Who is the Spirited Child?
An opportunity to fall in love, fodder for frustration, source of anxiety, and an unending puzzle
— this is my spirited child.
— Diane, the mother of two
The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than other children. All children possess these characteristics, but spirited kids possess them with a depth and range not available to other children. Spirited kids are the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling.
It’s difficult to describe what it is like to be the parent of a spirited child. The answer keeps changing; it depends on the day, even the moment. How does one describe the experience of sliding from joy to exasperation in seconds, ten times a day. How does one explain the “sense” at eight in the morning that this will be a good day or a dreadful one.
The good ones couldn’t be better. A warm snuggle and sloppy kiss awaken you. He captures you with his funny antics as he stands in front of the dog, a glob of peanut butter clinging to a knife hidden in the palm of his hand, and asks, “Is Susie a rotten sister?” The dog listens attentively. The hand moves just slightly up and down like a magical wand. The dog’s nose follows the scent, appearing to nod in agreement. You can’t help laughing.
Profound statements roll from his mouth, much too mature and intellectual for a child of his age. He remembers experiences you’ve long since forgotten and drags you to the window to watch the raindrops, falling like diamonds from the sky. On the good days being the parent of a spirited child is astounding, dumbfounding, wonderful, funny, interesting, and interspersed with moments of brilliance.
The dreadful days are another story. On those days you’re not sure you can face another twenty-four hours with him. It’s hard to feel good as a parent when you can’t even get his socks on, when every word you’ve said to him has been a reprimand, when the innocent act of serving tuna casserole instead of the expected tacos incites a riot, when you realize you’ve left more public places in a huff with your child in five years than most parents do in a lifetime.
You feel weary, drained, and much too old for this even if you were only in your twenties when your child was born. It’s hard to love a kid who keeps you up at night and embarrasses you in shopping centers.
On the bad days being the parent of a spirited child is confusing, frustrating, taxing, challenging, and guilt inducing. You may wonder if you are the only parent with a kid like this, scared of what is to come in the teen years if you don’t figure out what to do now, in the early years.