Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic

Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic

by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka


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The spirited child—often called "difficult" or "strong-willed"—
can easily overwhelm parents, leaving them feeling frustrated and inadequate. Spirited kids are, in fact, simply "more"—by temperament, they are more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and uncomfortable with change than the average child. Through vivid examples and a refreshingly positive viewpoint, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka offers parents emotional support and proven strategies for handling their spirited child. Raising Your Spirited Child will help you:

Understand your child's—and your own—temperamental traitsPlan for success with a simple four-step programDiscover the power of positive—rather than negative—labelsCope with tantrums and blowups when they do occurDevelop strategies for handling mealtimes, bedtimes, holidays, school and many other situations

Filled with personal insight and authorative advice, Raising Your Spirited Child can help make parenting the joy it should be, rather than the trial it can be.

Author Biography:
Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, M.A., is bestselling author of Raising Your Spirited Child. She is a nationally and internationally noted family educator providing training for parents and professionals who serve them through small group discussions and private consultations. Kucinka has more than twenty years' experience as a pioneer and award-winning educator in Minnesota's Early Childhood Family Education Program and is the founder of the Spirited Child and Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles workshops. She lives with her family in Eagan, Minnesota.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060923280
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/04/1998
Pages: 292
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Ed.D., is the director of ParentChildHelp. She is an award-winning lecturer and parent educator. Dr. Kurcinka provides private consultations and workshops nationally and internationally for parents and for professionals serving families and children. She is also the bestselling author of Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook, Sleepless in America, and Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


An opportunity to fall in love, fodder for frustration, source
of anxiety, and an unending puzzle--this is my spirited

-- Diane, the mother of two

The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than other children. All children possess these characteristics, but spirited kids possess them with a depth and range not available to other children. Spirited kids are the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling.

It's difficult to describe what it is like to be the parent of a spirited child. The answer keeps changing; it depends on the day, even the moment. How does one describe the experience of sliding from joy to exasperation in seconds, ten times a day. How does one explain the "sense" at eight in the morning that this will be a good day or a dreadful one.

The good ones couldn't be better. A warm snuggle and sloppy kiss awaken you. He captures you with his funny antics as he stands in front of the dog, a glob of peanut butter clinging to a knife hidden in the palm of his hand, and asks, "Is Susie a rotten sister?" The dog listens attentively. The hand moves just slightly up and down like a magical wand. The dog's nose follows the scent, appearing to nod in agreement. You can't help laughing.

Profound statements roll from his mouth, much too mature and intellectual for a child of his age. Heremembers experiences you've long since forgotten and drags you to the window to watch the raindrops, falling like diamonds from the sky. On the good days being the parent of a spirited child is astounding, dumbfounding, wonderful, funny, interesting, and interspersed with moments of brilliance.

The dreadful days are another story. On those days you're not sure you can face another twenty-four hours with him. It's hard to feel good as a parent when you can't even get his socks on, when every word you've said to him has been a reprimand, when the innocent act of serving tuna casserole instead of the expected tacos incites a riot, when you realize you've left more public places in a huff with your child in five years than most parents do in a lifetime.

You feel weary, drained, and much too old for this even if you were only in your twenties when your child was born. It's hard to love a kid who keeps you up at night and embarrasses you in shopping centers.

On the bad days being the parent of a spirited child is confusing, frustrating, taxing, challenging, and guilt inducing. You may wonder if you are the only parent with a kid like this, scared of what is to come in the teen years if you don't figure out what to do now, in the early years.


You might have known since pregnancy that this child was different from other kids, normal but different. She might have kicked so hard during pregnancy that you couldn't sleep from six months on. Or it might not have been until birth, when the nurses in the nursery shook their heads in dismay and wished you luck. It could have been years later. At first you might have thought all kids were like this. Your "awakening" might have come with the birth of a second child--one who slept through the family gatherings instead of screaming and let you dress her in a frilly dress instead of ripping at the lace. Or it could have been the birth of your sister-in-law's child, the one who could be laid down anywhere and promptly went to sleep. Your sister-in-law proudly beamed as though she had done something right, while your child continued to fume and fuss, causing all the eyes in the room to turn to you, silently accusing, "What's wrong with yours?" Your intuition has fought the stares and the indictments brought against you, knowing, believing that this child was tougher to parent, but not quite sure if you were right, and if you were, you didn't know why.


You probably haven't heard the term spirited children before. That's because it's mine. In 1979 when my son, Joshua, was born there weren't any spirited child classes or books. In fact the only information I could find that described a kid like him used words such as difficult, strong willed, stubborn, mother killer, or Dennis the Menace. It was the "good" days that made me search for a better word to describe him. On those days I realized that this kid who could drive me crazy possessed personality traits that were actually strengths when they were understood and well guided.

My Webster's dictionary defines spirited as: lively, creative, keen, eager, full of energy and courage, and having a strong assertive personality. Spirited--it feels good, sounds good, communicates the exciting potential of these kids, yet honestly captures the challenge faced by their parents. When we choose to see our children as spirited, we give them and ourselves hope. It pulls our focus to their strengths rather than their weaknesses, not as another label but as a tool for understanding.


Each spirited child is unique, yet there exists distinct characteristics in which more is very apparent. Not all spirited children will possess all of the following five characteristics, but each will exhibit enough of them to make her stand out in a crowd.

Raising Your Spirited Child. Copyright © by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mary gives lots of insight and many how-to's to parents of children that are far more challenging on a daily basis than the average kid. I appreciate the postive tone. Too many times my husband and I want to just give up on this child and say something like, "Well, at least his brother and sister are good!" I am learning to accept what I simply can not change now that I really understand how our temperaments and personalities interact with each other. However, I have changed my attitude as far as labeling my four year old as "the difficult child." That does become a self-fulfilling prophesy! So many of the strategies in this book have been working and there is a lot more peace and cooperation in my home. It feels so good to be reassured that other kids say and do things that test a parent's sanity and that all of us moms and dads regret what we say and do from time to time. I also want to recommend a very compatible book called THE POCKET PARENT which shares a similar compassionate friendly tone, as well as a variety of awesome short real-life anecdotes. This pocket-sized book is fun to read...no paragraphs, just hundreds of specific bullets of helpful tips arranged in an A-Z easy reference of topics (such as bad words, bedtime, biting, hitting and hurting others, interrupting, mealtime, morning crazies, the gimmes, separation anxiety, and whining). Both books give lots of support, a good dose of humor and sensible advice from a positive discipline bent without being preachy nor condescending. THE SPIRITED CHILD relates to kids of all ages while THE POCKET PARENT is written only for parents with 2's, 3's, 4's, and 5's. Both books are worthy additions to your library, convenient to refer to over and over again as the need arises.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The very first exercise in this book is pivotal. My husband and I sat down together and did and it immediately had an effect. The simple act of reframing how we view and label our child has had a dramatic effect and has also helped when speaking to others (i.e. teachers, grandparents, etc), influencing how they view his behavior and respond. The big surprise here was that I bought this book with the intention of learning specifically how to handle one of my three sons, but, to my surprise, it is helping with all of them. She discusses in depth the nuances associated with introverts and extroverts, which is quite helpful in anticipating a child response to a situation and plan accordingly. I would, with no hesitation, recommend this book to parents.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has proven to be an excellent source of information for parents of very intense, persistent, and energetic children. As a mother of a very 'spirited' 3 year old, I would sometimes become frustrated by my son's behavior. This book provided helpful techniques to handle difficult situations and helped me cherish my child for who he is. As the author mentions 'Spirited kids are like roses, they need special care. And sometimes you have to get past the thorns to truly enjoy their beauty'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a mom of a very *spirited* little boy I say, purchase this book now! I have the older version of this book (with a different cover) and I've been re-reading it for years! When your child is difficult and has strong defiant behaviors, it's easy to label them with names like, 'hyper', 'wild', etc. I like this book because it changes your thinking to *spirited* kids, thus improving your parenting style. A great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book and liked it. The problem I found with this book however, is that it seems to tell parents that regardless of how the child's behaviour is affecting others it is okay because it is not the childs fault. As parents it is already very difficult to see the negative aspects of our children's behaviour because we love them so much. I also read 'The Omnipotent Child' and found Dr.Millar's advice to be equally compassionate, but much more realistic. I tried the advice in both and can honestly say that the results were much more positive when Dr.Millar's advice was followed. My whole family, especially my spirited child, is much happier now.
Susan Boyer More than 1 year ago
my oldest son has Asperger's Syndrome and this book was a great help in learning little tricks to help him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book over a year ago when I started feeling frustrated with my one-year old's intense reactions to EVERYTHING! I have since reread the book at least 10 times; I get more information on how to cope with two VERY spirited children, and how to cope more easily as a spirited adult! I am now able to recognize the cues they give when they are about to have a melt-down and can take steps to prevent it, and I know what my limits are and when I am ready to have a melt-down, too! My copy has taken alot of wear and tear and still offers up life-saving information! It's the perfect book for parents of spirited children of any age!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was frustrated with my child and myself. I felt like I was a bad parent because I didn't know how to handle my child. This book helped me look at my child's qualities in a positive and to realize she wasn't trying to drive me crazy. She is her own person that I am now very proud of. I have learned how to help her use her character traits to work for her rather than against her. I feel more competent and caring. I no longer feel inept. I am a pediatric nurse and I recommend this book often.
manque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you're the parent of a "spirited" child (sometimes also known as "difficult"), this book may help you find the solutions to your parenting nightmare that you've been searching for.Like most books of this type, the tone is breezy and conversational, as the author attempts to talk the frazzled, desperate parent down from the ledge and invite him or her in for a conversation on how to keep from going crazy in the future. But don't let the easy tone fool you: there's plenty of concrete, specific advice about parenting a spirited child here, backed up by solid research and years of practical experience.Some of the book's strengths:- There's a useful discussion of the distinction between ADHD and spirited behavior (esp. in regard to "distractibility") in Ch. 3 and elsewhere.- The advice on "Letting go of the dream child" (in Ch. 4) is also quite useful, and is the only place I've seen this important subject addressed so frankly.- The discussion of adaptability is very useful for distinguishing between willful disobedience and a genuine need for more transition time (e.g., more warning).The book's weaknesses are relatively minor:- Some of the cultural references are dated (1970s & 80s), and there's some cultural location marking as well -- midwest usages like "pop" for soda or cola, or the phrase "a scuzzy word" for a curse-word, for example. These can be a little distracting, but don't detract much from the content.- The research isn't up to top academic standards--citing what others have said about Jung's work on personality types, for example, without ever going back to the original source (Jung). But then, this book doesn't pretend to be a rigorous academic study.- Like most (all?) books of this type, there's a fair amount of repetition, as concepts get restated in various ways and forms (examples drawn from the author's own family, stories from parents in parenting classes, tables and questionnaires, research cited, etc.). This seems endemic to the genre, and in any case it's easy enough to skim a section if you feel you've already mastered the concept or gotten the message.Conclusion:As a practical guidebook for parents of "spirited" children, this book is a good choice. It is both accessible, encouraging, informative--and most importantly--full of useful and effective advice. I would recommend it in conjunction with a book from the Positive Discipline series. Though there is some overlap between these books, repetition of some key concepts and strategies isn't necessarily a bad thing, and there's enough that's unique to each approach to make reading them both worthwhile.
herebedragons on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good book for suggestions on how to avoid temper tantrums and other bad behavior in children who fall on the "spirited" end of the spectrum.
wattfarms More than 1 year ago
This is just an excellent book. My daughter and I both read it nodding our heads with the similarities we see in her son. Spirited indeed! What a wonderful word to describe a child fascinated and interested in minutia and always scanning and asking questions while in his car seat. Yes, this is right on! We just wish we lived within Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's area so we could enjoy her work groups. Her comments are so well received by anyone who is blessed with a cherished and wonderful "Spirited" child.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The women I purchased Spirited Child for are so happy happy about this book. They have only read the first chapter but gave a wonderful tesimony about how application can be made to all children.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was initially recommended to me by our pediatrician. I'm about halfway through it, but already I've learned so much. It's given me great insight into both my daughter's and my own personalities and has helped me to see her in a new and more positive light. I've already recommended it to parents of other spirited children and they have all loved it as well.
GeronimoTheWild More than 1 year ago
The book has helped me not only with my kids but with my wife and soldiers as well. It helped me take a reflective look at how we are all built differently and we can either look at the positives and help those parts mature into greatness, or we can hinder them and cause greater harm. This is not a book on how to "break" your child but how to identify, hone, and harness that spirit into positive channels. You are probably open to changing the way you look at things if your are reading a review of a book about changing how you look at things =), but i would suggest giving this book to someone who has ears but does not hear, and eyes but does not see. I was/am a super spirited individual, and was always encouraged to be just that. It took a lot of patience from my parents but it wouldn't have happened if they tried to break me, I would have resented them always.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I read through this book, I have shared sections with my husband. He said I even need to write the author and ask how she was able to write a book about our daughter :o) Besides realizing that we are not alone, we have picked up several tips/hints that have changed our family dynamic. It will probably be a resource we continually refer to through the years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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dilomama More than 1 year ago
This book helped me learn to enjoy and cherish as well as survive trying moments with my introverted and extroverted "spirited" children. It is a most valuable parent survival tool.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago