Parenting a Spirited Child

Parenting a Spirited Child is a demanding job. As the mom of a Spirited 5 year old, I fully understand how it can stretch you mentally, emotionally and physically. Spirited children – often called ‘highly sensitive’, ‘difficult’ or ‘strong-willed’ – can make parenting more challenging, easily leaving parents feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or even inadequate.

Spirited kids are simply ‘more’ (MORE intense, sensitive, and uncomfortable with change, they are more perceptive, persistent, and energetic). The spirited child may also be known as the fussy baby or high need child. Just like Spirited Children are MORE, parenting a Spirited Child is MORE.

Spirited children demand a different kind of parenting and it can be incredibly frustrating trying to find the right parenting tools for the job. A couple things I’ve learned from working with parents of Spirited Children and as an admin on the facebook page called Surviving Your Spirited Child, is that finding it difficult to understand our children’s intense reactions and having difficulty letting go of that image of having a “dream child” are all normal feelings shared by many other parents of Spirited Children. Learning about our children’s Spiritedness and their temperament traits can help us understand them and their reactions better.

I want to clear up one misconception; spirited children are not created by a complicated pregnancy, a negative birth experience or a parenting style. Spirited children are born spirited! So please stop beating yourself up, questioning what you’ve done wrong or accepting ridicule from others about your parenting. You are right in thinking that your child is unique, and that all that parenting advice that works with most kids doesn’t work with your child.

When it comes to discipline, it is often more challenging. Not only are Spirited Kid’s needs more intense; they are persistent enough to continue seeking whatever it is until the need is met. In addition, traditional parenting advice based on punishment techniques are completely ineffective. Many times utilizing these tools cause more tantrums or meltdowns, and the persistence and intensity that most Spirited Children process make these meltdowns explosive and seem endless.

But being spirited is not an excuse for bad behavior. It is our jobs as parents of Spirited Children to learn about our child’s temperament, learn how to work with their spiritedness, learn discipline techniques that are affective and teach our children how to channel those spirited temperaments into positive personality traits. This may take some learning or re-learning for us. It defiantly takes flexibility and compassion for ourselves and our children.

Remember that it is easy to fall out of balance when parenting a Spirited Child. It is just as important to take care of yourself. Our Spirited Children are MORE perceptive and pick up on our stresses easily. Plus if we are feeling overwhelmed, easily annoyed, angry, exhausted or resentful it is difficult to be an effective parent. Modeling for our children how to express emotions in appropriate ways and how to take care of our own needs is one of the best tools we have for teaching them how to do the same.

One of the best things I’ve done for myself as a parent of a Spirited Child is connecting with other parents of Spirited Children. Being able to vent on rough days to a crowd that understands really helps me stay sane. But I also love hearing and sharing the good experiences, new tools and information that we come across.  Learning about my son’s Spiritedness, his temperamental traits and effective discipline tools have made parenting a Spirited Child less stressful and overwhelming and has really helped my son be more successful in the normal day to day challenges.

Don’t get me wrong, parenting a Spirited Child can be incredible as well. It’s not all challenging and no fun. Spirited Children process some wonderful personality traits. For instance, my son’s intensity level is a strong 5. Not only does he have intense crying episodes, he also laughs loudly and energetically. It really is contagious. He is a keen observer.  Every time I ‘try’ to dress up or I wear something he has not seen before he tells me I look nice or he likes my shirt (or whatever it is).  It’s nice to hear and gives me pleasure to think that this might be a wonderful gift to his future wife. Plus he is extremely affectionate, so we all get a lot of cuddle time.


When you think about it the challenging traits are often strengths that are being overused. By taking a closer look we can really start to look at those overused traits in a more positive light. This will not only help us realize that our Spirited Kids are amazing little people but it can really help build healthy relationships with them and build their self-esteem.  When we view their overused traits in a more positive way, we start describing them in more positive terms and then describing our children in more positive terms. It really does start with the way we think.

If you are looking for more information on Parenting Your Spirited Child please have a look at our MORE Program – a 4 week online program for parents of Spirited Children. I would also highly recommend the book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

October 4th, 2012 · No Comments

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