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Got a ‘Spirited’ Child? Here’s How to Know for Sure

Great news for any parent struggling with an emotionally challenging, larger-than-life kid: Help has arrived. In her best-selling book Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic, parenting expert (and mother of a spirited son) Mary Sheedy Kurcinka shows readers how to reframe their children’s “issues” as attributes, defuse meltdowns by anticipating their triggers and parent from a place of positivity. Her motto (which we are now officially adopting): “Progress, Not Perfection.” But first, six ways to recognize if you’re raising this truly special kind of kid.  

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Your Child Is Normal but “More”
This is how Sheedy Kurcinka defines a spirited child: “More intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive and uncomfortable with change than other children.” There is never a dull moment with this kind of kid. They are often, in fact, beyond-their-years brilliant. “Spirited kids are the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls,” she writes. “Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling.” But raising a child with these qualities can feel, exhaustingly, like “sliding from joy to exasperation in seconds, ten times a day.” Some moms helicopter parent. You roller coaster parent. 

The Littlest Things Become Big Problems 
“It’s hard to feel good as a parent,” she writes, “when you can’t even get his socks on, when every word you’ve said to him has been a reprimand, when the innocent act of serving chicken instead of the expected tacos incites a riot, when you realize you’ve left more public places in a huff with your child in five years than most parents do in a lifetime.” Anyone else sobbing yet?

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They Are Super Sensitive
“Spirited kids quickly respond to the slightest noises, smells, lights, textures, or changes in mood. They are easily overwhelmed in crowds by the barrage of sensations. Getting them through a shopping center, long religious service, carnival or family gathering without losing them to a fit of tears is a major achievement. Dressing can be torture. A wayward string or scratchy texture can render clothes intolerable. Every sensation and emotion is absorbed by them, including your feelings." 

And Distractible
“Send them to their room to get ready and they’ll never make it,” writes Sheedy Kurcinka. “Something along the way—perhaps a flash of light at the window—will catch their attention as they walk by and they’ll forget about getting dressed. It can take ten minutes to get them from the house to the car…They are often accused of not listening.” 

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You Can’t Turn Your Back for a Second
Spirited kids “tend to be busy—fidgeting, taking things apart, exploring, and creating projects—from the time they wake up until they finally fall asleep,” she writes, adding that irregular, unpredictable sleeping patterns are also part of the profile. Raise your hand if anyone—yourself included—has ever called your kid "wild." “Not all spirited children have a high energy level. [But] for those who do, it is often the energy that first catches a parent’s attention.” 

And All of the Above Has You Feeling All the Feels
Sheedy Kurcinka lays out a credo for parents of spirited kids. The highlights bear repeating on hard days: You are not alone. “According to personality research, 15 to 20 percent of all children fit the description of the spirited child.” You are not to blame for your kid's behavior. “You are but one of the many influences in your child’s life.” Self-care is “an essential and noble cause…You have permission to take care of yourself…When you address your needs, you calm yourself, making it easier to calm your child.” And that’s exactly what you’ll do. Starting now. Just as soon as you pass us the tissues.