Join Brianna and Ariel as they review and discuss the parenting book, Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. When you use the affiliate links in this article, you're helping to keep Busy Nest News running. Thanks for your continued support.
Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic, by Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
For July’s parenting book, we read Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Ed. D.. Through her study of spirited children Dr. Kurcinka has developed a program to help parents manage the challenges that come with raising a spirited child. In this book, she offers concrete tips for identifying and handling situations that are likely to be met with resistance by spirited children, whether it’s an unexpected change in schedule, less than sympathetic teachers, or working through overwhelming emotions.
You just read my summary of Raising Your Spirited Child, but what the heck are we talking about? What does “spirited” even mean? According to Dr. Kurcinka, the word most associated with spirited children is “more.” They can be more emotional, more adverse to new situations, more physically sensitive, more perceptive, more difficult to get to sleep, more distractible, or more analytical. In today’s parlance, they’re very Extra. While these traits can sometimes rise to a level of dysfunction that we can consider them a disorder, such as Sensory Processing Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder, that isn't necessarily the case for all children, and oftentimes they can be managed without medical intervention. This does not, by any means, indicate that coping with all of these extra traits will be easy, especially at first. Parents of spirited children are often criticized as being indulgent, push-overs, weak, or mean. But with a bit of forethought and preparation, Dr. Kurcinka’s tips can aid parents as they anticipate their children’s needs, and teach their children how to fend for themselves as they mature.
Personally, I found much of this book to be very sad. Spirited children and their parents know that they’re looking at an uphill battle day in and day out for many years. An early chapter in which Dr. Kurcinka and the parents in her workshop discuss the many labels their children have already acquired was very sobering. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. As your child can begin to communicate what it is about a situation that bothers them, the more you can do to help them find solutions (ex: certain fabrics irritate them, so just don't buy clothes in those fabrics).
More hope develops as the author notes that the very traits we find frustrating in spirited children are the ones we value in leaders. A baby who just won’t sleep because she has too much energy might grow up to become a tireless CEO or advocate for the less fortunate. I found it very reassuring that if my spirited child can make it to adulthood with the right knowledge about herself and the right coping mechanisms, she’ll have as much or more potential to do well as any other person. I give Raising Your Spirited Child four stars, and if reading it resonates with you, I recommend you purchase your own copy, as it will be a resource you’ll need to consult again. If you don’t have any children that act “Extra” or “More,” reading this will probably give you insight into your friend or sibling’s life with their kid who just can’t abide surprises, or is always “acting out.” Those of you who aren’t tempted to call your child “crazy” or “difficult” several times a day will find that How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen is an excellent resource to help you through the normal ups and downs of early childhood.
Brianna: We chose to read this book, because we felt it was the book we needed. Both of our girls are very extra, curious, determined and fearless. These traits sound great on paper, but the reality is that we struggle with everyday things that other parents find easy to manage most of the time. Having read this book, do you still think you have a spirited child on your hands? If so, did you learn some new tools for making life easier on everyone in the future?
Ariel: Yes and no. Reading Raising Your Spirited Child definitely put my daily struggles into perspective. Compared to some of the stories used to illustrate and explain - I have it easy! Does that mean I don’t have a spirited child?! Maybe not. Kurcinka includes a scale for rating your child on each of the nine traits that goes into creating our temperament which include: intensity, persistence, sensitivity, perceptiveness,adaptability, regularity, energy, first reactions and mood, The first five traits make up the core of what it is to be a spirited child - spirited children tend to score high here. The last four traits are hit or miss - spirited children do not necessarily have more of these. Looking at the results, Bean falls right along the divide between spunky and spirited. But I am left wondering if this is because she truly is only a spunky or if my temperament and coping mechanisms are having an influence. To illustrate my point, both Bean and I are slow to adapt, but I rated my self high at a four or five and her lower at a three. One of the techniques Kurcinka suggests for helping a slow to adapt child (or adult) is announcing schedule changes well in advance. This way the spirited individual can prepare, both mentally and physically. I was already doing this for myself internally, so I naturally started using my own inner dialogue out loud at the first sign of the toddler ‘tude.
I believe my child and I are both spirited. At the moment I think my daughter and I are a prime example of how our relationships are impacted by both temperaments - parent AND child. Ours is a prime example of how temperaments can complement each other. That is - at the moment - it may not always be so. Did you learn anything about yourself and your relationship with Monkey by completing the temperament scale for yourself?
Brianna: That’s one of the features I liked best about this book! That it asks you to assess not just your child’s personality, but your own, as well. And that makes a ton of sense. After all, parent and child become frustrated with each other where there’s a gap in communication and understanding. Or, as in our case, you end up enabling each other with unsustainable habits (like skipping meals or going to sleep at weird times). Plus, one of the keys to success as a spirited adult is self-assessment and self-regulation. If you’re a spirited parent, you need to learn how to do these things. If your child is spirited, you need to teach them how to do it themselves.
Monkey and I both fall squarely into the “spirited” column. We’re both very perceptive, slow to adapt, and have little in the way of internal clocks keeping us on track. In fact, I forgot to eat lunch today (don’t worry about me! I’ll nuke some leftovers soon!). That’s very typical of me when I’m working on things that I see as important or fascinating. But it isn’t good in the long run for either of us. This book has made me reflect on the role of routine in our lives. We both thrive on a schedule, but really stink at imposing it on ourselves. As the adult, it’s my job to step up and put that structure in place, which I try to do with various apps, meal plans, and even tech like theOctopus watch.
The most startling revelation is that Monkey’s daddy and I are both introverts, but Monkey is an extrovert. As much as we love being quiet and alone, she loves being out with friends. We recently took her to a park for a hike, and were thrilled to see that there was hardly anyone else out that day. But Monkey immediately looked around and asked “where are the friends?” That reminded us that her idea of a good time and ours are very different.
Were there any parts of the book that didn’t quite meet your expectations, or parts with which you disagreed?
Ariel: I believe it is unfair for me to say this, but I will say this nonetheless. I am continually disappointed in how little advice parenting books give to parents of the younger crowd. I am not expecting a book to be able to hand me the magic bullet. I understand that my toddler simply does not have the vocabulary and understanding needed to start using the kinds of parenting tools that make you feel like you are actively shaping a future adult. But I am left dejected and deflated when the message I read - book after book - is to ‘grin and bear it.’ Now Raising Your Spirited Child did better than most! Kurcinka made a point of tailoring her advice to the toddler crowd when possible. Plus she makes a strong argument for using these tips, tools and techniques now, even though you may not see results for months (or years) to come. For example, if future Ariel wants to be able to have meaningful discussions about strong emotional reactions with her spirited four year old, I need to start building Bean’s emotional vocabulary NOW when she is two. By practicing now we set both our children and ourselves up for success. By the time we need to engage in ‘balanced control’ - a technique Kurcinka discusses - it will be second nature. Can you tell that I am trying to convince myself as much as you - the reader? Actively parenting a toddler can be exhausting, especially when it is your first child and you are waiting on results you have yet to see.
What did you think of the audio book? Having read both, I noticed strong reactions to the narrator of the audiobook that I did not feel when reading the text. Maybe it was just me, but the narrator made me feel so hopeless. I think she was going for understanding. But the way she interpreted the personal anecdotes that Kurcina sprinkled throughout the text made me feel that parenting a spirited child is a chore, but if you can make it to adulthood you might just have a functioning adult. Her interpretation had the opposite effect of what - I believe - Kurcinka was trying to do, which is normalize our strong reactions to our spirited children. I didn’t feel normalized I felt depressed!
Brianna: I agree that the audiobook is a tad problematic. I thought the reader did a good job, but I definitely did come away feeling a bit dejected. Hearing other parents air grievances, many of which were similar to my own, was so painful and guilt-inducing that I would only listen to the book when Monkey was sleeping, or when I had earbuds in. I didn’t want her to hear parents venting about kids like her. Likewise, I didn’t want her to hear the awful labels used on spirited children by parents and teachers throughout the book (and against which Kurcinka crusades). I’m relieved to hear that in print the whole thing is not just more matter-of-fact, but actually more hopeful.
Raising Your Spirited Child is a solid parenting book, but it isn’t necessary for absolutely everyone. Rather than addressing general parenting concerns, Dr. Kurcinka has focused her energy into improving the lives of children who are “more,” as well as their parents. If you find books like How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen are somehow falling short for you, give Raising Your Spirited Child a try. Chances are, you will learn a lot about your child (and yourself) and their unique needs will suddenly make more sense. Furthermore, you’ll be reassured to learn that you are not the only one raising a child who can’t stand scratchy clothes, becomes distraught when you have ice cream for dessert instead of cake, needs to run five miles a day before they can sleep at night, or is otherwise challenging. The overwhelming messages of this book are that you are not alone, and everything is going to be O.K..
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Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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