Friday, October 29, 2010

We've got spirit, yes we do!

We've got spirit, how 'bout you?!

It's been exactly two years since I first posted about some of our challenges with parenting an intense child, aka Nathan. There have of course been many highs and lows since then, and today I'd like to share more of our story, along with insights from a book I just read.

During their recent visit, my mom and dad saw firsthand some of the challenges we've been dealing with, and upon returning home, my mom told a co-worker that we have our hands full with Nathan. As my mom explained more details, the co-worker said she was reminded of her daughter, and she recommended that I look into this book.

From the first page, the book (which is nearly 500 pages!) was very compelling to me. I want so much to understand Nathan and to parent him effectively. The author defines a spirited child as a child who is "more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic," and I would say that all of those words apply to Nathan!

I could totally relate in the introduction when I read about sliding from joy to exasperation in seconds, ten times a day. And unfortunately, I could also relate to the list of reactions many parents feel when responding to a spirited child: fear, confusion, resentment, shame, embarassment, exhaustion, and anger. The book said that spirited kids are that way from the beginning; that even as infants, they are determined and strong. Nathan was definitely born intense. I well remember his loud and sometimes incessant wails in the hospital and beyond!

This book helps you to identify and understand your child's temperament, as well as your own. There is an inventory where you can rate your child and then yourself on 9 different traits of spirited individuals. It then puts you in one of 3 categories: low-key, spunky, or spirited. My score for Nathan put him on the low end of the "spirited" category, which did not surprise me. After reading the book, I realized there must be many kids who are several notches higher than him on some of the traits. When I took the test for myself, I was smack-dab in the middle of the spunky category, and Eric, as expected, landed in the laidback category. I'm not sure what I think of being called spunky, though I have to admit the shoe fit when reading the description. =)
Some other thoughts and notes from the book:

Nathan is who he is, and God created him to be a unique individual. This book reminded me that I can work with him instead of against him. One of the suggestions in the book is to look at traits in a positive light, instead of always thinking of them negatively. For example, intense can also mean enthusiastic or determined, and sensitive can be re-phrased as tenderhearted. The book also mentioned that many of the traits which may exasperate us in young children are often seen as desirable traits in adults. I've had two different moms tell me that they had a son with a similar temperament as Nathan, and as they became older (about upper-elementary), these spirited children blossomed into responsible, conscientious young men. That is so encouraging!

Nathan's intensity is often quite challenging to me, as he has strong and often surprising reactions to lots of different situations. As the author says, "Managed well, intensity allows spirited children a depth and delight of emotion rarely experienced by others. But it can also wreak havoc." I also appreciated this quote: "Remind yourself that your child is losing it because he is intense, not because you are a bad parent. Gradually, with maturity and good instruction from you, the frequency and volume of the outbursts will diminish." The author suggests providing activities that soothe and calm, helping the child talk about their frustration, and teaching them to problem solve. I have been trying to apply these suggestions, including saying in a difficult moment to Nathan, "I am listening and I want to understand what you're thinking." It's been met with varied effectiveness, but at least I feel that I have some new techniques to try.

Like his mother, ahem, Nathan struggles with change. The book defines transition as "a change or passage from one place, action, mood, topic, or thing to another." I totally got it when the author said that "Disappointment hits spirited kids hard, because it's actually a transition." The positive is that Nathan and I both have high expectations, but that can obviously lead to being easily disappointed.

I liked this advice for preventing tantrums: 1. Tell your child what he did well, 2. Teach him responsibility, 3. Bring closure to the tantrum (give a hug and move on), and 4. Prepare for next time by sharing expectations and offering alternative responses. Good ideas, though often easier said then done in my case!

I loved the thought of teaching Nathan how to be successful, how to problem solve and make wise choices, rather than "making him" behave or even just surviving. I also needed to be reminded to make an effort to see situations from his point of view.

One of our biggest daily battles, which is shocking and frustrating to me now that Nathan is almost 4, is getting dressed each morning. The book had a specific section addressing that, which made me feel better. I'm not the only one whose child throws a fit every morning when it's time to change clothes--even when it's his idea?! Nathan waffles between wanting to put on his clothes himself (but lacking full coordination to do so, particularly shirts), and not even wanting to try. I liked the suggestion to break tasks into steps that can be successfully accomplished, and also to compromise by saying, "You put on one sock, and I'll do the other." (If any of you have tips in this area, other than let him stay in pajamas all day long, I'm all ears!)

I think this statement is true of most children, and perhaps even many adults. "Spirited kids save their biggest battles for their parents because they're most comfortable with you." We see this on a regular basis. Nathan will be quite pleasant when interacting with someone else, and then "turns on a dime" when I enter the picture. For example, he went with a friend to the zoo a couple of weeks ago, and had a wonderful time. We were anxious to see him and hear about his day, but the very first thing he did upon entering the house was throw himself on the kitchen floor and start whining. Of course, tiredness is a factor in this and perhaps other situations, but it is still tricky to navigate!

In closing, I found this book to be insightful and encouraging, and my heart swelled with the final paragraph: "Spirited kids are like roses--they need more attention than other flowers, having to be pruned and guided in their growth. And sometimes you have to get past the thorns to truly enjoy their beauty."

Of course, all kids (and parents!) are different, and on their own journey of learning. I write this post to share from my own experience, and also to hopefully encourage some of you who may find yourselves caring for a child who is spirited.

I want to mention that this book is written from a secular perspective, so while it offered encouragement and insight, I look most to the Lord who promises that if any of us lack wisdom and we ask Him for it, He will supply it generously. (James 1:5)


Wendi said...

I am glad that this book was able to help you to understand Nathan a little more. I think that all types of personalities have their quirks. I don't think of Megan has spirited, but when you wrote about change you could have been writing about Megan.

She is so scared of anything different and out of her normal routine. I wasn't aware of her first day of music at school at I guess she busted out crying and asking for me. Her teacher had no idea what was wrong. She then did it again yesterday when I told her that she was having a fall party at school today. As frustrating as it is I am trying not to get upset with her. I know that it is just who she is.

I hope the books continues to help you understand and deal with Nathans behavior.

milissa said...

I don't have children, but I bet my mother would be able to relate to your brother is extremely spirited and has been since birth. He is now a responsible grown-up with kids of his own. I am extremely sensitive...and always have been. I can remember watching my mom struggle with my brother (we all did...he was so spirited around his loved ones.) And I can remember my sensitive self did not always respond so well to my spirited brother. I just couldn't understand why he didn't "behave." Anyways, both of us grew up to be very responsible, productive citizens despite the challenges growing up...and when we talk about the how hard some of our experiences were and ask my mom how she survived, she says she used to remind herself "They are acting this way because it is the only way they know how to handle the situation. When they learn better ways of handling frustration/disappointment/anger/sadness/whatever, then they will act better." And it's funny to see my brother as a grown up b/c occasionally he will apologize for his childhood actions...and my mom will not hear it. You didn't know better...once we were able to teach you better, you acted differently. And occasionally, I'll feel really bad about how my little kid self was mean to my brother because he wasn't acting right...and I'll get the same response..."you're little kid self only had little kid coping learned better coping skills as you got older and see how well they serve you now." Anyways, I didn't mean for this to be so long, but I can relate...and maybe in the heat of the moment, my mom's mantra can help you too. (PS...even with all that, I want to point out that my brother and I consider our childhood very happy and now have an extremely close relationship.)

thehomespunheart said...

Hey Carrie,

So glad you enjoyed this book and found it encouraging and helpful. Great quotes you shared, thank you for this very well-written post!

Love you,

*carrie* said...

Thanks for the encouragement, ladies. Milissa, I especially appreciate the insight and examples you shared. Because I do have high expectations, that is an important reminder that I need to acknowledge Nathan is "handling" things they way he knows how, and I need to help teach him.

Mom said...

Dear Carrie,
This is a well-written review of the book about spirited children. I'm so glad you found it helpful and encouraging, but I especially agree with your closing statement about looking to the Lord for wisdom. God bless Nathan, and God bless you and Eric as you raise him! You're doing a great job with both him and Natalie. Love you! Mom

Katie said...

In answer to your title..."We do too!"

Carrie, I have bookmarked this post and will refer to it often. Can I just first thank you for the careful and clear way you constructed it? You have such a gift for putting difficult to understand or difficult to discuss topics in such easy and light-hearted words. Thank you!!

Now...I can relate to this post quite a bit. James 1:5 has daily been my prayer as a parent for all of my children. However, I must admit, that parenting a spirited child has really challenged me emotionally and spiritually. I, too, agree with so many of the quotes and pieces of advice that you pointed out from the book, but also agree that in the heat of an seems so very difficult to put some of them into practice.

One bit of encouragement that has come my way recently is that a couple of weeks ago we visited a new church in our new area for the first time. We were all so excited to meet a new church family and anxious to get to meet some folks we could fellowship with and get to know better. Now, as you can imagine, I had high expectations that all would go very smooth with the littles situation ~ new classes, new faces, new surroundings... Well, I appreciated what you highlighted about "transition". My spirited one was not prepared for this transition and when it was time to stop playing with toys and to get to the precious little one wanted nothing to do with it. God obviously knew this would happen, though, as the dear lady who was teaching the class ensured me that she has worked with all sorts of little personalities, and she insisted that she calm her down and take over. I have had Sunday School teachers before where some do not want to handle the situation and would rather have the parent remove a disruptive child...and I have had some that prefer to work through it. Well, this dear wise woman was so consistent and loving and just ready for the challenge...and she offered me words of encouragement and advice after it was all done (which seemed like an eternity but really was only minutes) instead of shame and judgement. She encouraged me that her own child and many that she has taught over the years have grown up to work through situations easier and easier as they can communicate better and get more experience in doing so with age.

I'm so encouraged by the similar words here, and I really appreciate the sentence you posted about helping to teach the child to problem solve. I think as I realize more that this is a challenge for both me the parent and my child to figure out and navigate through, the better my perspective and ability to deal with it.

Ultimately though, I completely agree that this is a matter that can not be dealt with without the careful guidance and instruction of the Lord. So thankful we can always depend on Him through every trial or challenge that comes our way! And it's even more humbling to me to think that He gave me my dear children and selected me to be their parent ~ knowing all the challenges I would be up for...knowing that He put me in their life to train them correctly. Wow, if He believed I could do it, who am I to ever think otherwise?? :-)

All the time you put into constructing this post was so very worth it Carrie ~ thank you!! :-) Uniting with you in prayer for our little ones! Blessings to your sweet family this weekend.

Jeremiah 32:27 :-)

angie said...

I would describe my son as strong-willed. He appears to be trying to control everyone and everything around him, but actually, I think he is trying to organize the world in order for it to make sense to him.
My son had an OT who really helped me understand how our sensory perception affects our behaviors. For example, do bright lights heighten his interrupting? Do itchy shirts make him irritable? Just something else to consider.

erin said...

Carrie -- thanks so much for sharing! You have definitely described Caleb here -- the mercurial moods, etc.
I especially appreciated your thoughts about helping them learn to problem-solve and talk about how they are feeling.
One thing we discussed at MOPS yesterday that really stuck out to me was the fact that Godly parenting has to come from 'your mindset, not your mood'. With a spirited child, I am finding it takes a lot of discipline to respond from my mindset and not my mood! Practice makes perfect, right? :)

Kristin said...

That was a well-written and informative post. I especially appreciated the thoughts on seeing negative personality traits in a more positive light just by the way you think about it and direct it. It can be hard to love the uniquenesses of our children at times, but renaming the "annoyance" and casting it in a new light seems like it could be very beneficial mentally in dealing with it.

Hayley said...

I'm holding back tears as I read this. Gracey is and always has been a 'Spirited Child'. I've been at a loss for the past couple years on what to do/how to handle her (what I call) attitude problems.

I wish I would have known about this book 10 years ago. Is there a specific age of children that this book addresses? I have been feeling like I have failed Gracey, in just about every way possible. As discouraged as I am with my relationship with Gracey, I find encouragement in this post you have shared with us today. Thank you!

NeedANap2 said...

Thanks for sharing so much in this post and the review. My five-year-old son is a little strong-willed and definitely excited about life but I'm not sure he would qualify as spirited. My 7-year-old girl is very sensitive. And the other 2 are mixed in there somewhere! :)

About the clothes - make it as simple as you can. Sweat pants are great and easy to put on and take off. I know we want our kids to look good but sometimes just admitting that they dressed themselves lets others relate to you and the stage of your child. :) I don't know about shirts but sweatshirts with a wide neck might help (no turtlenecks). Does he pick out his clothes the night before? That might help prep him for the change. Do you have a posted morning routine? That might help him to know what to expect when such as wake up, potty, make bed, change clothes, breakfast. HTH.

Linds said...

This reminds me some of our daughter. Spirited is a great word for her! We recently read the book the Out of Sync Child has fun, it's fairly common in adoption circles and that's why I originally read it but it has been useful for all of our kids.

Be encouraged, you're doing a great job!