"Spiritedness" in children is a way of describing character traits that may challenge their parents and require that parents learn often out-of-the box ideas for guiding their children.
Parents: Don't be surprised if you recognize your own or your partner's spiritedness in your children! Those character traits are rooted in their inborn temperament, meaning that there's DNA involved. That said, environmental factors (including nurturing and parenting approach) influence how these spirited character traits are expressed through behavior.
The goal of parenting spirited children isn't to squash their spirited character traits, but to guide them in how to confidently embrace their spiritedness within healthy relationships.
With this in mind, a child who trends toward explosive tantrums may see some personal benefit from this but these tantrums inhibit the child's relationships. In the same way, parents cannot seek to entirely erase the child's angry expressions in the parent-child relationship without communicating to the child that he or she is somehow "wrong," the normal psychological response when anger is not "allowed" in a relationship.
Instead, the healthy response to these sometimes-challenging spirited traits is to guide the child toward emotional intelligence, healthy conflict resolution, and positive stress-coping skills so that the child can express anger without denying him- or herself or risking rejection in the relationship.
Keep this in mind as you work through this questionnaire on spiritedness:
Directions to parents: Locate your child's current developmental stage below. Read through the questions, taking note for each as a Yes or No. You may do the same for your child's previous developmental stages. At the end of the questions, count the number of Yes answers marked; the more Yes answers, the more spirited your child.
Alternatively, you may benefit from reflecting on your own childhood by answering the questions for yourself, for each developmental stage.
- Does your baby want to be held all the time?
- Does your baby not keep a feeding, sleep, and/or toileting schedule despite your family's daily routines being predictable and similar day to day?
- Does your baby cry often for seemingly no reason?
- Does you baby resist carriers?
TODDLERS & PRESCHOOLERS
- Does your child dislike playing with toys, preferring instead to play with non-toy items?
- Does your child refuse to keep to a schedule?
- Does your child experience frequent mood swings?
- Does your child wake up unhappy after naptimes and/or nighttime sleep?
- Does your child experience frequent night terrors and/or nightwakings?
- Does your child have marked separation anxiety, at nighttime and/or during the day?
- Does your child have difficulty with most daily activities (dressing, diaper changes, bath time, meals, toothbrushing, etc.)?
- Does your child seem shy in new situations and with new people?
- Does your child want to do everything on his or her own?
- Does your child have exceptional focus?
- Is your child very easily distracted?
- Does your child have long, violent tantrums?
- Does your child have long tantrums that may not be violent but results in him or her expressing anger for most of the day?
- Does your child have an exceptionally high level of physical energy?
- Does your child frequently fall asleep easily without stimuli despite a full night's sleep and adequate naps?
- Is your child sensitive to texture, sounds, and/or smell? This may manifest in many ways; some examples are picky eating, complaining off bad smells or that sounds are too loud or that their sock seam hurts, or refusal to walk barefoot or do finger-painting because of the feel on the skin.
- Does your child seem to require a lot more attention and/or physical contact than peers?
- Does your child have great difficulty with handling frustration?
- Does your child require a high degree of structure and routines?
- Does your child have difficult with structure and routines?
- Does your child seem very sensitive to inadequate sleep or imbalanced diet?
- Does your child clothing made of fabric blends?
- Does your child continue to require a lot more attention and/or physical contact than peers?
- Does your child continue to have periods of separation anxiety?
- Is your child very sensitive to others' emotions?
- Is your teen able to withstand peer pressure easier than peers?
- Does your teen continue to prioritize their relationship with you even as they deepen friendships with peers?
- Is your teen exceptional in their determination and self-direction?
- Does your teen seem perceptive of the world around him or her and less self-centered than peers?
- Does your teen have advanced problem-solving skills?
Note to parents: Notice the shift in the tone of questions when you reach the Teens section. This reflects that when spirited children are accepted and gently guided, they grow into teens and adults with very positive character traits. Our children's spiritedness is not something to be condemned; quite the opposite.