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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