My Spirited Child

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A couple months ago, I asked all of you imaginary friends for some advice on how to handle Gracie and her sassy self.  You all gave us some great advice, a lot of which we have followed in our house.  I think the most common suggestion from readers, though, was to read the book, “Raising Your Spirited Child.”  It took me a while to get around to it, but I finally picked up a copy a few weeks ago.  A lot of you asked me to report back on what I’d learned and thought about the book, so here I go…

What the book is about:  The book is about raising children who are just more intense than other children.  “Spirited children” have higher highs and lower lows than others their age.  They are easily excitable, but also easily frustrated.  Based on the back of the book, Gracie fit the description perfectly.

What I liked about the book:  I loved getting to know the characteristics of a spirited child.  The book teaches you about why most children react strongly, and then explains how that is just part of who they are as a person.  The author also focuses intensely on the fact that being a spirited child is never a bad thing.  In fact, the traits that a spirited child possesses are often seen as assets in adults.  It’s our job as parents to find out how to use those traits to model them as children.

What I didn’t like about the book:  While I loved learning about what makes a spirited child, there were some parenting suggestions for spirited children that I didn’t see working in our house.  For example, the author says that time outs are really ineffective for spirited children because it can rev them up and take their frustration to a new level.  The author does advocate giving your child a break when they become upset, but she suggests that you go with them and help them calm down.  I totally understand this perspective.  In fact, we use this method frequently with Gracie.  She does sometimes just need time and space to herself, and so we’ll go sit in her room with her and play quietly until she calms herself down.

But we do use time outs in our house, too.  Our time outs are not for instances when Gracie is having one of her meltdowns, though.  Those meltdowns are real instances of her having trouble getting herself under control, and we try to remember they are not discipline issues.  What we do use time outs for are for blatant rule breaking.  Throwing, hitting, kicking, screaming, etc.  Those will all land you in the slammer at our house – spirited child or otherwise.

Another thing I disagreed with was negotiating with spirited children to get something that both the child and the parent are happy with.  Perhaps this would work better with older children, but at this age neither of my kids are in negotiating positions.  In fact, I highly doubt we will ever be a negotiating family.  Chris and I were raised in loving homes with parents who set firm limitations.  Negotiating was not part of the process.  If mom said no, then the answer was no.  And that’s how we are raising our children, too.  Now, that doesn’t mean that Chris and I abuse that situation by making outrageous demands or even difficult demands.  But we don’t expect every decision we make to be negotiated with a toddler or preschooler.  Perhaps when they are older, and firm lines of authority have been established, but for now we are not in the position to negotiate.

What we are currently using from the book:  Though the time out and negotiation approaches don’t really jive with our family, there are two practices that we have instantly started using in the book.  The first is understanding what type of child Gracie is.  The book says that you need to understand if your child is an introvert or an extrovert before you begin anything.  This will determine what their needs are when they are feeling over stimulated or frustrated.  I had never really thought about this before, but when I read the criteria for each, Gracie was a clear introvert and that has impacted so many ways that we interact with her now.  Actually, after reading the descriptions, everyone in our family are introverts, except Bean, who is an extrovert.

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The book talks about introverts and extroverts not necessarily as personality traits, but as ways that different children draw their energy.  Introverts draw their energy from taking time for themselves, while extroverts draw their energy from being with others.  This would explain why traveling totally unwinds Gracie.  She is around people almost the entire trip, and for an introvert, that means she never gets the chance to recharge her batteries.  That also explains why she sometimes wanders up to her room and plays by herself for a little bit when we have people over.  But mostly, it explains why she is so clingy to me.  The author says that for little kids that are Gracie age, they can’t really go off by themselves completely because they are too small, so they instead might need just a few minutes of being held by a “safe person” (a.k.a. Momma) to take a break from the action for a while.  This is totally Gracie.  She will sometimes come over and sit with me when we are out somewhere.  She’ll sit for just a minute, and then go back to playing with other people.  She just needs that time to recharge her batteries.

What this has meant for parenting Gracie is that we have started giving her breaks in her bedroom when she is having meltdowns.  Like the book suggests as alternatives to time out, when she is melting down, we walk her up to her bedroom very calmly and then we start playing with one of her toys while she screams until she calms down and realizes that she isn’t in trouble and that we are just playing in a different place now.  It is amazing how quickly she calms down when we go to a quiet, secluded place without other children or people.  Eventually, she starts playing with us and after a few minutes we sneak out and she continues by herself, which is what her little personality needs.  We could never have done that successfully with Bean.  He would always want us to hang with him.  But Gracie is content and even needs some space and time to herself, so this has worked wonderfully.

Another thing we are using is water play.  The book says that one of the things that spirited children typically love is sensory activities, especially water play.  We now use water play a LOT with Gracie.  When she’s having a meltdown in the kitchen while I’m cooking dinner, I put her up on the counter and turn the faucet on.  She just runs her hands through the water over and over and over again, and it instantly calms her down.  Now, she will even ask for water when she is upset in our kitchen.  We also use baths when things are really tough.  On days when she just can’t get herself together, we go take a bath.  Maybe it’s 11:00 in the morning, or 4:00 in the afternoon.  Doesn’t matter.  We take a bath.  Bean, too.  And it calms her down right away.  We let her play and splash, and it doesn’t take long at all before her whole attitude is changed.

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Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a spirited child.  Actually, I would recommend it to anyone with kids.  It is a great way to look at the psychological make up of our children.  If you happen to be able to pull out some parenting strategies from the book, then that’s a bonus, too.  The book seems to be written for kids that are a little bit older than Gracie (elementary age and above), but even with that age issue, the book is still very interesting and has proven to be highly effective for our family.  Like with all parenting books, read it for what it does offer and just move past parts that don’t work for your family.  I think that’s the best way to handle any parenting philosophy.  You’re still the parent and you still know better than any parenting expert, but use what they offer if you can make it work for your child.  We’re really enjoying the philosophies of this book in our family.

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21 Thoughts to “My Spirited Child”

  1. Michelle

    Katie- THANK YOU! I am reading this after dropping my kids at school. And I have mentally had to reset after a HORRIBLE tantram by my Henry (almost 4) this morning. Nothing worked. Nothing was right. Everything was an issue. I was at the wits end. I seriously thought I was going to start whining with him (Note: tried it, doesn’t work, just makes him madder…). I am buying this book as.we.speak. I need this. Especially at this exact moment. Henry is this definition of this spirited child(Daisy- 2yo is my Bean) Thank you for having the guts to open up. I don’t post comments all the time (not enough hours in the day!) but I am always reading and learning from you and your sweet family. Cheers to learning how to better parent our spirited children! 😉

  2. Jen

    I purchased and read this book when my Emily was around Gracie’s age and it really helped me understand how to deal with her “spiritedness” in a positive light. She is now almost 12 and has become such a sweet loving little lady!

  3. Gracie sounds just like Ellen. I have been told by a lot of people to read this book 🙂 I am going to try the water play idea – I really think that will work with her 🙂

  4. kat

    I think P is much more like Bean than Gracie, but we use a lot of the things you pointed out with her as well – she’s REALLY into sensory play, especially water and although we don’t use it as a calm down tactic, we let her play with our kitchen sink a lot too to keep her entertained for almost an hour (rather than other short term activities). She’s also fitting of an introvert child – she spends a lot of time thinking through everything before taking action, taking it all in, and prefers company of me or just herself and we try to note these when she’s having a hard day.

  5. I never thought about considering whether my son who is Gracie’s age is an extrovert or an introvert. I don’t think he’s “spirited”, but recognizing that he’s an introvert (unlike myself) could be very useful!

  6. Sara

    Katie, you are the best! I love that you give these book reviews – bookmarking this for the future!

  7. From what you wrote, this book sounds awesome to read. I like that you had a “what we like” and “what we didn’t like”… so often I feel like reviews are nothing but positive and then I think “well, that can’t be accurate”.

  8. Katie, have you read the book Quiet, by Susan Cain? I highly recommend it, it’s an extension of the introvert/extrovert discussion and as a parent is a really great way to understand our children!

  9. Casey

    Thank you for this review! I was actually just thinking about this book as my spirited 3 year old was having a complete meltdown over bedtime! I have 2 very spirited little ones so I’ll be picking this one up asap! 🙂

  10. Katie N.

    “Chris and I were raised in loving homes with parents who set firm limitations. Negotiating was not part of the process. If mom said no, then the answer was no. And that’s how we are raising our children, too.”

    Thank you for saying this! I couldn’t agree more, and it’s always refreshing to hear from others who are on the same page 🙂

  11. Mae

    My little Avery will be 2 next month and she sounds just as sassy as Gracie. She has meltdowns if you even look at her the wrong way. Hoping that the book has some tricks that will work on her. Parker, my 3.5 yr old, is also a spirited child…lucky me…2 spirited (very spirited) kids! Glad Gracie is responding well!

  12. I will for sure keep this book in mind as Aubrey gets older. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Keri

    Thanks! I’ve heard about this book and haven’t had a chance to read it. I fear that I have 2 spirited children per your comments…is that possible? Guess I’ll have to read the book to find out. Great suggestion 🙂

  14. Good for you on not negotiating. I think we can see how the world has gotten into the position it is in from this most silly step taken by so-called “parents”. Never move the line, that is the best advice I have ever gotten as a parent. The kids, when they get the chance, will move the line themselves, and it follows that they will learn 1) why they should have respected the line and 2) that maybe their parents know more than they thought.
    This makes for healthy adults. 😉

  15. Cindy

    After reading this post I have realized that Gracie is very similar to my 4 year old daughter, Riley. I’m going to have to read that book. I do some of those techniques with Riley anyway because I have found that it’s how she will settle down.

  16. Kathleen

    Thanks for sharing Katie!! Another friend of mine recommended this book, I will definitely look into it. He also recommended How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Your Kids Will Talk. At first, I was a little resistant cause it’s really different than the way I was raised, but it’s got some really cool (and not like i was raised at all) ideas about communicating with Kids. I find whats best for me in parenting is a hodge podge of so many ideas including how I was raised. You should take a look at this book for sure. It mainly stresses that kids stop the meltdown/fight when they feel heard/understood. And Nutureshock! That’s another book he recommended. Give everyone my love!!

  17. As an introvert myself, I can relate! I also married an extrovert and I need to sit and read this to figure out our son. He is very spirited and loves water – but it would be interesting to see if he is an introvert or extrovert!

  18. Gin

    It’s great that you realized Gracie is an introvert now. Knowing that will make such a difference in her life growing up. For most of my life, I’d thought introvert was synonymous with shy, quiet, and anti-social. One time I was reading “Psychology Today” and it got into the real differences between introverts and extroverts. It was so nice to discover that I could be loud, friendly, and enjoy being around people and still be an introvert. It explained why I can go to a party, have fun, but then absolutely need the next day to hide away all by myself, and that it was okay to do that. Bean and Gracie are so lucky to have parents like you that are willing to combine your parenting style with their needs as people.

  19. […] knew she was going to her little introvert place because she really didn’t want me to help or play at all. She wasn’t showing me things […]

    1. Hey-
      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I too have a spirited 4-year-old introvert and now that I’ve become more attuned to his energy levels/triggers am working hard to help him identify ways to take a time out before the meltdowns (tantrums, hitting, kicking). He generally doesn’t like to be alone – he wants me with him. In fact time outs scare the bejeezus out of him which is why we don’t try and implement them because fear and anger and sadness is a tough nut to crack all at once. I’ve wracked my brain for coping mechanisms – punch pillows (didnt work), run up and down the hall, do jumping jacks (eh). The water idea you suggest seems right on. He has loved putting his hands under water and playing with our faucet since i can remember. In fact sometimes in the evenings when we’re in the living room he’ll go and hang out in the bathroom and just play with water. I never thought anything of it (like maybe this is his way of taking a breather) but it all adds up. Thank you for the suggestions and providing support to other moms like me. I read a lot of parenting books and I agree that you take what you want from them and what works for your family.

  20. […] started using water play with her over a year ago when we read the book “Raising Your Spirited Child.”  I knew it was a wonderful trick […]

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