How to Raise a "Spirited" (Or, Um, "Difficult") Child

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Carolyn Juris on Jun 24, 2011 at 1:28PM

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Got a High-Needs Child? Here's Help!

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a Carolyn Juris on Jun 3, 2011 at 2:56PM

You know the type: The kid who zooms around the playground, and then is inconsolable when it’s time to leave. She's ultra-aware of strong smells, bright lights or loud noises or focused on a single desire (be it chocolate milk or TV time), and unwilling (or unable) to just let it go. Then there's the general boucing off the walls, screaming, and relentless kinetic energy. Any of this sound familiar? If so (and many kids fit this description as least some of the time), you’ve got a “spirited” child. Also called “high needs,” these tots can test the skills of even the most patient parent (whoever that mythical creature may be). “Spirited children are normal kids who are more by their very nature,” says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Raising Your Spirited Child. “They’re intense, persistent, sensitive and energetic.” Got one? Here's expert advice on how to help your handful thrive – and how to save your sanity, too.

Stick With a Routine
Spirited kids do best when they know what’s expected of them, Kurcinka says, and having a plan minimizes power struggles. Psychologist Linda Budd agrees. “Children need sameness,” says Budd, whose Living with the Active Alert Child identifies a subset of spirited kids who are extremely high energy and soak up stimulation. “With an active alert or spirited child, if they don’t have that sameness, they think they are in charge.” If your child brushes his teeth before he gets dressed every day, he’ll come to expect that schedule, so adhering to it will make the day go more easily. When you do need to make changes, Kurcinka suggests saving them for the weekend—rather than trying something new when you’re trying to get your kid ready for school or yourself out the door to work. Any conflicts will be less traumatic for both of you.

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