Thursday, February 21, 2013

What Traits make a Spirited Child "Spirited"?

The book I found most useful in helping me to understand and learn to handle Kai's spiritedness was Raising your Sprited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.
I can't recommend this book enough.  The first two sentences state "The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more.  They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than other children" (Kurcinka, 9.)

How does it feel to raise a spirited child you might ask?  Well from personal experience I can tell you it is embarrassing, utterly exhausting, at times even mind numbing.  As the book says, "You feel weary, drained, and much too old for this... It's hard to love a child that keeps you up at night and embarrasses you in shopping centers."  It also says, "On the bad days, being the parent of a spirited child is confusing, frustrating, taxing, challenging, and guilt-inducing.  You may wonder if you are the only parent with a child like this..." (Kurckinka,10.)

But on the other hand, it is also awe inspiring, amazing, and quite humorous. Kai never ceases to make me laugh even when he is in big trouble.  I am amazed at how intelligent he is and how many things he notices that I don't even see anymore.  "On the good days, being the parent of a spirited child is astounding, dumbfounding, wonderful, funny, interesting, and interspersed with moments of brilliance" (Kurcinka, 10.)

There is a quiz you can take that breaks spiritedness into nine categories.  These categories are intensity, persistence, sensitivity, perceptiveness, adaptability,regularity, energy, first reaction, and mood.  Those with spirited kids can take this very quiz at this link:  Take it and let me know where your spirited kids rank high!  This link also has many other good resources for parents of spirited children.

Kai scores a 5 on the intensity scale.  He is dramatic and has never been one to just cry.  He shrieks, wails, hits, screams when he is angry or upset.  When happy, he loudly yells, laughs, talks.  He is pure loudness.  Another aspect to intensity is how easily frustrated your child gets.  Kai gets very frustrated, very quickly.  He can be happily playing with a toy and then start throwing it and crying when he can't figure something out.  Even at just 2.5 months, he was intense.  I was letting him put his toes in the jacuzzi tub on vacation and when I stopped to take him in and lay him down he erupted in shrieks so loud that they could have woken the dead.  It was a very newborn version of his tantrums today.

He is very high in persistence.  He is not redirected unless he chooses to be.  No is not an acceptable answer to anything ever.  When he feels he has been wronged (or the wind blows the wrong way,) he can tantrum for over an hour. Heck he has even went down for a nap tantruming and woke up right back into the tantrum.  Last night for example, he wanted to watch train videos on youtube since that is his current fascination.  Our internet was being too slow and kept freezing up.  He screamed and tantrumed for two straight hours with the only legible words in that time being train trackksssss and Michela (my bestie who he loves skyping with and who conveniently to him rides a train twice a day.)  Then like a light switch when he decided he was over it 2 hours and 15 minutes later, he started shrieking with joy and turning circles and laughing hysterically.  We were left staring with our mouths hanging open at what had just transpired.

 The other category he ranks very high in is energy.  He is always moving, even in his sleep.  He prefers running to walking and is always spinning in circles, climbing up and down the couch, riding the dog.  This is the reason church is such a challenge for him.  He hates to be still or confined for even a few minutes and an hour is pure torture for him.  His behavior is much better days that we have play dates or go to the park or the bounce house.  It can be very challenging on rainy or cold days.

He is in the middle of the scales in all the other categories.  Perceptiveness I mentioned earlier in that he notices everything.  He sees the moon when it out in the daytime.  He noticed ants on the sidewalk.  He never misses a single plane that goes overhead.  He also can hear the planes and trains even when we are inside and will point the noise out to me.  The other notable category is regularity.  He was a horrible sleeper until after a year old and even now is a very light sleeper and still wakes up at least once a week where I have to assist him in going back to sleep.  One thing that is a bit nice is he is only a 2 in first reaction and mood which means he is fairly quick to jump in with only a bit of hesitation in new situations and in a good mood more often that not (you know when he isn't  throwing fits haha.)


Some of the other women on my panel had examples of how their kids are spirited as well.

Camile said:
Wow, I'm looking at this list and Kaylee has so many of these traits. The ones that describe her the most are probably stubborn, obstinate, single-minded, and easily bored. (Although we like to put a positive spin on it and say she's persevering, dedicated, intelligent, and things like that.) An example of this would be whenever she gets a new toy. From an early age, she'd get a toy and become fixated on it until she mastered it. The first time we got her a jigsaw puzzle, she played with it all day, putting it together over and over with new techniques until she could put it together in 1 minute. But after that day, it was boring to her, and she never wanted to do it again. Also, if she is interrupted while doing an activity, she throws a major fit. And her fits can last HOURS! Yesterday, she had to get a blood test, and the lady told me not to worry because she would forget about it in a minute. I just laughed. Kaylee proceeded to cry for the next 2 hours, pausing only to elaborately express her feelings about a lady she didn't know poking her and taking her blood against her wishes. And it was only one of those finger prick tests, lol!  (Kaylee surely scores very high on the persistence scale.)

Fred said:

Melissa asked me to write a little bit about my daughter, Charlotte, and her spirited nature.  Charlotte is 3 ½ and has always given her dad and me a run for our money, from the day she came home as our foster child at 2 days old!  (We finalized her adoption at 13 months, if you’re curious).  She is SO fun to be around, and life is certainly never dull when she’s nearby, but parenting her is certainly a challenge.  I thought I’d take a look at all the temperament traits that “spirited” kids tend to have, tell you how Char scores on a scale of 1-5, and maybe tell a story or two about each. 

Intensity:  On a scale of 1 to 5, I would only rank Char at about a 4.  She can be loud and boisterous, but she can be reigned in when she needs to be, as long as she isn’t overstimulated.

Sensitivity:  This one, she definitely ranks a 5.  We’ve actually had her evaluated for sensory issues multiple times.  She is a “sensory seeker”, meaning she is always craving most stimuli (the only ones she shies away from is sound and texture; she is very sensitive to loud noises and is always covering her ears and she is sensitive to clothing fit and feel).  Running, swinging, sliding, twirling, and especially CLIMBING!  She has been a climber since well before she could walk, always using her toys in ways they definitely weren’t intended. 
At 15 months, she pulled the drawers in the highboy out and used them like stair steps while I was in the bathroom.  If you think you have a sensitive kiddo, you DEFINITELY want to bolt EVERYTHING to the walls!  In fact, my husband and I recently converted our bonus room into a sensory gym of sorts with a climbing dome, a mini trampoline, a textured giant bean bag we call the “crash bag”, a balance board, a gymnastics bar, and a rope ladder that she uses both to climb and to swing on.  Also, the child never, ever wears socks, except at Monkey Joe’s where they are required.  A fact she bemoans every time, and we have to take a long time getting the seams to line up just right for her toes. 

And one BIG challenge we’ve seen from this is that she gets overstimulated really easily.  Crowds, noises, lights, etc are really a challenge.  Trying to go somewhere like a shopping mall at Christmastime or a theme park is really difficult.  Her default overstimulated behaviors are running, whining/crying/general bad mood, pulling away when we try to grab her arm to keep her from running, and yelling.  Containing her is tough because she won’t want to be carried, but not containing her is not an option because it happens in open, crowded areas.  To be quite honest, we just avoid these situations as much as possible, and introduce them in small doses when we’re prepared to leave early about once or twice a year to see how she handles it.  This one is definitely improving over time (for example, we CAN go to Monkey Joe’s now where once upon a time we could not), but slowly.  I don’t see us trying a place like Walt Disney World for several years yet.

Perceptiveness:  Ah, yes, this is becoming a real challenge as she is in preschool.  I rank her a 5 for sure.  She has trouble napping when it isn’t completely dark and devoid of all motion around her, which means at best she naps 15 minutes at school.  Concentration on her “work” at school or home is also a problem.  She is highly distractible, when it benefits her.  The thing that seems to set her apart from a child with ADD or ADHD is that she can absolutely concentrate, when it suits her best.  Which brings us to Persistence.

Persistence:  The ages of 11 months to 16 or so months were the absolute worst for me as a parent.  Charlotte was SO precocious in a lot of ways, and it truly felt like the “Terrible Twos” had happened a solid year early in our house.  In fact, I still kind of believe that to be the case.  When Charlotte wanted something, Charlotte figured out a way to make it happen.  Even as early a 2 days old, when I laid her down on her blanket for her first “tummy time”, she actually lifted her head up and turned it around and laid it down on the other cheek so she could look at me as I had moved across the room.  At 14 months, she wanted to go outside at daycare, but it wasn’t time to go outside.  She had started saying “Sigh ow” for “outside”, and she apparently said it forcefully several times, but of course her teachers ignored her.  So, she waited for the teacher’s back to turn, went over to the little tables, pushed one of the itty bitty toddler chairs over to the back door, stood on top of it and opened the dead bolt, pushed the chair out of the way, and opened the door… and then encouraged her friends to go outside with her. 

More recently, an indoor playground opened up and started offering drop in child care, where they assign a person to watch over the kids.  Sounded like a great opportunity for my husband and me to catch a matinee movie.  Well, this playground also hosts birthday parties, and they were setting everything up for a “pirate party” that day.  Charlotte was caught peeking under the tent.  She went back to playing.  Then she told her male caregiver that she needed to go to the bathroom, opened the bathroom door, waited for his back to turn, darted out and into the birthday tent, climbed UNDER the table where the blue cupcakes were, reached up into the back of the table (because she’s smart enough to know they would be less noticeable if missing from the back), took two cupcakes, again waited for the attendant’s back to turn, and went back into the bathroom and ate the cupcakes.  When she had been “in the bathroom” for about 5 minutes, her caregiver asked the female owner to go check on her in the girl’s room.  When she did, she found Charlotte covered head to toe in BLUE.  She said, “Charlotte, why are you blue?”  Charlotte, completely deadpan, said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  So the owner took her over to the mirror and showed her, and Char again said very seriously, “See, I’m not blue.”  I only know the details of the theft because the owner went onto the videotape and saw exactly what she did.  When we came to pick her up, I asked if she was allowed to come back.  The owner (who, incidentally, happened to be a former private investigator as well as a former prosecuting attorney) said, “Oh, no, you have to bring her back because I find the criminal mind so fascinating.”  So, yeah, for persistence, I give my girl about 100 on a scale of 1 to 5!

Adaptability:  On a scale of 1 to 5, I would rank Char at about a 4.  She has some trouble with transitions, but now that we recognize the trouble, we can help ease her through it.  I have found that, while there is NO cure for her persistence (and I’m not entirely sure I want there to be, to be honest, because it above all else will serve her really well some day), if we really work on warning Charlotte of what is going to happen, she adapts fairly well.  We can certainly predict that days where something is different, like a field trip at school or a teacher out sick or a new kid starting, her behavior is likely to be more challenging, but we are able to work with her on it. 

Regularity:  On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Char a 1.  She actually is a pretty regular kid, which is certainly helpful.

Energy:  On a scale of 1 to 5, she certainly earns a 5 here.  Or at least a 4, as she has slowed down a LITTLE bit in the last year or so.  She thrashed around as an infant, crawled early and FAST, cruised early and often, ran early, jumped early, and just never slowed down.  She even thrashes around in her sleep!  Her preschool teacher actually asked me if she had been energetic in the womb, but of course I wasn’t there.  I am going to guess YES as she certainly had energy as a newborn (part of which is explainable by withdrawals from the drugs she was exposed to, but not entirely).

First Reaction:  Char generally has a positive first reaction.  She is friendly with strangers, and she jumps into new situations with both feet (sometimes literally).  In fact, she is so gung ho about it that I almost think it’s a spirited trait of hers, just in the opposite direction from most!

Mood:  I’m going to give her about a 3 on mood.  She’s a reasonably happy kiddo.  She has grumpy mornings, but doesn’t everyone? 

If you’re keeping score, out of a possible 45, Charlotte scores a 33, with 29+ being “spirited”.  A couple of years ago, she probably would have scored close to 40, so there is definitely improvement.  Sometimes it’s tough to know if SHE’S changing in terms of spiritedness, or if WE are just getting better at meeting her needs and anticipating and thus avoiding possible trouble spots.  Either way, it’s a lot of fun to be Charlotte’s mom, and I wouldn’t change a thing… except maybe try to work less so I could rest more!

One more comment:  I know it can be easy to label our kids with words like “stubborn”, “pigheaded”, “hyperactive”, “wild”, etc, but the truth is that most of these traits have the ability to help your child succeed in life.  A confident child who likes things her own way may be less likely to fall into peer pressure.  An energetic and persistent child may focus that energy into a project that could become an amazing invention or develop an incredible talent.  We see our job as the need to help Charlotte learn to channel her unique traits into talents that will help her, rather than applying negative labels as much as possible.

Susan says:
I didn’t score A on all of the traits because honestly I’m a bit terrified of what her final score would be . I am not at all shocked though that she scored 5 out of 5 for Intensity and Energy. Intense and energetic are a wonderful way to describe her and her personality. I often joke with friends that she is “go go go” from the time she wakes up to the time she goes to bed and that she has one volume…LOUD! But it’s true. She wakes up at 6am (or earlier) and is ready for the day and literally runs down the hallway to my bedroom and jumps on my bed and is ready to go! The problem with her insane amount of energy is that it distracts her from things like looking where she is going. So in the process of running downstairs she will trip or run into a wall and then we meet the intensity. The loud wail when she gets hurt…either physically or emotionally. Then we meet it again with breakfast. We either get the loud exclamation of joy that she gets to eat what she wants for breakfast or the loud exclamation of distaste that she can’t have tacos for breakfast.
This continues all day every day. If she’s not asleep she’s moving. If she’s not 100% happy she’s screaming. And if she is 100% happy she wants everyone to know about it! So more or less it would be a good idea to invest in a bunch of ear plugs!
The other day I was out to lunch with a friend. I was literally chasing A around the restaurant and she was screaming all because I was trying to put a coat on her. Most of the time I don’t even bother with trivial things like coats (if she’s cold she will ask for it) But with a temp of -5 outside I figured it was worth the fight. She also figured it was worth a fight. I love that she knows what she wants. I think it will be beneficial for her when she’s older, but damn, right now it’s exhausting for me!

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  1. Just a note that ADHD includes the characteristic of being able to focus intensely on something enjoyable and have trouble transitioning from that activity. It's called hyperfocus. Also, my theory is that ADHD is a personality type/subtype not a disorder.

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