Skip to content

Raising your Spirited Child – Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

October 13, 2007

Intense spirited kids need to hear:

  • You do everything with zest, vim, vigor, and gusto.
  • You are enthusiastic, expressive, and full of energy.
  • Your intensity can make you a great athlete, leader, performer, etc.
  • Things can frustrate you easily.
  • Being intense does not mean being aggressive.

Teaching Tips

  • Help your child to learn to notice her growing intensity before it overwhelms her.
  • Provide activities that soothe and calm, such as warm baths, stories, and quiet imaginative play
  • Use humor to diffuse intense reactions.
  • Teach your child that time-out is a way to calm herself rather than a punishment.

If you are intense too:

  • Do not fear your child’s intensity.
  • Diffuse your own intensity before you step in to help your child.
  • take deep breaths, yell like Tarzan, step away from it, or ask for help to cope with your own intensity.
  • Review in your own mind the message you were given about intensity. Dump those that negate the value of intensity.


Persistent spirited children need to hear:

  • You really stick to things that interest you.
  • You are committed and decisive
  • You are assertive
  • You are independent and capable.

Teaching Tips:

  • Teach your child how to find yes, to reach a compromise.
  • Help your child recognise when she is locked in and help her come up with a better/different solution.
  • Make sure your rules are clear
  • Be consistent

If you are persistent too:

  • allow yourself time to unlock
  • recognise that good parents do say yes.
  • know that good parents do say no.
  • find a balance between over control and under control.


Sensitive spirited kids need to hear:

  •  you’re tenderhearted
  • noise bothers you
  • you’re loving
  • you are very sensitive to feelings and care about people
  • you can feel other people’s stress
  • you are very selective
  • you’ll make a wonderful chef, artist, designer, etc

 Teaching tips:

  • Talk with your child about the rich array of sensations and emotions she experiences. Give her the words to describe them.
  • Be sensitive to how much stimulation your child is receiving. Noise, smells, bright lights, etc bother her; protect from overstimulation
  • Limit the amount of television your child watches
  • Teach your child to recognise when she is getting overstimulated and to ask for help stopping or reducing the stimulation.

If you are sensitive too:

  • Be aware that what stimulation bothers your child also irritates you.
  • Reduce stimulation while you still have the energy to help your child manage her sensitivity as well as your own.
  • Reduce your own stress so it doesn’t overwhelm your sensitive child.
  • Refill your energy bank after being in a stimulation situation


Perceptive spirited kids need to hear:

  • You notice everything that is going on around you.
  • Sometimes it is hard for you to hear instructions unless the person is talking directly to you.
  • You are very creative because you notice things other people miss
  • You are perceptive.
  • You have a  wonderful sense of humor.

Teaching Tips:

  • Motivate your child to listen, with words of support and love.
  • Send your message in many different ways including talking, writing , drawing and demostrating.
  • Touch your child lightly to help him understand your instructions.
  • Make sure you have his attention by getting eye contact.
  • Keep your message simple.
  • Avoid asking a question if there really isn’t a choice.
  • Tell him what he can do.
  • Limit the number of instructions you give at one time.

If you are perceptive too:

  • Be aware of your own distractibility. Don’t let it stop you from following through with your spirited child.
  • Allow time to finish tasks uninterrupted.
  • Provide quiet places to work and play.
  • Refill your energy bank after working hard to stay focused.


Slow-to-adapt spirited kids need to hear:

  • Change is difficult for you.
  • You like to be organized
  • You need to know what to expect
  • You can be flexible

Teaching tips

  • Establish a routine and explain the plans for the day to your slow-to-adapt child. Avoid surprises.
  • Allow time for slow transitions from one activity to another.
  • Forewarn your child of what is to come.
  • Allow time for closure.
  • When planning activities limit the number of transitions that will be required.

If you are slow to adapt too:

  • Allow yourself time to transition.
  • Recognise that if your day has been filled with transitions you will need to dip into your energy bank before moving on.


Irregular sprited kids need to hear:

  •  You are really flexible.
  • You are full of surprises
  • You’ll make a great emergency room doctor, disc jockey, pilot, police officer , or other professional that works crazy hours.
  • You’re going to love college life.

Teaching tips

  • – Provide a routine and a schedule that is consistent so your child can gradually adapt to it.
  • Expect your irregular child to take longer to adapt to a routine, but with patience and consistency he can.
  • Teach your child self-help skills as soon as you can.

If you are irregular too :

  • Be aware that you may be inconsistent with mealtimes and bedtimes because you are irregular. Your child may need more consistency than you are providing.


Energetic spirited kids need to hear:

  • Your body is full of energy.
  • I wish I had your energy.
  • You need to wiggle and move
  • You like to kearn by using your body
  • You make a great athlete and parent.
  • You are an energetic worker.

Teaching tips:

  • Plan for your child’s energy. Provide many opportunities to run, jump, and climb, but monitor stimulation levels closely to prevent rev up.
  • Avoid activities that require sitting for a long period of time.
  • After your child has been sitting still for a long time or has been confined to a small space expect to allow him time and space to move.
  • Recognise that wild activity is often realted to the other tempremental traits such as overstimulation or too many tansisitions.

If you are energetic too :

  • Plan exercise in your day
  • Know that it is difficult for you to cope when you are forced to sit for a long period of time
  • Enjoy athletic activities with your child.


Sprited kids experiencing a spill-over tantrum need to hear:

  • This is a flood. You are being overwhelmed by your emotions
  • I am here. I will help you
  • Stop. It is time to stop now.
  • IT is all right to cry, but you may not kick or bite.
  • If we can, we will stop what is flooding you.

Teaching tip

  • Stay with, or near, your child. To be left alone with such strong emotions can be very frightening to your child.
  • Run through a mental checklist of your child’s temperament in order to identifgy the trigger- the source of the flood ( too many transistions, an overload of stimulations etc. ) Stop it if you can.
  • REdue the demands on your child during peak tantrums times, especially late afternoons, during developmental surges, and when energy banks are low.
  • Touch your child gently. Many times a hug, a back scratch, or any other warm touch will close the floodgates.
  • Do not spank your child. Spanking can too easily get out of hand when everyone is upset.
  • Make sure your rules and consequences are clear.
  • After the tantrum, talk with your hcild about what happene and develop strategies for preventing it in the future.

Dealing with your own strong feelings:

  • Recognise that your child is overwhlemed.She is not intentionally trying to embarass you.
  • After a day of handling tantrums, take a walk, a long, hot bath, or call a sitter. Take care of yoruself so you will have the energy to help your child.
  • If , despite your best efforts, the tantrums continue, know that healthy familys know when to enlist the help of professionals.

 Planning for success: the power approach- a summary


  1. Describe your child’s reaction to a typical tough time.
  2. List the tempremental traits that may  affect how your child reacts to this situation.

Organise the setting:

  1. Can your child be successful in this setting or location?
  2. What activities or objects can you bring along that will help your child be successful?
  3. Have you created a hideaway for introverts?

Work together:

  1. How will you help your child manage her intensity?
  2. Is there a way to say yes to your child? Does he know the rules?
  3. How might your child expect to feel?
  4. How will you get his attention?
  5. Does he know the adgenda and what is expected to happen?

Enjoy the rewards:

  1. What has your child done well?
  2. What have you done well?

Bedtime and Night waking: Summary

Predict: Take a look at the temperamental triats. Knowing your child, predict which one make it challenging for her to simmer down and fall asleep. Is she sensitive and easily overstimulated? Is she persistent and hates to take a break? Is she irregular, needs little sleep, and doesn’t fall into a schedule? Are transitions difficult for her? Is she active and always on the move? Are her protests powerful because she is intense? Each of these triats makes relaxing and falling asleep more difficult to accomplish.

Organise the setting:

 Provide props- activities and objects- that cue your child that it is time to sleep.

Make sure some of your props and ctivities are portable so that they can easily be repeated in the middle of the night or taken alogn with you when you travel.

Avoid bedtime activities and props that encourage physical behaviour, instead use thoe that soothe and calm your child.

Work together:

Expect to stay with your child to calm her. Try to think of this time as an opportunity to catch up on your reading or favourite craft.

Take turns with your spouse putting your chid to bed so that you don’t get trapped by your child’s insistence that only you can put her to bed.

Allow enough time to prepare your child for bed. Rushing or skipping part of the routine only extends the process.

Help your child to bring closure to activities before starting your bed time routine.

Set a definate bedtime and expect your child to go to her bed, but do not expect her to fall asleep.

Enjoy the rewards:

Complimen your child when he cooperates with you.

Get your own needs met so that you have the energy to help your child.

Find a routine that worls for you and forget about the shouds.

 Mealtime a summary

Predict:  What makes mealtimes tricky for your child? For many spirited children their sensitivity fosters strong opinions about what they will and will not eat. Intensity makes their reactions forceful. Persistence results in little tigers who want to do it themselves. Preceptiveness leads to ” grazing” – eating, playing, browsing, talking, eating- but not finishing anything. And slow adaptability makes it tough to get them to the table in the first place. The bonus traits may also affect mealtime. Irregularity leads to erractic hunger panfs. High energy promotes a desire to eat on the run, and a negative first reaction leads to frequent refusals.

Organise the setting:

Provide a good selection of healthy foods, then allow your hcild to choose how much he will eat.

Make snacks nutritious and self-service, then you don’t need to battle with your child about what he eats and when.

Work together

Look at your messages about food and eating. Check to see if they are interfering with a sensitive response to your child’s temeramental needs.

Let your child know that it is appropriate to refuse food, but he must do respectfully and tactfully.

Involve your child in food preperation. The more the spirited kids are involved in preparing their food, the more likely they are to eat it.

Make your nutritional guidelines simple so that your child can monitor them herself.

LEt your child know what’s on the menu and inform him of any changes before he sits down at the table.

Look at the whole day before you decide whether or not your child has an eating problem.

Even if your child’s first reaction to a new food is negative, try serving it again. She may change her mind.

Enjoy the Rewards:

Be realistic. Know when to eat the meal so you have harmony rather then screaming.

 Getting dressed: a summary

Predict :  Check your child’s temperamental picture. Try your best to figure out what temperamental traits make dressing troublesome for your child. Sensitivity is often an issue. Adaptability and intensity may be factors too.

Organise the setting:

– Create a space for dressign that helps your child focus on the task at hand. Remove toys and other attractive items that may distract your child.

– Avoid power struggles by allowing an indoor/outdoor thermometer to help your child decide what is appropriate to wear for the day.

– Purchase clothings that is easy for your child to put on and take off by himself.

– Provide a mirror to help your child stay focused.

work toegether:

 – Teach your child the words to describe the frustrations she experiences when she is getting dressed so she can say it rather then scream it.

– Purchase clothing that is easy to get on, matches any other piece in the dresser drawer , and feels good.

– Shop with your child in order to select clothing that is acceptable to both of you.

– Expect to take several shopping trips before you find the right clothes.

– Believe your child when she tells you she is hot.

– Allow time for your child to dress without feeling rushed

– Prepare ahead for changes in seasons.

Enjoy the rewards

 – Remember repetition brings success. Over time dressing will become less of an issue.

– Let other people help to dress your child.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: