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What is WRONG with you? The challenges of raising a spirited child

red hair child

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

The day I discovered the term ‘spirited child’ was a day of great relief for me as a mother. It was the day I found peace with my first born son’s uniqueness.

As a toddler, my son seemed ‘more’ than other kids. He was louder, more energetic and active, asked more questions, seemed more sensitive emotionally and his behavior was infinetly difficult to manage. He was always the kid at mother’s group discovered rummaging through the forbidden cupboard, pushing another child over or throwing sand in someone’s face. His intense and unpredictable behavior was exhausting and at times, alienating. I resisted every urge to yell at him in pure frustration “What is WRONG with you?.” He just wasn’t like other kids.

Well meaning friends and relatives were quick to offer advice. One friend even gently asked, “Well, have you tried disciplining him?.” Tried? I was trying constantly but he just would NOT respond like a ‘normal’ child.

I often left playdates in tears and felt incredibly alone and at times guilty, that perhaps his behavior was a reflection of my poor parenting. I often wondered if I (we) had created a monster.

The term ‘spirited children’ describes a proportion of children who are simply more intense, sensitive, perceptive and challenging than other children. I discovered there wasn’t anything ‘wrong’ with my son. This was all apart of the unique personality and temperament he was born with. Once I accepted him as he was I was able to help guide and shape his character without trying to change him.

I learnt to acknowledge that many challenging personality traits like assertiveness (boldness), strong-will (stubbornness)  and enthusiasm (intensity) were actually qualities that we value highly in adults but deem inappropriate in children.  I realised I didn’t want to ‘discipline’ these qualities out of  him and make him feel like there was something wrong with him. I wanted to help channel those characteristics into more appropriate and productive behaviors and activities. I became excited at the realization that if my son could channel his persistence, his passion and his intensity that he had the potential to make a difference in the world!

Today, my eldest son is 6 years old and we are continuing to discover more about his uniqueness. Already we are beginning to see the troubling behaviors of his toddler years being channeled into an impressive little musician and academic. I see what I once perceived as weaknesses revealing themselves as strengths. I am so proud of him. We continue to have behavioral challenges but nowhere near as often. I now deal with them more effectively, accepting that my role is to guide and shape him but not to change the very essence of who he is.

“Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.”

- Joan Ryan

Parenting a spirited child brings the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but I now know I am not alone.  I can now embrace my son with a renewed peace and understanding that he is exactly the person that he is supposed to be.

So to anyone who asks – There is nothing WRONG with my son!

He’s just spirited!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)

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Comments ( 26 )

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  1. It must have been so frustrating to leave playgroups wondering what was going on. I have a friend who had a very similar journey. I’ve always encouraged her to keep trying – we love her spirited child too :) It did help her when she started reading about spirited children, to know that it wasn’t her.

  2. Crunchy Con Mommy March 13, 2012 Reply

    I love this. My son is very spirited too. Sometimes I get frustrated with things I read, like suggestions for keeping toddlers busy while you shower, because I think things like “but how do you keep them from leaping off the couch? or scaling the computer desk? or a million other things that other kids apparently don’t do while their moms are showering but my son does every chance he gets and I have to work really hard to keep under control. lol. Anyway, it’s great to hear from another mama of a spirited boy. I’m so excited to see how wonderful of a big boy and man he is someday, and I’m learning more and more to enjoy him now (and remembering to stay hydrated and appreciate the natural weight loss from chasing him. lol.)

  3. Hannah March 14, 2012 Reply

    I hope that friends (and I imagine “well meaning” family members) are also able to see beyond the boundless energy and enjoy your son and the gifts that he brings.

  4. Great post, Tara! And I love the quote by Joan Ryan. It’s so true that we need to celebrate the child we have. I always found the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator fascinating. I think it’s helpful to learn more about our children so that we can truly appreciate their unique gifts. Deb @

  5. Lauren @ Hobo Mama March 14, 2012 Reply

    Isn’t it amazing that the traits that tend to get kids into trouble are the same ones we prize in adults? Your son is so fortunate to have you as an advocate for him! I love that quote from Joan Ryan, by the way. So true.

  6. Kelly March 14, 2012 Reply

    Love this story – and that you were able to discover such a place with your son! I think these are good points for any parent to remember, and I’m sure will provide a lot of comfort and help for parents of spirited children. :)

  7. Julie Keon March 14, 2012 Reply

    Bravo!!There is much wisdom in your post. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people ask me what is “wrong” with our daughter. Absolutely nothing!!

  8. “Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.”

    - Joan Ryan

    I love this quote. Motherhood stretches us in new ways. I once read something that said if you really love being a parent, you should embrace those times that really push your parenting skills, because those challenges are the ones which will promote the most growth in you as both a parent and a person.

  9. I constantly have to remind myself that these are all traits that will serve them well later, it just makes it very challenging right now! Your son is lucky that you realized that there is nothing wrong with a “spirited child,” but hugs from one mama to another. I certainly know how heart-wrenching it can some days.

  10. Melissa Vose March 14, 2012 Reply

    Lovely post! I love this look at spirited children, and how you celebrate who your son is. These kids are challenging to raise, but so rewarding!! =)

  11. Sylvia@MaMammalia March 14, 2012 Reply

    I love the Joan Ryan quote and how you’ve embodied it in this post! Sometimes we really do get what we need :)

  12. The Monko March 19, 2012 Reply

    I’ve been where you were. My son is very energetic and I once made the mistake of moaning to a friend about his constant hurtling and exploring. She suggested I stripped sugar from his diet telling me it had completely changed her child’s personality. That was when I realised that although my son was a handful, I loved his personality and enthusiasm for life, even if it did seem to others a bit ferral. I’m glad you were able to embrace your sons good energy.

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