You've seen us at the market: we're the ones whose kids are screaming, climbing on shopping carts, begging for candy or a toy. You've seen us at restaurants: our kids hardly eat. Instead, they run around or pop up and stare at other diners. You've seen us at the playground: our kids run, jump, climb, slide, and change activities with blinding speed. You've heard about us: our kids are described as "handfuls." We're the ones who are often asked, "Are you sure he's not hyperactive?" We're the parents everyone has advice for: take a parenting class; be stricter; be more lenient; spank; have tested. But despite all your experience with us, you don't really know us. We are the parents of "spirited" kids. And through Postpartum Education for Parent's Spirited Children Support Group we are learning more about our special kids and how to manage them. Our children are normal but hard-to-raise. Difficult. Challenging. And certainly a handful.
My own introduction to the world of spirited children came from a book catalog. In its description of "Raising Your Spirited Child" it told the story of a child who had a tantrum because his sandwich was cut into rectangles instead of triangles. I was floored -- I'd had that fight with my child! Up to that point I'd thought I was just not cut out to be a parent. I wondered what was wrong with my child and asked her pediatrician several times if she was hyperactive. Of course, I ran right out and bought the book. I discovered that it wasn't my lack of parenting skills -- I was actually doing a lot of things right. The problem was my lack of knowledge about my daughter's spirited temperament.
In 1956, Drs. Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess and Herbert Birch began the ground-breaking New York Longitudinal Study, following 133 people from infancy to adulthood. Their goal was to define temperamental characteristics of children as they matured. Nine traits were defined, which we all have in some degree. It's that degree which determines whether a child will be mellow or spirited. The work done by these researchers has been expanded by two authors, Stanley Turecki, M.D. in "The Difficult Child," and Mary Sheedy Kurcinka in "Raising Your Spirited Child."