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.
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.
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.