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 print 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.
Yes! Yes! Yes! I have found with my spirited son that the lack of “get it” from those around me has been so disheartening. Just reading your series has been so encouraging to me. I cannot thank you enough for helping me realize I am not alone!
Amy – Thank you so much for your comment. I’m so thankful you are finding the series encouraging. I have to admit I realized today I was only half way through the month and felt a little overwhelmed. But I know that these topics are sooo important to the parents in the trenches with them and so I’m persevering!
I really appreciate all the effort you are putting into this series (my kids thank you too!). I have been so encouraged and inspired. Thank you!
I’m so happy that you “get” Caroline! I was/am Caroline and growing up with a family that I don’t blame, but struggled with every step of the way caused me to cower in fear during a large portion of my life. They sought control and the last time I was hit I was 22. I don’t blame them, but I don’t have the drive I feel inside me because I fight some mysterious force that I know is trying to bring me into line.
I do have one piece of clarity that may pertain to Caroline. You said that in a book it mentions, “Spirited kids need, want, and seek power. ” We do, but over ourselves and we seek to enlighten the world. One more piece of clarity….it never goes away. Caroline will always be Caroline and that’s a good thing.
Best of luck to you and yours!
Oh my Sallie. I had to smile, chuckle and reflect on my own childhood. My mothers name was Sally so I could imagine all the better. My mother was an organizing queen. What you described of your daughter was me to a T. I was and am the furthest thing from organizing. I was that persistant spirited child. Reading your post was as if I was reading something my mother would have written about myself and the dynamics between us.
I remember driving my mother to tears many times.
Its something though. My daughter is a replica of myself. One would think id be well prepared to handle this type of child being I was just like her but its far from it. Many days ive secretly cried wondering just how to handle such a child. This book helped a lot along with others. I can relate to a lot. Even from a theological standpoint.
Thank you for writing this post !
I too have a spirited child. I knew it from the very beginning. She has always been such a joy and we have always embraced it but I have noticed that as she get older…she is now 7, it is getting much harder and I feel out of control. Her teacher told me she is a “zest of life” I am so glad to be here and hope to learn a few things a long the way. I don’t want to damper her spirit and I want to continue to embrace it but the attitude has gotten out of hand. Help!:)