Before I had children, hearing the term "spirited child" made me roll my eyes.
Spirited just sounded like another word for "difficult," one that allowed parents to shrug off their child's inappropriate behaviors with a smile. Then I had my own spirited child.
Yes, spirited can be another word for difficult. I have had other parents smile sympathetically at me while my daughter is crying on the floor of Home Outfitters because I won't buy her the lime green plastic pot holder she just needs to have. "What a spirited child you have," they have told me while I try to contain my embarrassment. "What a difficult child I have," I have answered in my head.
But as my child approaches the two-year mark (how is it that she hasn't even hit her terrible twos?) I understand that phrase: spirited. She isn't a difficult child. She absolutely knows what she wants and she can be challenging at times, but she isn't difficult. At times she is very easy, in fact. She (usually) goes to bed like a dream; she (usually) puts her snowsuit on without complaint; and she (usually) loves to go shopping with us.
Yes, she has more tantrums than some other children I know. Yes, her tantrums can be at an entirely different level than other children. But when I think of the woman I want my daughter to become, are these behaviours really "difficult?"
Is it bad that I have a daughter who is confident and comfortable enough to express her emotions?
I don't always agree with the ways she chooses to convey her sentiments, but at the same time her tantrums are the beginning of her ability to express what she wants — and is that really something I want to stifle?
If you too have a "spirited" child, think about your child's outbursts (a much better word than tantrum). Think about the main components of an outburst: decisiveness, emotional expression and persistence.
When you really break it down, these aren't bad traits to have as an adult. It's just how your child chooses to display these attributes that is the issue.
When my daughter has an outburst, I try to remind myself of the character traits she is showing me.
She is decisive. She knows what she wants and that she wants it right this minute. As an adult this will serve her very well. She will know what she wants and be able to decide how to go about getting it. Right now she is experimenting. She showed me the green pot holder. I wouldn't get it for her. She decided to try another tactic: she threw herself onto the ground and cried. That didn't work either.
Maybe next time she will try another method, and another, and another, until she finds one that works for her. It is my job to teach her what works and what does not. If you give in to your child's tantrums, you are teaching them that kicking and screaming is the way to get what they want, and that behaviour will continue. If you ignore the negative behaviour and help your child figure out a more appropriate way to ask for things, it will serve him or her better in the long run.
When my daughter is yelling at me from the floor, she is expressing herself the only way she knows how. She does have a great vocabulary for her age, but it only goes so far: she can't have a rational conversation with me about how well the pot holder would ally accent her bedroom. When I really think about it, I'm glad she feels comfortable enough to express herself.
An outburst, no matter how public and embarrassing, is a great opportunity to teach your child.
And finally, my daughter is absolutely persistent (this is a wonderful synonym for stubborn). She does not want to give up. I might have to carry her out of a store crying because she is not getting what she wants. Try to remind yourself of how this attribute will serve your child as an adult: maybe he or she really wants to be an engineer but his or her grades are lacking. Instead of giving up and choosing a new career path, a persistent child will work as hard as possible to achieve that goal. That is a great trait — it just may not seem like it right now.
So if you have a spirited child, know one, or just see one in Home Outfitters this weekend, remember that this child, with proper guidance, is on his or her way to a confident, successful future.
This article was first published in the Guelph Mercury January 2015
Brianne Collecchio is a Registered Early Childhood Educator and mom of two girls. She runs Busy Bees Childcare, Busy Bees Creations, and is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne.