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Parenting a Spirited Child

Parenting a Spirited Child

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Updated on Jan 14, 2008

The term “goodness of fit” is often applied to a parent and child whose temperaments are complimentary and seem to naturally do well together. Of course every parent dreams of such a good fit, but sometimes just the opposite is true. A parent finds herself with a child whose temperament and attitude feels foreign and often frustrating.

According to experts, about 15 percent of children are born with what is called a “difficult temperament.” As babies, they are extremely intense, colicky, and hard to get on a schedule. Later, as preschoolers, they can be very active, distractable, and overly sensitive to noises, lights, smells, and tastes.

Parenting the “difficult child,” a name coined by Dr. Stanley Tureck in his best-selling book, Your Difficult Child, is challenging for any parent, even the most patient. As Mary Kirchinka says in her book, The Spirited Child, these kids are just “more.” More intense, more active, more cranky, more willful and sensitive, to name a few. But they can also be more amazing in hundreds of ways, if we can remember to call upon a reservoir of coping tools. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Remember Your Child’s Temperament
Think in terms of your child’s temperament and then react to behavior instead of responding emotionally or instinctively to what you perceive as his motives. Try to see your child’s behavior as part of her hardwiring.

Adopt an Objective Attitude
In the midst of a tantrum, it can be hard to remain calm. But this is exactly what will serve you best. When your child acts out, stand back and become as neutral as possible. Your response is the most effective if it comes from the thinking part of your body, not the feeling part.

Don’t Take It Personally
A challenging child can be quite physically and verbally abusive. When you’re walking around hearing “I hate you!” or have a scratch on your face, it’s hard not to take it personally. But try to remember your child is not trying to punish you. Don’t’ ask, “Why is he doing this to me?” Think about behaviors, not motivations. Concentrate on how your child won’t put on her shoes, not that she wants to make you late for work.

Seeing Patterns
It may be helpful to keep a log of your child’s difficult behaviors so you can start to see patterns. Does it occur at a particular time of day, under certain circumstances? Is your child hungry, tired, transitioning to a new place? The more specific you can be about what triggers your child, the more easily you can sidestep the minefields.

Take Care of Yourself
A challenging child can deplete your energy, and make a tired parent feel hopeless and depressed. If possible, join a parenting support group where you feel safe talking about your parenting situation. Enlist childcare so you can get plenty of rest and time away to regroup.

Most of all, try to remember your child is not being bad on purpose. She is acting out based on her own limited perspective of the world, trying to quiet fears and frustrations that we all have to some degree or another.

True, a spirited child can be more challenging to parent. But quite often, he’s more interesting to have around, as well!

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