrums, refuse to eat for days, or willingly spend the entire day in bed just to avoid them. Hence my topic for today: how do you get a spirited child to eat healthy food?

Something I have found is that as children get older they naturally mature and may be more willing to eat healthy foods, but every meal prior to is an invitation for a disastrous battle. Doctors say kids won’t starve themselves, but I gave up when after three days of Buddy’s self-induced fasting over a bite of lasagna he started throwing up. We obviously needed to try a different tactic.

Each child has their own quirks and any method you try will need to be adapted to them for it to have a chance of working. Raising Your Spirited Child gave some specific examples of how temperment affects mealtimes:

  • Sensitivity fosters strong opinions
  • Intensity makes reactions forceful
  • Persistence makes them want to do it themselves
  • Perceptiveness leads to “grazing”
  • Slow adaptability makes getting them to the table difficult
  • Irregularity leads to erratic hunger pains
  • High energy leads to a desire to eat on the run
  • A negative first reaction leads to frequent refusals

If you have a  good idea what is leading your child to battle you at mealtimes, understanding their temperment enables you to communicate that you care how they feel, and to seek more effective ways to help them eat. The following are some ideas I’ve tried myself or taken from The Difficult Child or Raising Your Spirited Child.

Breastfeed. Breastmilk is the perfect food for babies, and provides countless nutritional benefits, even to toddlers. These benefits last well into adulthood, but more immediately, they make transitioning to tablefood easier. Because breastmilk has everything a baby/toddler needs (except vitamin D which can be obtained through sunlight) there is no reason to pressure your young child to eat a lot of food. You can offer them the freedom to experiment until they decide they like food afterall. We did this with our third child; he went straight from breastmilk to tablefood (with supplemental breastmilk) around 8 or 9 months, and so far we’ve had the fewest diet-related challenges with him.

Introduce new foods gradually, offer them over and over again, and whatever you do, don’t take personal offense when they don’t like it! Especially if your child is sensitive, or slow to adapt, it may take a while before they’re willing to like a new food. Also, don’t challenge their threshold. If they don’t like it, ask them to label what is bothering them (color, texture, flavor, temperature, etc.), and if possible give them two choices you can both agree on. If that’s not an option, teach them how to refuse food respectfully.

Think variety, not quantity. Who knew you could learn something so crucial from a movie star’s wife! A cousin gave me Jessica Seinfeld’s book, Deceptively Delicious for Christmas. Honestly, I didn’t like the idea of hiding veggies because I thought it would reinforce my kids’ belief that veggies are yucky, but since the fight over them wasn’t working either, I did it. I blended up spinach and hid it in their bagel pizzas. Read here to discover their reaction. In her book, Jessica talks about the need to give variety to childrens’ diets, but emphasises that they don’t need to eat as much as we do. Four bites of a vegetable offer significant nutritional benefits for children, and if battles over food are a regular occurence, hiding them until the kids are a little older may give you all a chance to rethink how you address food. Whatever you do, don’t get into the habit of making two (or more) separate meals at a time, it’s just not worth it!

Let them snack, and eat how much they want. This goes along with thinking “variety not quantity”, but it is important to remember that energetic little people cannot sit down for three meals a day. You can make them, but they won’t eat much, and they’ll complain of being hungry just 20 minutes later. Grazing won’t spoil your child. Eating together is important for many families, but for the spirited child you will not ruin their appetite by offering them healthy snacks throughout the day. In fact, you’ll just help them to be healthier.

Involve them in food prep, and let them know what’s on the menu for the day. Some kids are more willing to try foods if they help make them. If you’re like me, you’ll want to be left alone in the kitchen, but inviting the kids to help say, at least once a week, will give them a great opportunity to learn and explore possibilities. If your child is slow to adapt, sharing the daily menu gives them time to adjust and mentally prepare for the meals, perhaps making mealtime easier for everyone.

Rewards. Some kids will eat their food if you offer them a reward. You might think this is bribing, but the reward doesn’t have to be dessert. Some parents have success using the star system, giving their kids a small gift or privelege after a specified number of meals eaten without complaint. If you try this, keep the child’s age in mind. A 2 year old, for example, will have more difficulty lasting a week then a 4 year old.

Vitamins. If your child refuses to eat, nothing is working, and their health is becoming compromised, you should make sure they are taking good quality vitamins with minerals until they are eating well. When Buddy was about 2 years old he started eating the strangest things, like dust and baby powder. I did some research and found that childhood pica is often associated with a mineral deficiency. I switched him to a brand of vitamins that included minerals and the dust-eating stopped almost immediately!

We still sometimes have problems with our kids refusing food, but the research we’ve done and attention we’ve given to their temperments has helped us to manage most of the challenges we’ve faced. If you have any other ideas that have worked for you, do share!

The last two posts in this series are: Disciplining the Spirited Child and Planning for Success. Stay tuned!

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!