A while ago, I had written a post about the spirited child Chip is. I refuse to call him difficult and while it is vexing to get my point across to him at times, I admire his resolve and determination. He also tends to get frustrated easily and can fly into what I call nuclear tantrums. Change is hard on him. He is a slow adapter. Traditional child rearing advice is lost on him. Never works. He is only three and as he grows up, his temperament may change little or not at all, but I sure hope to teach him how to change the way he expresses his thoughts and emotions. A few weeks ago I bought a book- Raising your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka. While I have yet to read it, I thought it might be a good idea to put into writing my own strategies and later compare them to those in the book.
Be very specific
While this is true of most toddlers, for spirited children, this is a life saving technique. “Don’t touch that”, “Sit here” doesn’t quite cut it. Even if you tell Chip the dire consequences of his actions, his impulse doesn’t go away. For e.g. if I tell Chip to put the fork down when he is running around the kitchen with it, he won’t listen. He wants to do “something” with the fork, and running around with it is the only thing that comes to his mind. Instead I tell him to put it in the sink or put it back in the flatware drawer. That satisfies his urge, I get a chore done and he is out of trouble.
A few months ago Chip and I visited a friend and her new baby. Chip was very excited and in his excitement pulled the little baby’s hand. Instead of telling him to not touch the baby or play with other things which would have resulted in a tantrum, I channeled his urge. He wanted to connect to the baby. So I allowed him a gentle pat on the blanket by the foot and told him to sing songs and recite the alphabet. He does that to all babies he sees now. The parents are amused and the babies gurgle and laugh which delights him.
Let them know what to expect
Even if it is trip to the tot lot or a dinner with friends or a doctor’s visit, I always tell him what to expect of the place and event and of him. I tell him names of all the friends we are visiting and what we plan to do. I also tell him what I expect of him – he has to share, no whining, no fuss when its time to go home. Or if we are going to the doctor, what will happen (stethoscope, look in your ear etc). This way he is prepared and does not get caught with surprises. For the past few days, he has gotten into the habit of asking a grown up what their name is. I personally feel this is rude, so I have told him he has to ask me softly (or I have to tell him the name of the person we are meeting before hand). I have also told him I will remember to introduce him to people. He is a young boy now. Stop the whine with shock and awe Chip whines. And he is persistent. I need to stop the whine before it turns into a tantrum. And like most kids, Chip’s whine does not go away when you ignore it. It gets worse. So instead of telling him again that he cannot have jelly beans today, I sit down with him and tell him jelly beans have artificial colors and preservatives and that will make holes in his brain.
Shock and awe.
Since he has learnt something new here, his attention gets diverted to the artificial colors and preservatives instead of the jelly beans. Give them something to do I give mine chores. He sets the table every night. He helps himself to cereal and snacks from the pantry. He helps me unload the dishwasher. He puts his diaper in the bin every morning and his clothes in the hamper. It gives him a sense of importance and a comforting routine and giving him safe activities puts him out of trouble for at least 10-15 minutes a day.
Teach them to identify their emotions and triggers
This is very useful. Chip has a temper that can quickly get out of hand. A few months ago, I tried this trick. Every time he would get angry and thre a tantrum, I would tell him to tell me when he realized he was getting angry and that I would help him. It took a few months and he needs a reminder every now and then, but he does come and tell me to help him because he is angry or feels like a tantrum. We sit down and we “search and pluck” all the tantrums from his head. There are usually ten – so he has learnt to count till 10 when he gets angry. He also identifies when he is sad and tells me and we deal with it. Or when he is scared or happy. Down time and quiet time They need this more than the other kids, I suspect. I know kids who would cry way after midnight at their own 1st birthday parties. Chip cried in the first five minutes because he wanted everyone to go home and leave him alone.
Even know, he needs some quiet and one-on-one time every day with me in the evening. Undivided attention. He is much better behaved that way. Many times, when we have company over, he tells me he wants to go to bed way before his expected bedtime. I take the cue. He is overwhelmed and 20 minutes by ourselves upstairs usually recharges him and he much better behaved when we come back down. On busy days when he tends to be a bit tantrummy, we have a quiet time. Where he can do what he wants without walking/running/climbing/not leaving the room. He can lie down, draw, read books.
Sugar and physical activity
Limiting sugar does help. He is less tantrummy, more even tempered. Juice is no more than 6oz a day or not at all. No sugar in milk. Sweet cereals in limited quantities. No sugary stuff when he is tired. Or sugar combined with protein only (like peanuts and jaggery). Increasing protein intake helps him manage his temper. He also needs a lot of physical activity. He walked a mile and half yesterday and played in the water for 30 mins. in the evening and only then was he tired. I’ll post a review of the book as soon as I am done reading it. Until then, do share your tactics too if you have a spirited child.
*Cross posted on my blog here.