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Besides feeling ready to pull their hair out, parents of spirited children are often convinced that their spirited child would behave better if only Mom or Dad were smarter, wiser or more patient! In their new book on"difficult" children, child development experts Claudia and David Arp remind readers that there's no such thing as a Super Parent.
Having a spirited child can make parenting more intense and sometimes overwhelming, but you can begin to recognize the eight most common cries for help and what they really mean: "Look at me!" "Did I do good?" "You're not listening!" "Let me do it my way!" "You can't make me anymore!" "I hate you!" "I can do it myself!" and "I am a big kid already!" The Arps -- with humor, compassion, insights from Scripture, and the latest in research -- show you ways to develop win-win strategies for nurturing your not-so-compliant child. Help just arrived.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Look at Me!"
What it really means: "Please understand me."
"Mom, I'd never want to make all A's!"
I (Claudia) stared at our son in disbelief. How could anyone not want to get the best grades possible? I thought. Who is this kid? Did they switch babies on me in the hospital?
I simply couldn't understand. I grew up in a home where academics were the key to success, not to mention a great self-concept. I can remember getting really upset when I got an A-minus. And now here I was, the mother of a kid who didn't want to get all A's.
Same kid, another day -- and more evidence that an alien was living in our home, claiming to be our son. After much pleading on my part, he humored me by agreeing to go shopping with me to buy him a new shirt. Of course, we had different tastes. I chose the more conservative pinstriped shirt. He went for the paisley print.
OK, this is not a major issue, I thought. I can compromise on this one.
I took a deep breath. "Actually," I said, "that paisley print really looks good on you. Let's buy it."
His response: "Mom, why are you playing with my mind?"
We bought the shirt -- the one he wanted -- but guess who never wore it? I just couldn't figure him out! And whenever I'd think that I was beginning to make progress, he would do a flip-flop.
My story is not an isolated one.
"What has happened to my little girl now that she's turned six?" asked a mom in one of our PEP Groups for Parents. "Five was manageable; but now that she's six, she's become a volcano ready to erupt if I cross her."
"I know what you mean," another parent said. "Just when I think I have almost figured out my son, he changes into someone totally different! Last year he loved school. This year he cries every morning and complains of a stomachache. I'm not sure what to do."
Understanding the Challenge
Can you identify with these parents? The trouble with trying to figure out spirited children is that by the time we do, they change! In fact, numerous parents tell us that, when it comes to their strong-willed or difficult kids, unpredictability is the norm. They also say that a big part of the stress they experience in the parenting process is that they never quite know when, where, or how their children are going to challenge them (or others). Change and challenge are the only two things some moms and dads feel they can count on!
But spirited kids do not set out deliberately to vex us. The reason their words and actions are often difficult or contrary is that they're trying to grab our attention. "Look at me!" they cry (although rarely in such direct terms). What these children really want -- and what they really need -- is our understanding.
Is It Just a Stage?
"Why is my eight-year-old so sensitive to criticism?"
"Why is my eleven-year-old so moody?"
To answer questions like these, an understanding of child development is crucial. You see, children are genetically programmed to achieve independence. And along the way, they pass through many developmental milestones. The more we know about these common ages and stages, the more we can support and encourage our children's physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual growth. This is especially true if our kids are strong-willed.
Take a look at the age-level characteristics we've listed in the Appendix at the back of the book. You'll discover the behaviors, attitudes, and moods that are typical of children at various ages, along with the level of maturity that can be expected at each stage. (For further study, an excellent resource we recommend is Child Behavior: The Classic Childcare Manual from the Gesell Institute of Human Development by Frances L. Ilg, M.D., Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and Sidney M. Baker, M.D.)
Physical development in children tends to follow a predictable order, although the timetable can vary from child to child. For example, one eight-month-old baby may begin crawling immediately after learning to sit up. Another may sit up, discover the pleasure of interacting with the world from a new perspective, and not get around to crawling for several weeks. Both babies are completely normal.
The timetable for emotional development can vary too. Emotional growth tends to occur in cycles, with periods of balance followed by periods that are more out of balance. Times of pleasant, agreeable behavior are followed by times of insecurity and disorder. These periods are evident whether a child is spirited or compliant; but with a spirited or difficult child, the cycles tend to swing from high to low with very little in between.
Many psychologists say that these normal emotional cycles are punctuated by two key periods of independence. The first comes between babyhood and childhood (the so-called terrible two's) and the second between childhood and adulthood (the onset of the teen years). If you're the parent of a spirited child, however, you can probably relate when we say that our strong-willed son expressed his independence not just at two and twelve, but at most all of the ages and stages!
As our children develop, the cycles of their lives are bound to include periods of rebellion, stress, and even obnoxious behavior. The good news is, if we know these times are coming, we can better accept them and handle them when they arrive. By being aware of developmental trends, we can recognize that the undesirable behavior we're witnessing is not true disobedience or a sign of parental incompetence. Instead, it is behavior necessary to growth -- an important step for our kids in developing independence physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Don't get frazzled about the stage your child is in right now. By the time you've worked yourself into a total frenzy, your child will have done a flip-flop anyway! The good news is that each stage marks progress; each stage is leading to maturity. And each stage is temporary. The more you know about child development, the better you'll be able to understand your child when he or she hits a rough spot. You'll know whether or not what you're seeing is normal -- and if and when it's going to pass.
Understanding Your Child's Unique Personality
Not all kids, to look at them, are obviously spirited. A child with a seemingly laid-back, quiet personality can nevertheless have a will made of steel and exhibit a surprising level of spirited stubbornness. For this reason, in addition to understanding the normal stages of child development, it's important for us to understand our children's unique personalities.
One mother we know told us that every member of her family has a different personality type. In her home, as a result, "personality conflicts are hard to deal with," she says. "I'm a doer, my husband is a thinker, my son is a negotiator, and my daughter is a butterfly."
A butterfly? To understand what she means, you need to meet a few of the spirited kids we know. See if at least one of them isn't living at your house.
Suzie and Steven Sparkle
Suzie and Steven seem to just sparkle on everyone and everything around them. Outgoing and fun, they love to plan parties -- and also direct them. Suzie and Steven are uninhibited and impulsive (a rather scary combination for their parents). Like butterflies, they flit from one thing to another. Their good intentions are sincere, but they lack follow-through. As a result, they leave behind toys, clothes, or unfinished projects as they move on like a ten-ton truck to something new.
At school Suzie and Steven try hard to keep their studies from interfering with their social lives. Teachers describe them as playful and borderline bossy and say that both kids need to concentrate more on their schoolwork.
Take-Charge Taylor and Tracy
Of all the kids we know, Taylor and Tracy are the most obviously spirited. They are organizers and natural-born leaders, and people always know when they're around. They're both decisive, and they have enough self-confidence for their whole family. They love to direct other people and can be either charming or obnoxious.
Strong-willed and hardworking, Taylor and Tracy can also be domineering and sometimes walk over other people (especially their parents). They consider their brother or sister's closet their own and don't hesitate to borrow whatever they need. Patience and sympathy are definitely not their strongest attributes. Teachers enjoy their quick minds but say the classroom could do just fine without their sarcasm.
Laid-Back Lucas and Lindsey
Lucas and Lindsey are the last kids you might think of as spirited. But they are -- they just exhibit their strong wills in more pleasant ways than, say, Taylor and Tracy. Their sense of humor helps to keep things light. Lucas and Lindsey are easy-going, calm, and rarely get angry -- that is, until you cross them or tell them, "No, absolutely not!" They often seem to be in a world of their own (and as our son -- a Lucas and Lindsey type -- once said, "I like it in here!")
Life for Lucas and Lindsey is a pleasant, unexciting experience. Slowness and lack of motivation are their greatest liabilities. But when they do get motivated by a personal goal, they dig their heels in and accomplish much. They tend to be underachievers at school and can drive teachers (and parents) crazy.
Roller-Coaster Russell and Rachel
Russell and Rachel are spirited too; they're just more introverted. They're creative, and sometimes they amaze people with their insights -- like, "Mom, are you trying to manipulate me?" Woe to their parents when these two become negative and introspective!
While the sparklers, Stephen and Suzie, openly express their feelings, Russell and Rachel feel deeply but don't always express their emotions in an outward way. They tend to ride a feelings roller coaster -- high then low, up then down. They can easily convince themselves that they are unloved and that their brother or sister is the family favorite.
Russell and Rachel are ultra-responsible kids. Their teachers are quick to say what good students they are but that they shouldn't take life so seriously.
What's Your Combination?
No doubt you recognize some of the characteristics we've just described in your own spirited child. In our PEP Groups for Parents program, we use the Basic Personality Chart on page 20 to help parents better understand their children. Obviously such a simple grid doesn't allow for in-depth analysis, but it does help identify a child's particular tendencies.
Basic Personality Chart1
| Strengths |
| Weaknesses |
| Strengths |
| Weaknesses |
Hard to please
| Strengths |
| Weaknesses |
| Strengths |
| Weaknesses |
Can you identify your child's basic personality from this chart? Actually, most children are a combination of types, with one type that is dominant -- for example, 60 percent Take-Charge and 40 percent Roller Coaster, or 70 percent Sparkle and 30 percent Laid-Back. Of course, every personality has its good and bad qualities. With the positive comes the negative -- and vice versa. When we know our children's basic personality traits, we can be realistic in our expectations of them, concentrating on playing up their strengths and encouraging them to overcome their weaknesses.
Understanding Your Child's Life Orientation
Another way we can better understand our children is to look at the following two continuums dealing with life orientation -- that is, how our kids relate to life in general and to other people in particular.
Reactive vs. Adaptive
Reactive -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Adaptive
All of us fall somewhere on this continuum in our general orientation towards life. We tend to either react or adapt to the situations and circumstances we find ourselves in. Where would you place your child on this scale? Does he or she tend to be more reactive, or more adaptive?
Think back to when your spirited child was a baby. How did he or she react to noise? As a newborn, did your child become unsettled every time you ran the vacuum, or did the roar put your little one to sleep? Did it matter if the lights were on or off? As a toddler, did your child always get jumpy at the sound of the neighbor's lawn mower? Is he or she able to tune out the world while glued to the television, even though the phone is ringing, the food processor is running, and the dog is barking?
How does your child react to a schedule change? Again, think back. When a vacation required riding in a car for long hours, did your baby keep to a normal sleep pattern, or did every rest stop upset the schedule? At seven or eight, was your child peacefully entertained with solitary games and storybooks, or did he or she wiggle around a lot asking, "Are we there yet?"
Reactive children make us very much aware when they are discontent with their environment. We might describe them as busy, active, transparent, high-strung, strong-willed, aggressive, difficult, spirited, activity-oriented, and born leaders. Adaptive children, on the other hand, can tune out the world; they tend to be easygoing, laid-back, flexible, calm, and passive. Adaptive children may seem lazy, slow, and compliant, but they are also very affectionate, likes to cuddle, and have a good sense of humor.
Most children fall somewhere between the two extremes -- not always reactive or adaptive. One child may adapt really well to moving to a new home but struggle to adapt in other areas. Another child, usually very adaptive, may react more when he or she is sick or experiencing stress at school. As we might expect, spirited, difficult children tend to be more reactive than adaptive in their orientation to life.
Public vs. Private
Public -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Private
Everyone falls somewhere on this continuum, too, which has to do with the way we relate to people. Where is your child on this scale? Is your child a very public person, or does he or she tend to be more private?
As a baby, did your child get fussy in the church nursery, sensing the hustle and bustle of activity, or did he or she enjoy being passed around from one admiring fan to another? As a toddler, did your child like going to the park with you for a quiet afternoon of playing alone on the swings or prefer the hustle and bustle of a shopping mall filled with people? Is your child the shining star at family gatherings, or does he or she stay glued to your side, uncomfortable around all the strangers? Does your child enjoy noise and activity or want everything quiet?
If our children are very public individuals, they are probably outgoing, fun, and people-oriented. They love groups and group activities and are always on the go. They are high achievers, but they're also frequently over-committed, disorganized, and forgetful. Children who are more private, by contrast, enjoy being alone; they resist group activities and usually have rich inner lives. They tend to be creative, artistic, introverted, introspective, melancholy, content, musical, and good listeners. They have sensitive natures and like personal space. They may go up and down emotionally.
On this continuum, spirited children do not necessarily lean more to one side than the other. Difficult, strong-willed kids can be people-oriented; they can also be very private by nature. As we saw in our discussion of personality traits, not all spirited children are extroverts.
Could My Child Be ADHD?
Sometimes parents wonder, Could my child's difficult behavior be attributed to something more than personality and life orientation? Could there be something medically wrong with my child? In 1987 the term "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" (ADHD) was introduced in psychology and education circles. It soon became an umbrella label for a range of behaviors characterized by distractibility or inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.
If you are often bewildered and frustrated by your child's behavior and by your inability to control or understand your child, he or she may be showing signs of ADHD. Ask yourself the following questions:
· Does your child fidget with his or her hands or feet?
· Does your child squirm when sitting in a seat?
· Do you have trouble keeping your child's attention?
· Is your child easily distracted by any outside stimulus?
· Does your child have difficulty waiting his or her turn in games or group situations?
· Does your son or daughter sometimes blurt out answers to questions in class before the question is even completed?
· Does your child have difficulty following through on instructions from other people?
· Does your child have difficulty sustaining attention, often shifting from one activity to another?
· Does your child find it hard to just play quietly?
· Does your child talk excessively or interrupt and intrude on others?
· Does your child not seem to listen to what is being said to him or her?
· Does your child often lose things necessary for a task or activity?
· Does your son or daughter often engage in physical or dangerous activities without considering the consequences? 2
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, we encourage you to seek advice and help from a knowledgeable professional. Real ADHD is difficult to diagnose (and even more difficult for parents to cope with). More boys are diagnosed with ADHD than girls. But all behavioral problems are not ADHD; a good pediatrician, educator, or child psychologist can help you make that determination and develop an appropriate course of action.
There's one more key to really knowing and understanding our children, and that's knowing ourselves. We need to understand how our unique personalities and parenting styles affect the way we relate to our children. Think about this: If you have more than one child, do you tend to get angry and react more towards one than another? Some parents find that they react more to the child who is the most different from them, while others get angry at the one who's most like them. (Sometimes there's nothing worse than seeing your faults lived out in your child's behavior!)
Take another look at the Basic Personality Chart and try to identify your own strengths and weaknesses. Are you a Take-Charge kind of parent? If so, you may have a tendency to be too controlling with your child. Are you more Laid-Back? You could err on the side of being too passive or permissive. By assessing your temperament, you can be as alert to your own weaknesses as you are to your child's, and you can work to overcome them.
Now turn to the section in the Appendix called, "What Kind of Parent are You?" Answer the questions to determine whether you're reactive or adaptive, public or private in your orientation to life and relationships. When you understand yourself and your child, you can parent with greater confidence -- and a confident parent is something every spirited child cries out for.
Dealing with the Present
Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do, our children keep pushing all the wrong buttons at all of the wrong times. It's so easy for us to become discouraged and feel as if we've failed as a parent! But giving in to such feelings does nothing to answer that underlying, unspoken cry of, "Please understand me!" Rather, we can only begin to answer that cry when we acknowledge and understand our own feelings about being the parent of a spirited child.
Facing Your Own Feelings and Fears
In our work with parents over the years, we have observed three emotions that are common to most moms and dads -- and especially those who have spirited children: guilt, shame, and anger. Let's examine each one of these.
Feelings of Guilt
When asked on a morning talk show, "What is the one thing parents do wrong most often?" a well-known child psychologist answered, "They feel guilty." Guilt is a contagious disease that we often inherit from our own parents. It is developed out of a false assumption: that being a "good" parent means having happy children and a harmonious home. As a result, when we have a child who is not happy and who constantly causes discord in the family, we naturally assume that we're not "good" parents.
Are you harboring any parental guilt? Did you expect to have perfect kids -- and now you feel guilty because they're less than perfect? It's time to let the guilt go and get on with the challenging job of parenting. Think about this: God is the perfect parent, yet throughout the Bible we read stories about his children rebelling and doing dumb things. Why should we expect perfection from our kids?
Feelings of Shame
Show me a parent who, at some time or another, has not felt shame because of something a child said or did. You can't, because there aren't any! Children are great at embarrassing their parents -- in little ways and in big ways. Imagine the deep shame parents feel when their child is convicted of theft or murder or rape, or when the child chooses a lifestyle that is in total contradiction to their deepest beliefs. Hopefully most of us will never experience shame at such a level. But spirited kids in particular are good at coming up with all kinds of little, daily "shamers" -- like returning from the mall with a weird hairstyle, or refusing to take a bath for weeks on end, or shouting out in the middle of the grocery store, "Mommy, I hate you. You're mean!"
If you are aware that you have feelings of shame, stop and ask yourself these questions:
· Are you comparing your child with other children who are more compliant?
· Are you caring too much about what others think of your parenting skills?
· Are you expecting adult maturity from your spirited, non-compliant child?
· Are you basing your own self-worth on your son or daughter's unpredictable behavior?
It's time to cut yourself a little slack and put things in perspective. The challenge of parenting a spirited child is difficult enough without you beating up on yourself. Instead, you should pat yourself on the back! You're a good enough parent -- after all, aren't you reading this book so you can better understand and meet your child's needs? Your son or daughter is lucky to have a parent who cares that much!
Feelings of Anger
One of the greatest barriers to a healthy parent-child relationship is anger -- whether it's overt, with lots of yelling and shouting, or more inward and hidden. Stuffing anger, however, can be dangerous; people who don't deal with their anger often become bitter and can even become physically sick.
Anger is actually a secondary emotion. It tends to be a reaction to either fear or frustration, two emotions that are very familiar to parents of difficult or spirited children. The fact is (and we know, because we experienced it in our own home) strong-willed kids are good at generating angry feelings. Dealing with those feelings in a positive way is the key to a healthy parent-child relationship. And the more we learn about processing our own anger, the better we are at helping our children deal with theirs.
But our kids are not the only ones we are angry with sometimes. We can also be angry with God, who created them and gave them to us. Have you ever thought to yourself that your difficult child was a "punishment" from God? (Be honest!) If so, let us reassure you: God is not punishing you by giving you a difficult child to bring you frequent anguish. While you probably wouldn't have volunteered to be the parent of a spirited child, you can be certain that God chose your son or daughter to help train you to become more like Christ. This is the right child for you. He or she is God's perfect catalyst to bring you the opportunities you need to develop godly character and greater compassion for others.
Practicing Acceptance and Forgiveness
"It's hard to thank God for a difficult child," one parent told us. "It's easier to be angry with God and angry with my child. But I know that if left unchecked, my anger can lead me to become bitter. I don't want to go down that path, so I try to focus on the thought, God can give me the patience and wisdom and self control that I need. Because like all parents of difficult children, I need lots of all three!
"I try to remember that as the parent, it's important for me to model acceptance and forgiveness, even during the most difficult times. Otherwise, how will my child ever learn to accept and forgive others -- and himself?"
As this mother recognized, building positive relationships with our children involves accepting them -- even if their God-given personalities rub us the wrong way sometimes. One of the most wonderful things we have learned in life is that God loves us unconditionally. His love does not depend on our being perfect parents and making all the right decisions. God loves and accepts us just as we are, no strings attached. This total, unconditional love motivates us, not only to be all that God wants us to be, but also to love and accept our children in the same way -- no matter how difficult or strong-willed they are. Our acceptance of them, like God's acceptance of us, encourages them to grow and become all that they can be. Ultimately, then, God can use their energy and determination to honor Him.
Being a Model of Forgiveness
It's easy for parents to get stuck in negative patterns of responding to their children. As one mom said, "After my buttons have been pushed numerous times and in numerous ways, it's hard to be positive. Before I know it, I've overreacted!"
Most parents of spirited children do overreact at times, not out of faulty parenting skills, but rather because the numerous challenges of the day put them on edge emotionally. Let's face it. Parenting a difficult, strong-willed child often leaves us little or no time to relax or regroup. We overreact out of shear exhaustion. The question is, what do we do after we've gone "over the top"?
The answer is important because spirited children have a tendency to overreact to situations and stimuli. They need to be able to look to us for a model of how to respond at such times. In our home we found that the best thing to do was to take time to gather ourselves emotionally and then go to our son, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. We called this process "log removal," based on a principle found in Matthew 7:3-5: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your bother's eye." As parents, we should never concentrate so hard on our children's negative behavior that we fail to see our own.
Changing Our Responses
To help you identify your negative or inappropriate reactions and begin to change them to more positive ones, make a chart with three columns. In the first column, list your child's difficult or irritating behaviors. (Don't show this page to your child.) In the second column, write the negative response you typically have to each behavior. For example, let's say your child has a terrible time getting up in the morning. What is your response? Do you yell, scream, nag, and threaten? How could you handle this situation differently in the future? That's what you write in the third column. Perhaps you could buy your child an alarm clock and explain that he or she is now responsible for getting up on time in the morning. Then you could spell out what the specific consequences will be if your son or daughter continues to oversleep -- for example, no TV that day, or going to bed thirty minutes earlier that night.
Or let's say your child's difficult behavior is bickering with his or her siblings. Your standard -- but inappropriate -- response might be to yell at the kids to make them stop fighting. A better response, however, would be to recognize that it's their problem and let them work it out (as long as they don't physically hurt each other). You also could encourage them to verbally communicate their feelings.
We should add one caveat here. Spirited children do have a tendency to overwhelm or overpower their siblings at times. In some cases it may be appropriate for you to step in, even if they're not yet throwing punches. Just try not to impose a solution. Instead, coach them in the process of solving the problem. Ask questions that help them come up with possible solutions, and help them think through the ramifications of each one. You may see the pitfall of the course of action they choose, but resist the urge to interfere unless their decision will lead to additional problems for others. Help them learn from their mistakes. (To understanding more about the unique dynamics of sibling relationships, we recommend the book Siblings without Rivalry: How to Help your Children Live Together So you Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.)
Be Thankful for Positive Qualities
Does your spirited child try hard to perform well in school? Control his or her temper? Take a few moments and make a list all of your child's positive actions and attitudes. Now take a few moments more to be thankful for each one of them.
Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think on such things." Unfortunately, it's easy for us to forget this verse and dwell instead on our kids' deficiencies, flaws, and faults. But concentrating on the negative -- especially during the turbulent preadolescent years -- can make our children feel unloved, unappreciated, and devalued. If what they hear consistently from us are statements of disapproval and discouragement, we may just drive them out of our homes and into the arms of whatever "in" peer group is willing to accept them as they are.
Our challenge to you is to dwell on your child's positive qualities -- and be willing to apologize to your child when you blow it and over-react. That will help clear the air so you can accept your child with no strings attached and in the future to concentrate on the positive that you see in his or her life.
Taking Steps toward a Better Future
Understanding your spirited child is, admittedly, not an easy task. But there are a number of concrete, practical activities you can do to get to know your child better. Here are some to try:
Plan Just-You-and-Me Times
All children need focused, personal time with their parents. One way to insure that you spend good one-on-one time with your child is to start a tradition of Just-You-and-Me times. A Just-You-and-Me activity could be as simple as ten minutes of playing on the floor with your toddler. It could be a planned afternoon outing with your ten-year-old to the local children's museum. Be intentional and plan to have focused time with each child, one on one, as often as is practical for you. (Hint: Younger children love to talk about and make plans for Just-You-and-Me activities. Older children and preteens need Just-You-and-Me times, too, but smart parents don't call it that!)
Use Open-Ended Statements
A good way to get your child to open up and talk to you is to use open-ended statements. Here are some to start with:
· The funniest thing that ever happened to me was . . .
· If I had a million dollars, I would . . .
· If I could visit anywhere in the world, I would go to . . .
· The one thing I like the most about me is . . .
· The one thing I like the most about you is . . .
· If I could change one thing about our family it would be . . .
Let your child suggest some statements for you to fill in too.
Make "Positive Sandwiches"
Many times we need to correct or redirect our spirited children, but we don't want to come across as always being negative. Difficult, spirited children usually come with heightened negative feelings as it is. If you must express something negative, try to do it in a positive way -- and teach your child to do the same.
When my kids were growing up, we made "positive sandwiches." We tried to "sandwich" a negative statement between two positive statements. How does this work? You might say, for example, "I really appreciate your attempt to clean your room, but stuffing clothes under the bed is unacceptable. On the other hand, I notice that your desk is well organized. Now what can you do about the clothes?" Or you might coach your child to say, "Jay let me play with his Legos, but he called me a nerd. The good news is he didn't hit me."
Writing a note to your son or daughter not only sends a positive message, it may actually help your child learn to better express his or her own feelings. Leave little notes where you know your child will find them. Write things such as, "Your humor is a bright light in our family!" Or, "Your cooperation this morning sure made breakfast more pleasant! Keep it up!"
Watch for an Opening
Be on the lookout for times when your child seems open to talking with you. Be ready with impromptu activities to facilitate conversation. For example:
· Take a cookie break. Don't just bake the cookies -- sit down and eat them together!
· Listen to music or watch a TV program of his or her choice
· Surf some interesting, child-friendly sites on the Internet together
· Do a craft together. Make a collage of common items from your kitchen by gluing cereal pieces, macaroni, noodles, beans, or other small items to a sheet of poster board.
Do the Dinnertime Shuffle
Ask every member of the family to sit in someone else's place at the dinner table -- and tell them to act like the person whose place they're sitting in!
Plan a Family Appreciation Night
Get the family together and give each member a 3 x 5 index card and a pencil. Have them write down one thing they appreciate about each person in the family. (Oral answers are fine for younger children who can't write yet.) Then take turns sharing your insights with each other. Or ask each person to write an answer to one of the following questions:
· What is the greatest strength I bring to our family?
· What is the one thing I like best about our family?
You'll enjoy hearing the positive answers. Be prepared to laugh off the silly or sarcastic ones!
Getting Started Today
Our children come to us in such unique packages, each one radically different from the next. As parents, we need to make every effort to understand each child and appreciate his or her God-given uniqueness -- even when that uniqueness includes a strong will and a spirit that's hard to keep in check some days. At the same time, we need to remember that we're the adults in the relationship; we're the ones who need to set the limits, make the difficult decisions, and take the lead in turning negative situations into positive ones for us and our kids.
Whatever the current state of your relationship with your spirited child, a better relationship can start today! As you begin to understand, to love, to forgive, and to accept your child as a special individual placed in your life by a loving, all-knowing God, you will find yourself responding to him or her in more positive and effective ways. And the response you'll get back will make it all worthwhile.
Table of Contents
What Kind of a Parent Are You?
Introduction: Help, I'm the Parent of a Spirited Child!
Cry #1: "Look at Me!"
What it really means: "Please understand me."
Cry #2: "Did I Do Good?"
What it really means: "Encourage me. Look for the positive."
Cry #3: "You're Not Listening!"
What it really means: "Listen to me; talk to me."
Cry #4: "I Want to Do It My Way!"
What it really means: "Teach me how to cooperate."
Cry #5: "You Can't Make Me!"
What it really means: "Give me boundaries; discipline me."
Cry #6: "I Hate You!"
What it really means: "Help me deal with my anger and frustration."
Cry #7: "I Don't Want To!"
What it really means: "Give me the opportunity to develop responsibility."
Cry #8: "I'm a Big Kid Already!"
What it really means: "Guide me to maturity."
Conclusion: Maintaining Your Parental Sanity
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Here((i won't be posting mine till after a couple people join. You can be an original character or an OC-aka own character-you can also be evil or good or any race you want. But if you are an original person from the show you post here saying that person is taken and you may post descriptions of them or you can change them slightly but not a lot. And if anyone roleplays Toshiro he'll be about 5'7 because I feel sorry for him being so short but if want to keep him short you can but say it in a post here))