Post 4 in a series of 4
Okay, I'm a day or two late finishing this series, but I'm also striving to raise two toddlers to be the best that they can be, so work with me here.
Both of our children are true "Spirited Children". We have our 3 year old spirited introvert, and our 2 year old spirited extrovert.
"The Spirited Child" is a term I have heard used so loosely, and I have used loosely, many times. It's always been in the context of "he/she's spirited" to mean energetic, strong willed, always ready to go. It's more then that, and both of our children fall into the category.
In all honesty my partner and I have researched ADHD more then once or twice in regards to our 3 year old. We always came back with the same answer. It just wasn't him. However, after hearing about a book and reading just the description of "Raising Your Spirited Child" . I knew immediately that this was finally our fit. A true spirited child is more intense, more sensitive, more perceptive, and obviously more energetic. I was so confident that this would give us some insight that when I picked them up from school we headed straight to the bookstore, kids, lunch and milk in tow!
It's almost difficult to explain to parents that don't have spirited children. It can sound as if I'm talking about the average toddler that gets hungry, tired, or is just being a toddler period. However, everything is just slightly magnified for them and their behaviors that reflect that are just slightly elevated from other toddlers.
They are more sensitive to the seams in their socks, tags in their clothes, texture of food, sunlight, heat, medications, the feel of cold tiles on their bare feet.
As winter started, our 3 year old started wetting his bed in the morning. After a couple of accidents, we sat down to talk. It turned out that he couldn't stand the feel of the cold tiles on his feet, so much so that he wouldn't go into the bathroom in the mornings. So we covered the floor with towels to see if this was really the case. It worked and he hasn't had an accident since.
In regards to medicine, you know the usual pain reliever for teething or cold medication, I have been compelled to asked their doctors more then once about their behavior while on them. They were hyper and cranky. The answer was always "I've never heard of that, don't forget that their toddlers and energetic.". Maybe so, but it was happening and it was happening like clockwork and it wasn't our imagination! His difficulty at participating in organized events such as large playgroups, Little Gym classes, birthday parties, etc. Is painful to watch. The kids are unknown, the place is unknown, the active are unknown. I tried taking him to the some of the classes to watch ahead of time. We had him enrolled in a gymnastics class at Little Gym. He wouldn't participate in the class until the last few minutes. Other moms kept telling me to give it time, that he would get used to it. But I knew in my heart that it wasn't going to change. I work had to know my children, and most times I'm right. In fact it got worse, after a couple of months he was telling me that it made his belly sick.
I started seeing things that I was dealing with that other parents were not. Everyone is so polite and always offers "he's only three, all toddlers are different". THIS WAS DIFFERENT! When he feels too overwhelmed by the size of the group, or if there are too many strangers he loses his coping skills. It's as if his batteries are completely drained and he no longer has what he needs to get him through the group, or to get to me to ask to go home. Again, above and beyond the average toddler that gets tired and whinny when it's time to go, then their parents bundle them up take them home. When he loses his coping skills his behavior will deteriorate because he's shutting down. I used to think that he was acting up on purpose so that I would take him home, because you know the rule "if you can't behave, then we have to leave". Now I realize that, again, it's an elevated version of the tired, worn out toddler.
There was a play date a few months ago that was starting to move at a fast pace. My next door neighbor knows him well, and she looked at me and said "wow look at his face, he's deciding if he should join in or not". Looking back, I can still see the look in his eyes. He was shutting down. Within 10 minutes he couldn't contain himself and I ended up dragging him home, mad at his behavior and disciplining him. The entire time that I was scolding him it was obvious that he also was at a loss as to why things had gone wrong so fast. He was genuinely confused.
I could go on and on about the little things that we notice that just seemed "more then that". With all of the situations that we encountered, my partner and I would look at each other and say to each other "We should call his pediatrician, there just seems to be more going on". It's our job to figure him out!
Luckily after reading this book, and reading how spirited children are wired, we can see that he needs more personal time after periods of interaction. After school he'll listen to a CD or play with puzzles, or go into his room alone to play with his Lincoln Logs for what we have labeled "private time" to get rid of the overwhelming stimulation that's he's been dealing with during school. Then he's ready to interact again, go outside to play and see the neighbors. We know better then to go to a playgroup and then to someones house for lunch on the same day. It's asking for trouble and setting him up for failure.
Now our little 2 year old is our Spirited Extrovert! He could go on and on forever. Runs into the room ready to interact and play. Once he's overwhelmed he will just starting running back and forth until someone picks him up and hugs him. He recharges his batteries through physical contact with others. He will come and lay on our laps for 5 or 10 minutes, then he's off like a rocket again. He will be the teenager that must be busy 24 hours a day with his bicycle, skate board, roller blades, etc. with all of the neighborhood kids. However, he'll probably be running into the house for a quick interaction with me while changing safety gear for his next sport. So far he's been our easiest spirited one, however he is two and challenging....a whole other ball game!
All of these traits will make strong, persistent, driven, focused and energetic adults. As long as we take the time to teach them what they need and when they need it, how to ask for it when they need to recharge their batteries. These traits will make them successful in life.
There is also the negative labeling of spirited children. Stubborn as a child becomes persistent or driven as an adult. It's important to use positive labels now, so that they will take that direction and feel confident about their personalities. Negative titles are so damaging to children.
I can't help but wonder, is this why so many children are mis-diagnosed as ADHD, or is it the lack of discipline or both?
This book is not a substitute for discipline by any stretch of the imagination. Understanding you child is the best way to put together a consistent disciplinary regime. It's important to realize the difference between shutting down because they need a break and when they are challenging, testing, pushing the limits of our family boundaries all of the things that toddlers are fighting to do. NO still means NO in this house, time outs for poor behavior are the same today as they were last week, Tabasco sauce is still the flavor of the day when they tell me "NO". Thanks to my "village support group" that keeps me focused and will offer creative suggestions when I've stumbled upon a situation that I've never dealt with before or when I'm just to tired to think of a solution on my own.
I could ramble on and on, and I've really only touched the tip of the iceberg. If you or someone that you know has wondered if they have a child that is ADHD, please refer them to this book before they start the battery of tests that children are put through to determine if they are ADHD.
If your struggling with the "it's more then that" feeling. Wear you "mommy pants" and research, listen to your instincts, even when a Dr. tells you no. You know your children better then anybody!
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