Let me give you just a few suggestions, whether you are the parent of one or just a friend (or even observer) of one. :) This isn't necessarily professional advice. More like advice from a mom who has been there. Actually, not been but IS there.
Advice for the parents of a Spirited Child:
- Read the book (Raising Your Spirited Child). I am not saying it is the only authority on energetic, strong willed children. But it is informative. Don't be fooled by how long it is. I enjoyed every single page.
- Give yourself a break. Every day. It can be exhausting. Please don't misunderstand. The spirited child is NOT evil (though it may feel like that on occasion). But he/she can be exhausting. It like you have to be "on" all of the time, whether it is anticipating a meltdown, dealing with the fallout of a change in schedule, or just keeping up with the activity. You need a break, whether it is exercise, a long hot bath, or just holding the dog in your lap and chilling. Hubby just said tonight that he thinks our dog saved me. It isn't quite that dramatic, but she is a HUGE stress reliever for me. Thankfully, she is not spirited. :)
- Pray. A lot. I don't do that as often as I should but it is important. Because spirited children will not always be quite the way they are now. They do grow up. I think that spirit stays with them but eventually self-control will come. Or at least we are hoping. :) I have found that praying with that child helps a lot. I do often use that time to specifically pray for certain behaviors. It doesn't mean they are angels the next day, but at least they are listening. We just don't pray at night either. We pray before we drop off for school too.
- Monitor and adjust. I used to be under the impression that basically all methods work for all children. That was before Spirited Children came into my life. Sometimes you have to individualize. For one of mine, a timer makes the biggest difference. I still expect first time obedience, but he needs a warning that his time is almost up. Or he needs to know that he has a limited time to get his pj's on or he may not get to read a book. That eliminates some of the spirited child's urge to notice every little thing around him which can be rather poky.
- Know your child. If your child cannot handle long waits, do NOT set yourself up for failure by going somewhere where there are going to be long waits. We actually went for a period where we picked up restaurant food instead of going out (not every day, just on days we would have normally eaten out) because it was so much less stressful. It wasn't defeat. It didn't mean I didn't have control. There was just no reason to do that to ourselves. And when we felt like that child was more ready, we went out again.
- Along with knowing your child, understand his/her needs. I may think the roller coaster ride of fears is a bit silly. But it is real to them. So I make an effort to listen to what they are afraid of and help them overcome those fears. Schedules/routines are very important for both my spirited kids, even though they may balk. They need that comfort in knowing what is coming next. Our older kids' sporting events often occur when the spirited kids need to be napping or going to bed. As nice as it would be for all of us to go cheer on the big kids, it is not fair to do that to the younger kids. We take turns going to watch if needed so that we can keep the routine at home.
- Expect the worst. Changes in environment or routine can really rock a spirited child's world. Ask the parents of a spirited child what Christmas is like. I mean, Christmas brings out the craziness in the non-spirited child. Imagine what it does to the spirited kid! We can't always avoid those changes for holidays, trips, etc. Just don't expect your child is going to roll with the flow. If they do, enjoy it. But if meltdowns occur, well, do what you can to diffuse them and know in your heart that your child isn't bad. They are just reacting (strongly) to the changes. I can say that it gets better. They can outgrow some of these things.
- Be creative. Just because our children are spirited does NOT mean we don't discipline. We are actually very consistent, probably more so than with our other kids. We have to be. If we give in once, it will be expected over and over again. But we sometimes have to be creative. We do a lot of "do overs", saying "Try that again" or "Say that again". I have had to hold children, almost wrapping them, while they wriggled and fought back until the frustration had passed (to keep them safe). A surgical mask can be worn (by the child) for phases of spitting or mittens for phases of pinching. (Spirited children seem to enjoy trying out lots of phases...the good news is that they will come to an end. The bad news is we always wonder what the next one will be :) We have to be creative in day to day events too. We stopped dressing our daughter in white shirts; she couldn't handle the tank top I insisted she wear under them due to sensitivity issues. A few minutes on my elliptical machine can use up some of that excessive energy and even help calm the child.
- Anticipate. Know what might set your child off whether it is a change in routine or having to stop an activity early. Give warnings when possible. "We have to leave the house in five minutes; start wrapping up that Lego project." Or "We are going to a new house today to meet some friends. It will be new but sometimes new is fun!" I have even had one of my kiddos practice what she can say when opening presents because that first reaction is not always positive. It can come across rude when that wasn't her intent. So we practiced, role played, and even got silly with it. "What could you say if Grandma gave you a bag of dog bones?" Know your child's sensitivities. If he/she prefers lukewarm water, do NOT turn the water to the temperature you prefer. Anticipate his/her reactions.
- Be your child's advocate. We are very fortunate this year that the teachers of our children just accept them for who they are and are very receptive to any suggestions I have. I am thankful for that. That won't always be the case. Some people won't respect those differences, whether intentionally or just out of ignorance. When our daughter first came home (via adoption), people would just reach for her to hold her, almost grabbing her out of my arms. I mean, she was adorable. I know why they did. But she was traumatized by so many changes and now we know what a spirited child she is...she was slow to adjust. It was torture for her, and she wasn't afraid to show it. I finally had to be firm and tell people, "Let her come to you; please don't try to force that." I think some people (probably not parents of spirited children) were offended. And I really don't like offending people. But I was my child's advocate. I had to be. She couldn't do it.
- Be open to other issues. Just because a child is "spirited" does not mean he/she has a "get out of jail free" card to other issues. He/she may truly be hyperactive/ADHD. (I have learned that the doctors won't even talk about that until they are school age) Or he/she may have sensory issues (more than likely does) and may need specialized therapy to help in that. At the same time, don't be too quick to label either.
- Celebrate successes. It is SOOO easy to find yourself discouraged on the days when your child is a handful. I know. I have had many tears cried into my pillow. Days that I hid out in the shower trying to drown out the stresses of the world around me. Days that I have questioned myself, my children, God. But it can be easy to overlook successes. And there are some. Some need to be celebrated with children, whether it is a quick "Thank you for stopping what you were doing immediately" or "I am proud of you for handling that disappointment so well" or a trip to Fun City to celebrate a great week of self-control at school. Then there are some that need to be celebrated in your own heart, like the joy of seeing him try a food for the first time and not react badly or the first time she sits through a book without jumping all over the couch. Celebrate.
- Kind of going along with the above, don't beat yourself up. And don't let your view of your child become so negative that you lose sight of the wonderful creature God created them to be. Yes, spirited children are challenging. And there are many adjustments that need to be made for them to adjust to our world. But at the same time, those same children can grow up and be the innovators, the creators, the inventors, the leaders of our world. They have the qualities in place. They just need to learn how to channel them correctly!
- Don't compare your child to others. It is easy to do. You go to a restaurant and see a little child two years younger than yours sitting politely, not complaining, not touching every utensil on the table. It is easy to look at that child wistfully and think, "Why not me?" Just remind yourself that many children in the world are not spirited children. And it is like comparing apples to oranges when you compare the two. Instead, look around the restaurant for the other spirited children in the restaurant and give their parents an "I know, I understand" smile.
- Treasure them. Treasure that child. Remember that God created him/her in all of his/her spirit and trusted you enough to love and raise that child. Parents raising non-spirited children are not "lucky" or "more blessed" or even "more loved" by God. They just have different paths in life. Trust me when I say it has taken me a long time to truly believe those words. I wish I believed them every single moment of the day. But it is true. Now I try to thank God for trusting me enough to give me this privilege.
If you are the friend of a parent with a spirited child (or in my case, spirited children) OR even just the casual observer of one at the grocery store, here are a few suggestions for you:
- Don't judge. Really. Don't. Especially if you have just "regular" children. It is SOOO easy to think the other parent must not be parenting right. I know. I am pretty sure I was that person once upon a time. But now that I have both spirited and non spirited, I can say that we are very consistent in our parenting of ALL four kids. Two comply easily (fairly). Two don't. So I am pretty sure it isn't the parenting. Really, the don't judge thing can go beyond the spirited child. That child throwing a tantrum on the floor of the grocery store may have autism, be dealing with traumas you can never fathom, have just lost a parent, etc. I wish the world wasn't so judgmental. Even if people don't say it, parents of that child can see it on their faces. And it hurts.
- Encourage. Don't criticize.
- Be understanding. Of both child and mom/dad. If Mom is a little extra snappy one day, understand that it may have been a humdinger of a morning.
- Pray for the family.
- Help them. Last year a friend of mine (very laidback personality) invited our son to go swimming with her son. It was one of the first times I hadn't had him in the house with me for an hour or two when they weren't at school or unless he was running errands with daddy. My son had a wonderful time and enjoyed that. And I got to enjoy just a few minutes of not having to supervise every single activity of his. Even if you don't want to take the chance to have a spirited child in your presence for a while, you can help in other ways. We have had people offer to transport our big kids to their events when it interfered with the routines of our little ones. One day at church, a friend offered to walk the bigger kids to their classes (they had to be signed in) so I wouldn't have to do that with the then toddler in hand. I doubt that friend knows how much that meant to me. I still tear up thinking about it.
- Don't compare your children (or your parenting skills) to that spirited child or his/her parents. You just can't. It isn't a fair battle. Kind of on the same note, bragging about your child's straight A's or perfect school behavior is likely to cause some hurt for your friends. Just be considerate. :)
- Celebrate successes with your friends. One of my kiddos had a really good week last week. What made it even more special was the "celebrations" from friends and family via e-mail, Facebook, etc.
I am sure I could go on and on.
I think it is pretty evident I am passionate about this issue.
But I will stop for now.
Feel free to e-mail me (address is on the sidebar of the blog) or FB me or whatever if you have questions. I am no expert (really, I am not an expert on anything) but I have learned a few things or two in the past few years. Even if you don't have questions, feel free to vent or share your own parenting frustrations. I am a big believer in honesty. I love my children with ALL of my heart. But this parenting thing is NOT a piece of cake. I won't judge you for your feelings or thoughts as a parent. I have probably been there.