Sunday, February 8, 2015

Raising Your Spirited Child - Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Title: Raising Your Spirited Child
Author: Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins), 2006 (Paperback)
Length: 468 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: January 27, 2015
Finished: February 7, 2015

From the back cover:

The spirited child - often called "difficult" or "strong-willed" - possesses traits we value in adults yet find challenging in children. Research shows that spirited kids are wired to be "more" - by temperament, they are more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and uncomfortable with change than the average child. In this revised edition of the award-winning classic, voted one of the top twenty books for parents, Kurcinka provides vivre examples and a refreshingly positive viewpoint. Raising Your Spirited Child will help you:

  • understand your child's - and your own - temperamental traits
  • discover the power of positive - rather than negative labels
  • cope with tantrums and power struggles when they do occur
  • plan for success with a simple four-step program
  • develop strategies for handling mealtimes, sibling rivalry, bedtimes, holidays, and school, among other situations
As a teacher, after reading this book I now realize I've encountered many spirited children in my classes. I usually like them a lot even though they aren't the easiest to deal with in a classroom setting because I know that their personalities will serve them well in their adult life (I'm a teacher who fully admits the school system is in no way 100% indicative of real life and that the "perfect student" doesn't necessarily succeed in adulthood). I wanted my daughter to be like these kids, I wanted a child with spark in their personality. Turns out I got what I wished for (I actually have quite a few of these spirited traits as well, so she takes after me in this regard), but I never would have realized how difficult a spirited child is to parent. 

We've all encountered spirited kids I'm sure: the ones that are more sensitive than all the others, the ones who don't adapt as fast as the others, the ones that notice everything you don't want them to pay attention to, the ones who are more stubborn and won't give up easily, and the ones who are just so intense. They're also the ones with whom regular parenting techniques and tricks don't really work on, because their temperaments are different than those of most kids. My daughter is like this: oh so smart, incredibly funny, and the sweetest kid ever, but definitely is not a happy-go-lucky, go-with-the-flow kind of child. Every experience with her needs to be planned out with amazing precision, with back-up-plans and exit strategies if things don't go according to plan. I used to blame myself, especially after her daycare would tell us of a particularly trying day, thinking "What am I doing wrong? Why can't I get her to behave like the other kids?" Turns out that she can behave just fine, she just needs some extra considerations the other kids don't, which is outlined in this book.

The author lists the characteristics that most spirited children possess:
  • Intensity - powerful reactions regardless of the emotion behind it
  • Persistence - assertive, can "lock" into an activity important to them
  • Sensitivity - keenly aware of every sensation like noises, lights, smells, textures, even the moods of others; making them easily overwhelmed at times
  • Perceptiveness - they notice everything to the point where others think they are not listening 
  • Adaptability - uncomfortable with change and unable to shift easily from one activity to another, though this does improve with age
The "bonus" traits, which spirited kids may or may not have:
  • Regularity - doesn't keep to much of a schedule in terms of eating, sleeping, etc.
  • Energy - high energy levels
  • First Reaction - instinctively withdraw from anything new until they can warm up to it, related to the issues with adaptability
  • Mood - tendency to be serious and analytical
I realized both my daughter and I possess many of these traits (mostly from the first list), particularly the poor adaptability and sensitivity, plus we're introverts, which doesn't help. It was like a lightbulb moment in my head, I finally figured out why she reacted the way she did when it was time to transition, or why she would do better in smaller groups, or why I need to research and overly prepare for every new thing I do until it becomes familiar. I also realized that my daughter and other kids like her don't do these things to be difficult, they simply can't handle certain things, and no amount of wanting them to "suck it up and deal" will help them improve. It only took some of the suggested  minor changes to how we deal with things to see an improvement in our daughter's behaviour. There's even a few things that I realized I employed almost automatically in my classroom that help with spirited kids: writing the day's schedule on the board, and explaining assignments in small increments rather than explaining the entire huge thing all at once. 

If you're a teacher, parent, or involved with children in any capacity, you'll want to read this book. It's truly an eye-opener about behaviour patterns in children that we value in adults, but where kids still need help in regulating these intense temperaments.

Thoughts on the cover:
This totally looks like a pose my daughter would be caught in, so I give them credit for realism. 

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