Many of the techniques I used to parent a spirited child were discovered by trial and error. I never knew there was a positive classification for her personality.
According to the book, a spirited child is defined as: “a child who is more intense, persistent, sensitive, and perceptive than the average child.” Kurchinka coined the term "spirited" when she was looking for information regarding her son and only came across words like difficult, strong-willed, or stubborn. She believed that framing the description of her child using a positive word, such as spirited, would help her to focus on her child’s strengths.
When I was in graduate school earning a degree in counseling psychology, I remember a professor saying to me, “You will learn the most from the challenging cases.” This comment has stayed with me throughout the years. After reading this book I couldn’t help but think of how I became both a better parent and a better person from knowing my daughter.
Kurchinka often remarks that spirited children are "persistent." This can be a positive characteristic, as is the case with people like Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Wright brothers – but it can also lead to power struggles with your child. The key is to use positive words like committed, decisive, or determined when referring to this trait in the context of your child.
My daughter is the most determined person I have ever met. She learned how to ride a bicycle in three days, at age five, mostly on her own. She spent every moment of those three days attempting this skill. It didn’t matter how many times she fell or how many scrapes and bruises she got, she got back on her bike until she could ride it without falling.
She used the same amount of determination while learning to play the piano. One day she decided she wanted to learn how to play and instead of asking for lessons, she looked up YouTube videos of how to play the piano. She spent the next week practicing the same song over and over. By the end of the week everyone in the family was amazed at her ability to play the song which she learned entirely on her own.
When I see her willingness to go after her goals despite any obstacles she may encounter, I can’t help but feel motivated to do the same with my goals. When I’m feeling frustrated I merely envision her riding the bicycle or playing the piano and realize I can’t give up.
Spirited children often are perceptive. Kurchinka says, “Their senses are keen, drawing in every aspect of stimulation around them.” She then mentions how this ability helps the child to have creative thoughts.
My daughter's perceptiveness has led to a curiosity that caused some interesting moments when she was younger and seemed to get into everything. One time she grabbed the diaper cream without me knowing it. I only realized it when I found it smeared all over the couch.
She's always interested in how things work and asks lots of questions or tries to figure it out on her own (as was the case with playing the piano). Seeing her attempt new experiences has inspired me to try activities I might normally never consider – like an alternative fitness class or reading a book outside of my preferred genre. Normally I’m a shy person who doesn’t willingly take risks. When I see my daughter attempting something like climbing a rock wall, I can’t help but feel inspired to try new things, as well.
When you're the parent of a spirited child you're going to encounter temper tantrums. Kurchinka devotes an entire chapter to the subject in her book and says, "All kids throw tantrums, but spirited children do it with much more pizzazz, finesse, and frequency.”
Over the years I developed patience and understanding for my daughter’s tantrums which resulted in a decrease of the behavior. Patience was required for my daughter’s curiosity such as the example above where she decorated the couch with diaper cream. Patience is necessary with regard to her persistence, which does result in more power struggles as she gets older. My patience has helped me in dealing in other areas of my life such as waiting for customer service or interacting with my other children.
Kurchinka notes: “Sensitive spirited kids feel emotions, see sights, hear sounds, and smell odors to a degree that most of us mortals will never know.”
At times this translates to a lot of crying – especially when my daughter was younger. I can now identity when she's feeling overwhelmed or over-stimulated and needs to be in a more quiet, less stimulating environment. I feel empathic towards her experience.
My favorite aspect of this trait is how she loves to help others or make people feel special. On Mother’s Day she always showers me with various homemade gifts and baked goods. She truly loves making me breakfast in bed.
During teacher conferences her fifth grade teacher told me at the end of every day my daughter makes a point to say "thank you" for teaching her. She said in her 15 years of being a teacher she never encountered a student who did this, yet this simple act made her feel appreciated.
Being the parent of a spirited child can be challenging, but I have loved every moment of it. My daughter has helped me to accomplish my goals, try new experiences, and most importantly – appreciate others.