Parental Advisory

The Spirited Toddler Quiz, Part 1

“Spirited”…formerly “difficult” or “strong-willed”…whatever you choose to call it, it’s occurs in about 10% of all children and, sometimes, it’s difficult to identify it because, if you’re like me, you thought all babies and toddlers were like that. Writes Mary Sheedy Kurcinka in Raising Your Spirited Child:

The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive and uncomfortable with change than all other children. All children possess these characteristics, but spirited kids possess them with a depth and range not available to other children. Spirited kids are the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Ever bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling.

I’ve noticed that it’s easy for parents (and, yes, I include myself in the category of “parents”…although not always) to pick and choose how they perceive behaviors. Anything they internally perceive as bad, oddball or not right, their inner-voice of defense goes into apologist mode and says, “Aw, Jeff. All kids are like that.” Conversely, if your kid does something that is good, exceptional or way right, your inner-voice tends to “pedestal” it. You act like it’s something incredible or amazing when, the reality is, it’s probably nothing extraordinary. Both represent ways that parents react to the stimulus of a new baby. I think employing both can be damaging to a kid’s makeup. Your toddler’s floating on a cloud, protected from consequence, criticism and reality. Of course, the opposite can be just as damaging too. If you only accentuate your child’s less favorable characteristics and never recognize good things your child does, can probably disrupt healthy development in the child, blurred concepts of reward and consequence and will most likely lead to a life of crime and deviancy. Okay, I just made up that last part for emphasis.

But being able to honestly assess your child and her characteristics is crucial in diagnosing her as or disproving a “spirited” status. Strip down the characteristics to their bare bones. Offer no apology or praise. It’s a yes or no. Of course, just as I say that, it’s a weighted scale that we’re gonna use. So, for those that live in perpetual grey areas, you’re safe.

The Spirited Toddler Quiz is one using a weighted scale on nine characteristics exhibited by your toddler and, at the end, the range of the sum of those nine individual scores either puts them in the “cool,” “spunky” or “spirited” categories. Or, as I prefer: Fonzarelli, Donald Duck or Sam Kinison. Spirited status is not a death sentence. Realize that the same term in an adult could be considered a positive attribute. It’s just important to determine a name for what you’re dealing with first so you can adjust your reactions to the situation. Education’s key to well-rounded parenting. Either from a book, from others or the old-fashion dive head-first into the blazing inferno…or all three.

So, let’s move onto the first question in the Spirited Toddler Quiz…intensity.

Well, I can tell you this: Ellison has never squeaked during a cry and she has definitely wailed. If you’re a Raising Elle reader, you know this. In fact, I keep monitors at about 15% volume strength simply because you really don’t need them with Ellison. She doesn’t have a low volume so amplifying her scream is downright deafening. In houses without carpet, she’s pretty much her own monitor. Secondly, are we ever surprised when she gets upset? Not really. We’ve come to know what’s gonna set her off. The other day, I was trying to get something away from her that she wasn’t supposed to have and my lovely wife warned me, “Better give her something else first.” Mommy knew. Sure enough, I snag it from her hands and I’m looking down the barrel of a colossal phantom tantrum. Then, five seconds later, she laughs at me, smiles and walks away like nothing ever happened. Guess I would call that a “living staircase of emotion.” Third, reactions are either mild or deep and powerful. I’m gonna go slightly above average on this one. She has mild reactions in her arsenal. Not everything is a karate chop to the throat. Which leads us here to whether or not she simply smiles when happy of shouts with glee. She’s definitely more apt to show happiness or approval though vocalizing. Smiles are usually accessorized with laughter or, my personal favorite, “ah-ha!” Lastly, does she usually work through a problem without becoming frustrated or is the easily frustrated. I’m gonna say that she’s not easily frustrated. We were noticing when she was walking early with the walking assistant that when she’d run into the wall, she’d back it up, navigate it into another direction and then barrel along on her way. She’s really good at playing things like “hide the toy” or “where’s daddy.” When we give her simple challenges, she usually takes them on with exuberance. I’m gonna fall on the lower end of that scale.

No doubt, our first year could definitely be considered intense, but after we lift the veil of colic and RSV, what’s is Ellison’s intensity overall? I’m calculating it here as an overall rating of 4 outta 5.

Kurcinka writes, “Spirited children experience every emotion and sensation deeply and powerfully. Their hearts pound, the adrenaline flows through their bodies. There is actually a physical reaction that occurs more strongly in their bodies than in less intense individuals. They are not loud because they know it irritates people; they are loud because they really feel that much excitement, pain or whatever the motion or sensation might be. Their intensity is real. It is their first and most natural reaction. If you have circled a 4 or a 5, you can predict that you child will be easily excited, frustrated or emoitional. When you know your child is intense, you can expect a strong reaction and develop a plan to help your child express her reaction appropriately to diffuse it.”

Next time, we’ll be looking at persistence. It’s 6:15am and I hear her in the other room waking up…typical Ellison style…wailing. Daddy making the donuts on a Saturday morning.


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