According to the book Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic, spirited children are those who are more. All children have these characteristics in varying degrees, but spirited children have them in a major way. This includes our Caroline.
People who know me in real life would probably describe me in terms such as reserved, thoughtful, and introverted. I am inclined toward classic clothing, Baroque music, and quietly reading a book in my orderly home where everything is in its place before bed.
People who know Caroline in real life would probably describe her as spirited, imaginative, creative, intense, and exuberant. She is inclined toward cheetah prints clothes, hot pink tennis shoes, music with a strong beat, and creating imaginative scenarios for her stuffed animals and dolls including strewing craft materials everywhere throughout her room. Somehow, in some way, I produced a child who is organizationally challenged and I cannot figure it out since I come from a long line of women who organize as naturally as breathing.
So as you can imagine, having a spirited child has been a challenge for me.
Persistence in the Spirited Child
Caroline fits all of the spirited descriptions to varying degrees. Of the five she is by far persistent more than any of the others. I mean persistent like I’ve never experienced in a small child even as an infant. So I’m going to focus on that one aspect here even though there is much I could write about some of the other traits as well.
What do I mean by persistent? From the book:
Living with the “raw gem” of a persistent child is not easy. To tell these kids no, to thwart their efforts, is to risk their wrath. Even as infants they are incredibly determined and strong. They push where other kids don’t push. They demand more than other kids demand. And they never give up. It is nearly impossible to ignore them or distract them. In every situation they meet us head-on, ready to do battle.
Persistence is the temperamental trait that plays a major role in power struggles. Spirited kids need, want, and seek power. But we can learn to choose our battles wisely. We don’t have to fight every day. By recognizing our children’s drive and goal orientation, we can teach them to channel their persistence appropriately–to use it as an asset rather than a weapon. We can be a problem-solving family where persistence and commitment to one’s goals is celebrated, and the ability to work with others is a honed skill.
I am not joking when I say that Caroline was persistent in the womb. During a long stretch in the third trimester if I even attempted to lay in bed on my left side she would kick relentlessly. I never won. She would kick so long and so persistently that I would turn. I didn’t have any way of knowing if she was uncomfortable or what. But she clearly made her wishes known and did not relent in any way.
The Art of Negotiating for Win-Win
One of the keys bits we put together was that we were going to have to think win-win and get used to negotiating with this child. I mean as a three or four year old she could have worn out and negotiated the most savvy professional under the table. So we set out to figure out how to deal with the fact that we had this little person in our family who we discerned was honestly not trying to be disrespectful or manipulative, but just had at a very early age a very clear sense of who she was and what she was about.
Thinking Theologically about Persistence
Part of the struggle for us was sorting through our own theological expectations. We were surrounded by people who believed in first time obedience, spanking, parenting with authority, etc. We quickly figured out that this approach to parenting would be disastrous to our family. But we also wanted to make choices that were in line with the Scriptures and so had to spend some time thinking and praying through these issues (which is really another post!).
Once we understood that we could effectively parent Caroline from a biblical perspective that did not require spanking and lording over her with our position of authority, we were able to begin to try to mend the relationship with her that had been somewhat challenged because of the expectations we brought to the situation.
We also recognized that God had created her this way for a purpose. We believe that we are stewards of her life until she can take control of it for herself. If God created her as this incredibly persistent person, then He must have purposes for it. Our job is to help her understand how to channel that persistence in ways that are an asset both to herself and to those around her. Knowing her persistence will serve her well as an adult gives purpose to the sometimes hard work we’ve had to do and has helped us embrace this aspect of her spiritedness.
Do we always do it perfectly? No. We still struggle with it at times. But as we’ve worked through some significant issues already with Caroline (such as Halloween), we can see that it has strengthened our relationship with her and that she trusts us to listen and be fair as much as possible.
Raising Your Spirited Child, Third Edition: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and EnergeticTaming the Spirited Child: Strategies for Parenting Challenging Children Without Breaking Their SpiritsStrong-Willed Child or Dreamer?Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook