My son was a holy terror from the time he came out of the womb. The kid screamed 24/7 starting at the three week mark, right after the initial "I totally got this" phase and "why the hell does everyone think this is so hard?" two week bliss I was feeling right after he was born.
The "colicky" infant stage was followed by the "temper tantrums that resembled Linda Blair in The Exorcist" phase, at which point, we called in a Child Development Specialist to tell us what the hell was wrong with our kid.
They labeled him a "spirited child." I didn't get it. "Spirited" sounded like a politically correct term for HELL ON WHEELS and it really upset me that she was using such a positive sounding word to describe the emotional outbursts, biting, hitting, spitting, head banging and complete inability to sit still for more than 10 seconds behavior we were experiencing daily.
As I read every book and article I could get my hands on about "spirited children" and how to handle them, I started to realize that most of what had been written to date was a bunch of survival techniques so parents of spirited children didn't become raging alcoholics. They weren't helpful. Giving advice like "Try not to put your child in a stroller, car seat or anything where he feels restricted" to "Put him in a timeout and let him hit a pillow instead of you," didn't seem very realistic considering my child had to be strapped into a car seat by law and I really preferred that my child didn't hit ANYTHING let alone me.
Here is what I have learned: There are some basic ways of being that all spirited children exhibit and you just gotta roll with it. It will become normal. It will become funny. It will even become endearing. Because once they are out of the toddler phase and into the Pre-School/Pre-K age, they are practically laughing at their OWN behavior so the whole family can have one big sense of humor about it.
1. Spirited kids are loud. And I mean LOUD. Not some of the time. ALL OF THE TIME. Screaming is their favorite thing to do. They scream when they are happy. They scream when they are excited. They scream when they are playing. They scream when they are tired. They even scream when they have to go to the bathroom. As in, "MOMMY -- I GOTTA GO PEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" Thanks for the update, buddy. Even in public, the screaming ensues. Luckily most other people assume your kid is just excited in that moment. They have no clue that high pitched screaming is happening pretty much every waking hour of your child's day. The upside... I always know where my kid is and what he's up to.
2. Spirited kids are dramatic about everything. When they wake up in the morning. Drama. When they have to go to bed at night. Drama. When you're out of their favorite food. Drama. Forgot to tape their favorite show? MAJOR Drama. Think of their drama as an expression of how passionate they are about things. And that passion can be channeled into something amazing when they grow up.
3. Spirited kids are super imaginative. My cowboy boots and high heeled shoes somehow double as hockey shin guards and gloves on my son. A bowl of pasta turns into a battle field where small toy army men "hide out." The lemons in my decorative fruit bowl become hand grenades that get launched into every room of my house. And a roll of wrapping paper becomes a sword to fight all bad guys in the world (including his little sister). It's pretty awesome watching one child be able to make so much magic out of everyday things.
4. Spirited kids can't sit still. They race through the house. They jump on the furniture. They turn your bed into a trampoline, They take every pillow off the couch and turn it into a fort, then jump on the elaborate fort to destroy it every 15 minutes so they can rebuild it. They take out every toy they own and play with each one for 10 minutes since they can't focus for much longer than that. They fidget at the dinner table and often jump on the table if you turn your back for a minute. I find you can channel this uncontrollable desire to move every minute of the day into something productive. I can get my spirited child to help clean the house by convincing him how "awesome" it's gonna be to race each other. Who can clean the floors the fastest??? Game on!
5. Spirited kids need constant attention. For kids that are so busy "doing" and "feeling" and "expressing," they need a lot of attention. They may take breaks from asking for it when they are wrapped up in running around the house screaming, battling bad guys with rolls of wrapping paper and jumping on the furniture, but at the end of the day, their emotional needs are huge and they want your undivided attention. And because they are so emotional and expressive, they channel all of that into their love for you.
Which is, in my opinion... not just endearing -- but pretty cool.
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