Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spirited Boy

I finally checked out the "Spirited Child" book from the library, the same one that folks have been recommending on "Ask Moxie" for ages. I admit I have been in denial about how challenging my 29-month-old DS can be. Like I was somehow afraid of labeling him unfairly, though "spirited" is just about the perfect euphemistic term for a kid like DS. I'm having trouble putting into words why I feel this particular shoe fits him.

He is a wonderful boy, don't get me wrong. And super cute - the kind of beautiful kid that middle-aged women in public always comment on literally every single day - "Where did he get those amazing long lashes, big brown eyes, sweet smile, sandy brown hair???" Probably from the same gene pool that gave him his low sleep needs, a predilection for climbing and jumping, and a very stubborn, determined personality. I'm glad he is happy most of the time.... because he is so very hard to keep up with! At least he is fun to be around and has a sweet personality while he is raising hell! Yesterday we had our second broken eggs incident. I was doing the dishes and heard the fridge door open and shut - he does that all the time - he is strong enough to break open the fridge lock we used to have. Minutes later, I walked towards the entryway where I heard him laughing, and on the floor and in the hall closet were 10 broken, raw eggs. It took so much restraint not to break down and cry right there. It took hours to clean up.

Other people's kids don't do stuff like this all the time, like DS does. (I'm sure they do, somewhere. Just not anyone around me.) And I really do mean "all the time." I am so exhausted from cleaning up after him, collecting piles of his broken things in the garage, wiping stuff off of every surface of our house, trying to hide things he's found all over again (he is like a heat-seeking missile for search and destroy of pens, chapstick, chocolate), etc...

I feel like he is either going to be a huge success or a complete failure - isn't that an odd thing to think?

My Podunk neighbor thinks I should start spanking him. Um, no.

This is not a discipline issue, it is a personality issue. That's what I really feel. Anybody else get what I'm saying?

EDIT: I'm halfway through the book. BTW, the book is "Raising Your Spirited Child, A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Excellent read. Extremely validating for me. Avoids mislabeling. It concerns developmentally normal child behavior. Deals with the real emotions I feel, primarily the loss of a dream/phantom "easy" child I thought he once was and would forever be - naive, I know. It also gets wonderfully specific. Turns out that DS is "spirited" alright. Of the various categories explored, DS is only "more" in the "Persistent" and "Energetic" areas. Which explains why he is happy-go-lucky while destroying everything in sight and going non-stop. His hapless parents are "spunky," so there is a temperamental mismatch we need to work through. Great, great book!


Jac said...

I completely feel you on this one. My DS is spirited too - I bought that book when he was about 18 months. I find it helps me to keep reminding myself that all things about his "spiritedness" that drive me up the wall (his high energy, his independence, his tenacity, his adventurous no-fear nature) are qualities that I really admire in adults - just not sure how I am going to get him to adulthood alive when he seems hell-bent on self-destruction.

It's hard to be surrounded by people who have toddlers but don't understand. I've had soooo many people tell me that "all toddlers are like that". But they're not. I've been around lots of toddlers. DS runs circles around them, and exhibits much greater risk-taking behaviour. He is sometimes, literally, bouncing off the walls.

And I don't think its odd to think that he'll be a huge success, or a big failure. I worry the same thing. I can only hope that he gets really great understanding teachers in school who don't try to pigeonhole him or "diagnose" him but support him in learning in was which work best for him. My husband was a dismal failure in school (he was diagnosed with adult ADHD a few years ago), but he is really successful at life in general and business specifically - and he's also brilliant (school grades notwithstanding) and I see so much of him in my son.

I spanked DS once. It didn't do a bit of good, and I hate myself for it. I haven't even told my husband - I am too ashamed.

We enrolled him in a toddler gymnastics class which has been great - his physical co-ordination has improved a lot so while he is undertaking all his risky behaviours, he's managing to land on his feet most of the time. I've heard mini-trampolines are also great for these kids, but I don't have space for one at the moment.

nej said...

I'm pretty sure that I am one of the recommenders of "Spirited Child" and it's for a reason. I bought that book waaaay before E turned 2...probably closer to one. I remember guests at his 1st birthday commenting that it's rare that a kid literally runs laps around the other kids at his 1st birthday. Some of his friends (one who is about 3 months older) wasn't even walking yet.

Reading that book, along with a few others, really helped. It made me feel better to realize that the things that drove me crazy about him now were things that I would brag about when I was in a nursing home.

It sounds like my son is very, very much like yours, although the last time I had to clean up broken eggs it was in the refrigerated aisle of our local natural food store. Yeah. I looked away for one second. And I used to get so f'ing pissed when people would try to talk to me at the park or when my neighbor would stop me to chat. It was impossible to watch E and keep him safe while also trying to have a half-ass conversation. It is very isolating to have such a high energy child. Unless you find someone who also has a similarly spirited child, and then it's a huge, huge relief. Lucky that you did.

Based on my experience with a wild child, it sounds like there are a few factors. #1 - age. E was a nightmare at 28ish months. In fact, I think that's when I was contemplating dressing him up in his cutesiest outfit and dumping him out in the middle of a neighboring suburb. It gets better. As you know, the half birthdays can be the toughest, and once you're on the other side of 2.5, you'll be breathing easier. #2 - Idle hands and all that. Once I started more actively entertaining/playing with/distracting my son, he was a whole lot less destructive. And I started putting things that I cared about on much, much higher shelves. :)

Coincidentally, my son also has long eyelashes and sandy hair. And I love cute boy shoes - we used to rock See Kai Runs until E discovered Keens and now that's all we'll buy...until he says differently. And we also have a 5.5 month old. Huh.

blue said...

Hey, Hush. I don't have much on this one, but lots of sympathy and wishful thinking that my boy who is almost 18 months is not spirited. I'm pretty sure he's not. I do have, however, an almost six year old girl with what seems to be a highly attuned nervous system, but that's a story for another time.

I like the suggestions offered already by Jac and Nej, gymnastics especially. It might require too much focus at this point, but what about ballet or another type of dance class?

Before kids, I'll admit, I was judgmental of parents of spirited kids. Thinking it must be something they did or didn't do. Even now, DH will say, "I would just spank him" when he sees a boy who's out of control. That said, we've never spanked and don't believe in our hearts that it would do a bit of good. Ask me again in a year when my boy is 2....

Jac, your story of spanking and not telling your DH makes me sad. There are all sorts of little and big things we do as parents (especially with our first babies) that can shame us. Whether you tell or not, knowing it was a mistake and letting it make you a better parent is most important. You don't need to hear it from me, I'm sure... just a little reassurance.

Wish I could offer more....

Cloud said...

I have that book! After reading it, I decided Pumpkin is "spunky", not full-on spirited, but the ideas in the book were still pretty helpful.

What helped me the most in terms of accepting my daughter's personality was realizing that she has my emotional intensity and my husband's high energy/low sleep needs. It is a challenging combination! But it means that I can sort of understand and help her deal with the intensity, since I've done it myself. And Hubby is great at coming up with ideas to burn off/channel the energy.

Do you think your son is breaking eggs and making messes because he is a bit bored at the time? Maybe if you could figure out why you think he does it, you could start a conversation with him about how to handle that feeling when he has it. My guess is that he isn't old enough to tell you why, but he is old enough to start the process of teaching him a way to handle it.

Other than that, I have nothing but a lot of sympathy! I think you will work through this with him and he will learn to challenge that amazing curiosity and drive to try things out to something good, and be a great success.

@Jac- I have never spanked, but I have certainly put Pumpkin down on her bed for a time out with a bit more force than is necessary- which freaks her out. I can see her little eyes get wide, and I feel like such a crap mom. But my mom once admitted to doing the same thing- the frustration just wells up inside you and you do something you don't really believe in doing. The spirited child book helped me recognize some of my own personality traits and how they were playing into my parenting, and that was good.

Anyway, don't beat yourself up. I don't remember if you are at home with your son all day. If you are, maybe you could work out something with your husband where you get a true break at least once a week. I honestly think the fact that I can send Pumpkin to day care and go deal with the immature adults at work has saved my sanity at times!

nej said...

@Jac - We musta been posting at the same time. I also spanked E - I spanked him hard - and I cried and cried on the phone to my husband when I did it. After he consoled me, he laughed and said that he was surprised it took me this long. I gasped and said something like, "but you knew I was never going to spank him!" and he said, "Yeah, but that was before you met him."

caramama said...

It's like you were writing about my daughter and my thoughts. Have you been in my head? I get so annoyed when people say that "all babies/toddlers/pre-schoolers are like that." No, not like this. She is just MORE of so many things, like the Spirited Child book says.

I loved that book, as it helped me in so many ways. It was the only parenting book I've insisted that my hubby read, too. I especially love that it starts out discussing labels, because that was a big concern of mine, and will continue to be a concern. As @Jac said, so many of the qualities these spirited kids have are ones we admire in adults, but frustrate us in kids. If we at least start using the admiring labels for them, it will help us and those around us look at our kids in a better light. It reminds me of how women are called bossy when the same trait in men is called assertive.

As for the getting into trouble and mischeiviousness... there is a reason we went all out with baby-proofing and kept the difficult-to-open baby gates up for 3 years (and now longer cause of the baby boy). She is the reason. In fact, every time we thought we had baby proofed adequately (or as much as others we knew did), our girl would figure something else out or grow another inch (she's in the 97% for height, which adds to the problem) or figure out how to climb up even higher. She would not just listen to no, and it would take only a second of us not looking for her to get into all sorts of stuff. Many things still live on the top of our fridge. But I'm so thankful we can gate her off into a relatively safe area. Did I tell you that she can now get through the baby-proof cabinet locks? And the child-proof containers for medicine? Wheee!

So yes, I get exactly what you are saying. My kid does stuff like that all the time--too bad I don't live close to you! My goal is to help my usually delightful girl harness these powers of hers for good, not evil! And that is no small task.

caramama said...

@Jac - Recently, my daughter hit me, and I instinctively smacked her arm back. Pure instinct, but I felt horrible about it. I also felt so ashamed that I didn't tell my husband until that night (it happened in the morning). I actually felt better for having told him, and realized that I wasn't going to feel bad about it. It was a mistake, it didn't help things, and it was after a very rough night of little sleep and I wasn't feeling/acting like myself. But telling hubby helped me on the path to forgiving myself. Although I haven't felt ready to post about it.

mom2boy said...

I get it. The other night while I was at class Tate threw a brick paver at one of the dogs, fed a cupcake with the wrapper on it to the dog with allergies, poured his nighttime water on the floor on purpose and took a swing at his Ray Ray's face under the guise of swatting a bug. (Anyone else's son bite them and then tell them he's getting a bug off of them? No, well, mine does.) This morning he took two fistfuls of my hair and tried to pull it out as I was setting him down for his "morning breather" until he was ready to get dressed. That was unusual - the hair pulling, I think my hair was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He also hugs me so tight he makes a grimacing noise. I swear he just doesn't know what to do with all of these big feelings.
Two different people told me yesterday how verbal he is. Um, yeah, I do know, I live with him - is it unusual?
He's just my normal as I suppose yours are for you. The rest of the parenting universe is just missing out. :)

Anonymous said...

@ Cloud, nope - I am a happy full-time working mother. One of the reasons I like working is because I feel like when I am home with DS, I usually have a much greater well of patience than when I've been with him all day for several days in a row. Obviously, that failed me on this one occasion. I think I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't look forward to a long weekend - my nerves are normally shot by the third day.

@nej, THank you! That comment about deciding not to spank BEFORE you met him made me laugh! It's sooo true. All the best laid plans go out the window, sometimes on a daily basis.

Ahh, these little monkeys! It seems to be consensus that they are all gorgeous (mine has the big blue eyes with super long lashes too!). Brings to mind something about the devil in disguise... of course, I wouldn't trade my l'il devil for anything.

It seems that the participants on the Ask Moxie board have a greater number of spirited children among them than the population at large. I would venture to guess that parents of spirited children are most likely be googling "help, my child won't ..."

paola said...

It's a personality issue, but there is also the 2.5 year old thing in there that doesn't help. He is certainly at his most rotten, believe me. I found my daughter really hard to handle at this age too and she is not a spirited child.

Why do people always think that about spanking? I am a reformed spanker and know it is useless. It only makes you feel like shit that you have bullied someone smaller than you.

hush said...

@Jac - Thank you for that - so glad to hear someone else gets it. And about the spanking, I'd say try not to be so hard on yourself (though that's probably impossible). The book talks about mourning the loss of the "phantom easy child" and I think with that goes some mourning the loss of certain things we're sure we'd never do in parenting... until we're in that ugly, ultimate wits-end situation way too often. That's what it seems like few can fully comprehend.

@nej - We do have so much in common... down to the love of SKR and Keen shoes. Thank you for the book recommendation & for the wise perspective on the expected suckiness of almost 2.5. Hope all are adjusting to being a family of 4!

@blue - Appreciate the sympathy! I have totally been thinking about dance classes, but alas they aren't offered until age 4 here in Podunkville. Boo.

@Cloud - Yes, I think boredom played a role in the broken eggs incident. Unsatisfied curiosity about eggs, given that it is easter season, played another part. What sucks is that he gets "bored" in a heartbeat, like 30 seconds after I've just finished playing with him or reading to him for the past hour. Sometimes he needs more hand-holding/in-your-face supervision than I have the energy to provide - and incidents like this are the result. It often exhausts me keeping up with his exploration and energy needs, and I am not home with him full-time either. Don't know how I would ever have survived that!

@caramama - Amen sister, I know you feel me! The climbing scares me shitless. But so far he is damn good at it, and will probably be my crazy rock climber, base jumping outdoorsy guy in a few years!

@mom2boy - Hitting and hurting just sucks - I hear you because I have so been there! And will be again, I know it. "The rest of the parenting universe is missing out" for sure!

@Paola - Thank you for the reminder that 2.5 just generally sucks hard. Great question about why people think spanking is the right tactic for a hard-to-manage child. Maybe because it is perceived to have really worked on some children, or the fact that it can (sometimes) immediately turns a child's defiance/ignoring into sorrow/rage might somehow seem like a "solution"? The way I've been hearing it around me is as a kind of last resort method - like "just spank him - try it and see," almost kind of suggesting that it might make me feel better. But from what everyone else has shared here I know it would make me feel like shit, too. And I already feel like shit way too often! I just need to learn to fully accept that this is how it is going to be for us right now. That's one of the best things about the book.

AmyinMotown said...

Hush, hi. I saw a link to your blog on Ask Moxie today and said yay! And had to comment here, because Raising Your Spirited Child was so helpful to me too. I liked the beginning part when she talked about ways to reframe your child's personality using positive terms, "energetic" instead of "wild" for example. We bought the workbook too, although we haven't used it yet. Because ohhheeeee these spirited ones are a wild ride. I always say that everything that makes my daughter a challenge to raise is going to make her a great woman someday!

hush said...

@Amy in Motown - Thanks for your comment. I'll be following your "BB" blog.