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When is it more than "spiritedness"?

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 16 November 2021

What can we, as parents, do when we suspect that our child's behaviors go beyond mere spiritedness into a possible behavior disorder?

Q: Now for the question I often hear from parents related to temperament: Are childhood behavioral disorders, such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the same as spiritedness?

DR. KURCINKA: This is why I wrote my book, Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles. Temperament is not the only fuel for behavioral issues.

Behavior is a language. When we're trying to decipher behavior, we look at temperament, developmental stage, and stress level, especially if these are new behaviors. Then, only if other strategies do not work, we look at a medical issue.

Every child has a temperament. Not every child has a medical issue.

Q: I appreciate you bringing up the point about stress level. I believe this is where a child's lack of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle habits might fit in?

DR. KURCINKA: Spirited kids are especially vulnerable to sleep deprivation, which can look like ADHD or Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Among my clients, 95% of the time the children are instigating a lot of power struggles and having meltdowns multiple times a day aren't getting enough sleep. Sleep is a huge issue.

So is nutrition. Spirited kids tend to have high metabolism, so they are always hungry. I recommend that spirited children get six meals a day so that they don't get blood sugar drops.

Q: Thank you for your time and insights! This is so helpful to all parents of children of any age. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

DR. KURCINKA: What's important to remember is, these children truly possess traits that we value in adults. These children will grow to become very successful. But if you wake up dreading spending the day with your child, there is information out there that can change your life.


This is the final of a 3-part series with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, EdD, author of Raising Your Spirited Child. In Part 1, we learned what it means for a child to be spirited. In Part 2, we discovered how parents are part of the equation. 


Behavior is a language