Dealing with Your Spirited Child

High Spirited Blogographic

If you have more than one child, you’re likely to have a high spirited one in the bunch. Here are a few tips for dealing with these delightful, rambunctious, sensitive and determined kids. Some of these strategies apply to all children, but are included here because they are even more important to keep in mind when you have a strong willed, sensitive and spirited child.

1. Highly spirited children get easily excited and easily disappointed. Whenever possible, let your child know your plans ahead of time. This gives them time to enjoy their excitement, but also to get used to things that disappoint them. For example, if you know they’re going to be sad when it’s time to leave the park, give them a five or ten minute warning so they have time to transition. This can help avoid the outbursts of surprise or disappointment that can occur when the child is expected to change tracks abruptly.

2. Let your child be as independent as possible, within clear and consistent parameters. This is beneficial for all kids, but spirited children in particular LOVE being independent and thrive on having responsibilities. Most spirited children also learn best through independent experiences and exploration than they do by just “being told” things.

3. Work soothing activities in your child’s routines – reading, stretching, daily bath, listening to classical music, etc. Spirited children live life intensely. This is one of their greatest strengths, but also makes it more difficult for them to relax on their own. They need to LEARN how to help themselves relax.

4. Give your child lots of outdoor time. This is a great way for them to release their energy and discover ways to occupy their strong sense of focus.

5. Encourage your child to learn as much as they can actively, through projects, demonstrations, experiments and exploration. If you homeschool your child, you can tailor their learning process to be as active and engaging as possible. If your child goes to school, give them active learning opportunities in the afternoons and on weekends.

6. Avoid power struggles. Parents should really avoid power struggles with ALL children, but high spirited, strong willed kids are the ones that NEVER give in.

7. Focus on their strengths. OK – high spirited kids can be more high strung and might seem too stubborn or explosive, but they also have incredible strengths. They are often creative, sensitive, attentive and good leaders. Avoid labeling your child as “stubborn” or “angry”. Focus more on helping them discover and share their strengths than on chiding them for their weaknesses. If your child brings out their strengths enough, they’ll crowd out their weaknesses.

8. Negotiate when possible.Strong willed children often argue using their reason and enjoy being right. There’s no harm in acknowledging when they are right or when what they propose is acceptable. Taking their input into account whenever possible, while saying no when needed, helps them establish a health self-esteem and reinforces their tendency to use logic.

9. Limit electronic stimuli (video games, TV, technology). Highly spirited kids already have a lot of energy – they don’t need more energy pulsing through their veins from electronic stimuli. Teach them how to use electronics for specific purposes, and, if TV is allowed in your house, allow them to watch it for a set duration, but discourage too much use of technology. Even on rainy days, avoid letting the TV run too long. Find active indoor things to do instead.

10. Allow your child to learn by making mistakes. Again, this is important for all kids, but some kids need to make more mistakes than others. Laid back children often have an easier time accepting advice, and this helps them avoid some mistakes by learning from others. Most high spirited children, however, have a knee-jerk reaction to try whatever they’re told not to (you know, stick out their tongue and touch a frozen pole after being told it’ll get stuck). But they learn from their mistakes too, so it doesn’t go to waste!


15 thoughts on “Dealing with Your Spirited Child

  1. This is so spot on with my 5 yr old son. In fact, I found out after he was born his name means spirited. :) This is by far, one of the best postings of read for a spirited child. Thank you!!

  2. I like some of the suggestions, but almost didn’t read the article because of the “Dealing with” title. Sure, life with a spirited child is challenging, but the tone of the title was somewhat negative.

    • I’m sorry you felt that way, Dawn, and I appreciate you letting me know. I in no way intend “dealing with” to have a negative connotation. The way I see it, we deal with countless situations in life, just as many positive as negative.

      • Thank you, Ellen. I have no criticism about your post. My son is everything you described in addressing a high-spirited child. You’ve given me knowledge and a different way of seeing his ways. Thank you!

  3. This is spot on. We have 2 boys with 10 years between them and my own mother reminds me OFTEN that our “sweetheart wild child 2nd son” is NOT our “eager to please 1st son”. The house gets a little crazy at times but I have found that when I am practicing a lot of your suggestions things seem to run a little smoother. I also stress to my husband and older son that they wouldn’t like it if someone always cut in on them and took over their project. Jak wants to own it. And he’s not afraid to get dirty to make it happen.
    I tried telling him, “You can’t do that, you’re too little.” A few days later, I walked into the kitchen to find a 2 foot wooden stool with his foldable step stool strategically placed on top and next to an open upper cabinet. He was trying to get the Mio that dad uses. And I can go on and on………..
    I learned I have to embrace his independence or I will go crazy. Yelling and useless confrontation only makes it worse.
    Great article Ellen. Also, it comforts me to know that I’m not the only parent that sometimes struggles with raising a spirited child.

    • Thanks, Julie! I can totally picture what you’re saying! We have the exact same type thing with one of our sons… Kids like that are such a challenge and an incredible joy at the same time!

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  5. Thank goodness I’m not the only one. I have 4 kids and the third is high spirited to be sure. The parenting style I’ve developed has absolutely zero effect on him. Lately, it has been taking hours to get him to sleep. I have tried absolutely everything and have gone so far as to sit next to his bed and hold him in it. He just really does not care about any of that. He really responds best to reason, but he’s only 2, so I can’t think of a way to get through to him that it’s bedtime.

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