Sep 24 10
by cara
at 10:04 PM
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Life With a Spirited Child-The Characteristics

In my first post of the series, I introduced you to life with a spirited child.  As I mentioned, life with The Littlest Apple, my own spirited child, can be awesome or awful depending on the day.  But it is never, ever dull. (Today leaned toward awful, in case you were wondering.  No nap, and energy overload since The Littlest Apple has been cooped up post-surgery.  He’s feeling better, but we’re not allowing him to run and jump and wrestle just yet.  He was a complete maniac today…kicking, spitting food and water, throwing things at people, awful tantrums.)

What are the characteristics of spirited children?

No two spirited children are the same.  Depending on which book you read, the characteristics of spirited children may be called different things and they can vary in number.  I like the way the characteristics are divided is Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book Raising a Spirited Child, so that’s what we’ll use as a guideline here.  According to Kurcinka’s book, there are five main characteristics of spirited children (and 4 “bonus” traits).    They may not possess all of these characteristics, but if they are spirited, they possess enough to make them stand out in a crowd.  I’ll introduce the characteristics in this post, and discuss them in more detail in future posts.

image from seanmcgrath via Flickr Creative Commons

The Five Main Characteristics of Spirited Children Are:

1.  Intensity. This is one of the easier traits to spot.  The loud, dramatic, ear-piercing shrieks that can be heard from down the street or across the grocery store.  There is no halfway for an intense child.  They have powerful tantrums, but they also shout with glee and laughter.  This is one of the most challenging tempermental traits to manage.

The Little Apple most certainly has this trait.  He is super expressive with his body language (both good and bad), frequently loud (when happy or upset), and easily frustrated.  He does everything with zest and exuberance!

2.  Persistence. Spirited children often have a one track mind.  Once they have an idea, they are extremely fixated on it.  It’s hard to get them to change their minds.  They demand more than other kids demand and they never give up.  They make it very hard to be ignored or to be distracted.

This is another of the spirited child traits that The Littlest Apple has in high quantities.  While he was in the hospital earlier this week, he decided one morning at 6am that he wanted some hot cocoa.  At the time, he still couldn’t have anything but clear liquids.  He continued to ask for hot cocoa frequently until he finally got some the following morning around 9am.  We heard about that hot cocoa for more than 24 hours before he finally got some!  Nothing else would satisfy him or distract him.  Believe me, we tried!

image from imcountingfuoz via Flickr Creative Commons

3.  Sensitivity. Spirited kids are keenly aware of every little noise, smells, lights, textures, and/or other people’s moods.  Big stores can be overwhelming.  Getting dressed can be a real battle with these children because they notice every scratchy tag, usually hate socks, and are very sensitive to the way things feel.  They really do know the difference between brands of applesauce.

The Littlest Apple is certainly sensitive to smells and textures.  He refuses to kiss people who have stinky breath (morning breath, after eating lots of garlic, etc).  He refuses to use his potty stool because he doesn’t like the way the textured rubber feels on his feet.  And obviously food is a minefield of texture and smell issues.

The Littlest Apple seems to be particularly aware of the moods of others.  He notices how other adults and children are feeling, and if they are angry or sad, it really bothers him.  There are several episodes of his favorite cartoon that he won’t watch because the characters get upset about things.  He ALWAYS knows how I am feeling and will frequently say “Be Happy!” or “Be Patient!” if I look the slightest bit frustrated or sad, (especially as a result of something he did).

4.  Perceptiveness. These kids get sidetracked easily because there is just so much stuff for them to notice along the way and their senses are keen.  They see, feel, and hear things that others don’t notice.  These kids are often accused of not listening or being unable to focus.

Oh dear, I’m afraid we’ve got this one too.  Big time.  The Littlest Apple will notice if one of your shirt buttons is unbuttoned or if you’ve got a loose string on your shirt.  He’ll notice something new on the bookshelf that you acquired while he was at school.  He’ll hear a distant truck or siren.  He notices the air conditioner units on the ceiling at the grocery store.  He asks “What’s that smell?” when we’re in the car and smell gas, truck exhaust, fast food, sewers.  There is no trying to sneak something by The Littlest Apple.  He notices everything.  And yet he also seems to be not listening to what I say a majority of the time.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?

5.  Adaptability. Spirited children can be slow to shift gears from one activity to the next.  Because transitions occur frequently throughout the day, this can be a significant factor in how your day with a spirited child progresses.

We have to give lots of warnings at our house: “2 more minutes and then it’s dinner time!” or “We’re leaving the park in 5 minutes, so if you want to go down the slide, you should do it now.”  And even then, we have trouble moving from one thing to the next.  The Littlest Apple needs to know our general schedule for the day: “Where am I going after naps?”  “Who is coming tomorrow?”  He notices the slightest change in our daily routines, and gets very out of sorts if I skip parts of our “typical” morning routine because we’re rushed for time.

image by VinothChandar via Flickr Creative Commons

Four additional “bonus” traits: The first five characteristics are common to all spirited children.  With the bonus traits, some spirited children have them and some don’t.

6.  Regularity. Some spirited children can be extremely unpredictable.  They are never hungry at the same time, and you never know when they will be tired because it varies daily.

7.  Energy. Many spirited children are energetic.  They NEED to climb, jump, run, and be on the move.

This is the only bonus trait that The Littlest Apple seems to possess, and it is one of the first things people notice about The Littlest Apple.  The ENERGY.  This kid literally can’t stand still, and is go, go, going from 5:30am when he jumps off bed Buzz-Lightyear-style to 8:30pm when he wiggles himself asleep at night.  No wonder I’m tired.

8.  First Reaction. Studies show that some children have a tendency to get upset in new and unfamiliar situations…their blood pressure rises, pupils dilate, and their pulse races.

9.  Mood. Certain children also have a predisposition to anxiety and negative thoughts.  They seem consistently grumpy and cranky, even when there is no apparent reason for being so.

image from tibchris via Flickr Creative Commons

In upcoming posts, we’ll discuss some parenting tactics for each of these characteristics, how to recognize trouble spots for each characteristic, and how your own spirited characteristics can affect your parenting style. My next post in the Life With a Spirited Child Series will focus on the labels we place on our spirited children and how they affect our parenting and our children’s self-esteem.

Which characteristics do you see in YOUR spirited child?  Which characteristics do you see in YOURSELF?

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From motherhood

  1. I’ll go first! I’ve already discussed The Littlest Apple’s characteristics, but remember how I mentioned that I’m a spirited adult too? I’ve definitely got the persistence, sensitivity, perceptiveness and adaptability traits (for similar reasons as those I mentioned for The Littlest Apple…I almost could have been describing myself with some of those stories!). And as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve got the intensity too (I get frustrated easily and have trouble keeping my anger in check).

    As for the bonus traits, sometimes I WISH I had the energy trait, so I could keep up with The Littlest Apple. But in reality, I think the traits of First Reaction and Mood probably ring true with me (again, as much as I hate to admit it). I’m definitely a Negative Nelly and have a hard time in new situations.

    Your turn!

  2. jane permalink

    Thank you for all your information. I work with children and this really helps me look at the children and separate individual needs. I love your Blog.

  3. Carrie permalink

    OK, where do I begin. B has ALL of the 1st five traits and he has the bonus traits of energy and first reaction. And yes, I share most of them as well…except for energy, which I so badly need, and I got the Mood, which seems to get worse as I age (or as my son ages)!

    B also notices the moods of others and gets upset when others are upset. We have a few books that have characters that look upset, and he gets very concerned. He is constantly asking me if I am happy. He’s not too bad with food or clothing (even though he won’t wear socks). A tip, Children’s Place has socks that he will wear. They are in the girls section and they fold down. I buy the dark colors or white and use them with pants.

  4. This is so interesting to me. I am not new to reading about spirited children or working with kids with all sorts of personalities and needs but until today I never really thought of my son as spirited. I think because I have dealt with children with much more challenging behavior ( I am specifically thinking about a 4 year old student with severe ODD), that my son just seemed like he had a personality …

    Now that he has a sibling and my energy and attention can’t be all focused on him, making the environment centered towards his quirks, I see him in each of these first 5 and 2 of the bonus traits too!

    I know what will be added to my reading list asap in addition to following your series closely.

  5. Carrie-

    Wow it sounds like B and The Littlest Apple have a lot in common (and so do we)! I’m definitely going to check out those socks at Children’s Place next time I’m there. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Allie,

    Thanks for your comment today! I’m so glad that you found this stuff interesting. I think it is absolutely fascinating! I’m by no means an expert (and don’t have nearly the experience that you do in dealing with other children) so it took me a while to realize that The Littlest Apple was a bit MORE than other kids. You should definitely check out this book when you get a chance…it was an eye-opening read for me. There’s also a workbook that is equally awesome.

  7. What a great post – I’ll have to look at the rest of your blog too. I just landed here from the No Time for Flash Cards link-up.

    My 4yo daughter is ‘spirited’, not a term I’m familiar with, but she’s trickier to deal with than most. She doesn’t have the volume that you describe in the Intensity paragraph, but she is very determined, strong willed, independent, sensitive, touchy, etc. She actively avoids negativity, eg sad / scary / angry themes in books or TV, although this is getting a bit better as she gets bigger.

    She also has an amazing imagination, seems to crave solo time to recharge her batteries and has an amazing capacity to concentrate (if she’s interested).

    Actually, just reading over what I have read does sound rather like myself – I certainly have to shake myself out of grumpy moods a lot, and I definitely have the sensitivity, determination and perception ‘qualities’.

    Thanks for writing.

  8. Amy Smith permalink

    I want to thank you for your post about “sprited child”. I was googleing recipes for decorated cookies and from one blog to another to another to yours I found, I was just reading and found your 1st post, it decribed my son perfectly. I have always felt I was alone because he was so entergentic and rebelous. I thought well maybe he is ADHD because his dad is.. but he can focus and learn. My next thought was maybe its because he is not the only child anymore. Then I found your post! I just got it in the mail today and started reading it and the 1st 12 pages I am saying to my self that describes my son!!! I can’t wait to finish reading and start working with and know understanding him.

    Thank you again SOOO much.

  9. Sarah,

    It definitely sounds like your daughter has some spirited qualities. She also sounds like an introvert (like me! ). I’m doing a post later in this series about extroverts vs. introverts which you mind find interesting too….it IS possible to be introverted AND spirited. (I am!) Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Amy,

    I’m so glad that you found my spirited child posts (even though you were searching for decorated cookies….hope you found those too, though probably not here, since I am NOT a very good cookie decorator!).

    If you enjoy the Spirited Child book, you should definitely check out the workbook too. There is quite a bit of overlap, but the material is presented in a different format with some exercises for you to work through. I found both of them extremely helpful!

  11. My son Jack (age 4) is a textbook case of a Spirited Child! He has all the traits plus the extra trait of energy. We had a rough year at preschool last year because of his hyperactivity and OCD and sensory issues. The teacher wanted him medicated and really wasn’t willing to work with him. We decided to try behavorial therapy first which worked very well – we went through a program called “Helping the Non-Complaint Child.” Jack has improved by leaps and bounds and I am so grateful that is doing better. This year we decided to keep him home and not send him to preschool to allow him to enjoy his last year before kindergarten. We are doing “Preschool at Home” and I am enjoying it just as much as him. High Spirited children are a lot work and can be draining emotionally and physcially but I am grateful for all the resources and support out there to help. Thanks for this post, it is always encouraging to know you are not alone!

  12. oh, I forgot to add that Jack did not get formally diagnosed with ADHD or anything else, mostly because his symptoms were not high enough on the spectrum and because of his age. People seem to want a label for children with traits you listed, and I am grateful now that I can use this one – Spirited!
    It doesn’t have to imply a negative conotation, I definitely feel that I am also high spiritied and when those traits are directly positively they can be an assset to both children and adults. Looking forward to your future posts on the off to Amazon to check out that book.

  13. Andrea,

    Thank you so much for your comment! Your son sounds a LOT like mine, especially with the hyperactivity, and I’m trying to be proactive about managing his energy better so that we aren’t faced with an ADHD diagnosis (if possible). The program you went through sounds like such a great resource!

    You mentioned how some of the traits of spirited children can be negative or positive, depending on how you view it- that’s EXACTLY what I’ll be talking about in my next post.

  14. Ashley permalink

    Hello! Thank you for your wonderful descriptions. My son, Jake, is 5 1/2 and I believe he is a high spirited child as well. I have researched the signs in babies and he also had quite a few of those traits. He has all five main characteristics and has at least 2 of the bonus characteristics. I have had a lot of negative feedback from my family who claim I “favor” Jake over my 6 1/2 year old son, Kieran, because I give him more attention and I would try to explain to them that I don’t favor Jake over Kieran, but Jake has higher needs than Kieran. Needless to say, it has been a difficult go. Jake, who, for the most part, is a typically sunny child (as long as things are going his way), is now finding school a difficult place to be. He is easily influenced by older kids and plays off their moods and energy, which can lead to trouble at the principals office. Although he has been to preschool before, the thought of a new classroom, teacher and friends and being away from me for a longer period of time, always starts the day off on the wrong foot with a meltdown about having to go to school. He is very bright and has a high IQ for his age, he has an amazing memory and pays attention to the littlest details that would normally go unnoticed. I am currently trying to speak with our behavioural center through our local hospital about ways I can help Jake cope with every day life and make things a little easier. It is getting to the point where grandparents don’t want to take him overnight and tend to “favor” Kieran because Kieran isn’t as much work as Jake is. I think it is totally unfair and am not sure how to quite handle this situation. I really enjoyed reading your blog and your detailed descriptions of each trait. Keep up the good work!

  15. Amber permalink

    These have help me so much with my “spirited” 5 year old! Can’t wait to see the next post!

  16. Otmommy permalink

    I have a spirited 6 y.o. boy who challenges my inner being, he is mostly good as gold. but reminds me of that poem “i know a little girl who has a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. when she is good she is really really good, and when she is bad she is horrid” as he is blessed with negative first response and mood as well. on days like these, i worry about if he will grow out of his intense anger, or not…..

  17. Lilysmommyjen permalink

    Hi, I am so glad we found this. I have learned that my little girl of 3 is a spirited child. An i learned i am the same why and as well in my childhood as i have been told stories and my parents tell me i was the same when i was little. So i do have to ask can this be passed down?  I have never hurd of this before now. This will help me so much with better understanding my child an myself.

  18. Sounds like life over here with our oldest daughter!

  19. Paula permalink

    Creativity soars~!
    Enthusiasm for life and Love~!
    Joy in Morning and in Sharing and Giving
    So beautiful are Spirited Children!
    So Thankful for them~

  20. Laura Allen Burgett permalink

    I’ve got one of them there spirited kids. She’s 10, and amazing. And very, very challenging. Any resources online for parents of older spirited children?

  21. Jennifer Allen permalink

    This post is older, but I must reply. From the day I found out I was pregnant with E, it has been a ride. So I thought, this pregnancy was crazy, so that must mean that we’ll have a nice laid back babe. Uh-uh! Nope, from the day of his birth, he has exhibited so many traits of a spirited child. People would look at me crazy like, “how could you possibly think he could be a spirited child! He’s a newborn!”. Well, I just knew let’s put it that way. He is now 20 months old and his “newborn” stage was just setting the stage for the real party! No two days go the same with him. There is nothing subtle about the way he does anything. I don’t know any other babies his age that are this way, and a lot of the time I feel very alone. But I know there are so many other parents out there with spirited children, I just don’t know them apparently. So, I am really glad to have found your page. It is already allowing me to take a breath. Thank you!

  22. Denise permalink

    I love your blog – just refound this old page and hope it’s ok to put this link on it to a tshirt I’ve done as therapy for myself (I’m a graphic designer and mother to a very spirited 6 year old)


  23. aheadofthestorm permalink

    This explains so much. Not only was I a spirited child, my 3-year-younger sister was, too. I have a new respect for the quiet and gentle woman who is our mother. Love you, Nana.

  24. Anna permalink

    I am so greatful to my friend who sent me your blog entry! For the first time in months I felt I am not alone with my beautiful, amazing, yet extremely challenging child. Not sure about sensitivity yet, as he only turned one, but good god, please forgive me for all the judgment I passed on people with chidren throwing themselves on the home hardware floor screaming… I always though they are not managing their kids well… Everything fits plus energy from bonus traits. I am not sure why they are caled bonus tho 😛 Thank you for writing about how food is an explosion of texture, smell, taste and colour. I never gave it a thought and maybe that’s how he is so difficult to feed. I am wondering about one thing though – you said in another post that they want and need a lot of sensory input – hw does that go with them seemingly overwhelmed with it? My son gets bored with everything unless there’s new new new all the time. He is hardly one and he wants butter chicken and pesto and miso soup and LOVES new flavours. No dinner from a jar will be eaten. So he wants the flavour explosion, but then… doesn’t it excite him more…?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Life With A Spirited Child: Labels | The Picky Apple
  2. Life With A Spirited Child: Parenting Tactics for the Trait of INTENSITY | The Picky Apple

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