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

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!

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Visit 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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