Toddler behaviour

10 things only parents of high-spirited kids would understand

Risky playground antics? Lousy sleeper? With high-spirited kids, “it's as though their brain is stuck on ‘Go!'"

My first son wasn’t much older than two when I figured it out: he’s what they call “high-spirited.” A high-spirited child is just a little… extra, in almost all the ways they can be: more intense, more persistent, more sensitive, more energetic, and more perceptive than their peers. Once I figured this out, parenting suddenly made a whole lot more sense—I just had to approach it differently. His temperament was the reason why we hadn’t had very much success with the parenting methods I saw other moms and dads using.

Here are 10 things that only parents of high-spirited kids can relate to:

1. Your kid’s temperament isn’t the result of poor parenting.

Boundless energy and enthusiasm in small humans is sometimes mistaken for wildness or bad behaviour. But my boys’ enthusiastic energy isn’t the direct result of the way we parent them: they were born this way. It’s also not just a “boys-will-be-boys” thing: girls can be high-spirited, active and rambunctious, too.

2. Epic meltdowns are real. And they can really be epic.

Intensity in high-spirited kids means that once they are upset about something, it’s very easy for them to reach what Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, the author of Raising Your Spirited Child, calls “the red zone.” Once they get there, it can take a lot of time and patience to help them calm down.

3. Just like large dogs or racehorses, your kids need to run—often.

My kids do best, mood-wise, with lots of gross motor play. They need to climb and run and bike and kick and throw and catch and jump and wrestle—or their energy will find another far less productive outlet.

4. You have a high tolerance for risky playground antics.

My younger son was about 15 months old when a grandmother at the park who’d just seen him climb up the ladder of a tall slide told me she was glad he wasn’t her grandson. Because he was my second fearless, full-on toddler who climbed before he could walk, I wasn’t worried about his daredevil moves at all.

5. Sleep is a work in progress.

My firstborn slept a maximum of 90 minutes at a time for the first year of his life—even at night. I’d spend an hour rocking him to sleep for a nap and he’d wake after 15 minutes. Now, at age six, he’s still a “low sleep needs” kid. It  takes him 45 minutes to doze off, even though I know he’s exhausted. As Kurcinka notes, although you’d expect spirited children to sleep well after expending so much energy in a day, the majority of them have a hard time nodding off, “as though their brain is stuck on ‘go.’”

6. You can’t take them anywhere.

Is the idea of taking your high-spirited kids to the grocery store or the mall enough to make you break out in a cold sweat? Even as toddlers, my kids would climb out of shopping carts and strollers, running away from me and making a scene. Unless it’s a one-to-one adult-to-kid ratio, shopping of any kind is best avoided.

7. You have to choose your battles carefully.

I once spent an hour and a half asking one of my sons to wear something other than pajamas to a party. His persistence meant he spent the entire 90 minutes screaming and refusing. Ultimately, he wore the pajamas. That fight just wasn’t worth it.

8. You have developed a sixth sense for sensitivity triggers.

For spirited kids who are extra sensitive, a misaligned sock seam or a casual remark can trigger an epic meltdown. By anticipating what might cause these moments before they happen, you can do your best to reduce the risk that they’ll happen in the first place.

9. It’s OK to tell them they’re right, even when they’re wrong.

My sons frequently argue about who said what and which Star Wars character is the coolest. Neither one capitulates—ever. I have learned that when they’ve dug their heels in on something, it’s best to smile and nod, even if they’re way off-base.

10. Life with high-spirited kids is 100 per cent exhausting, but it’s also 100 per cent amazing.

Between the boundless energy and the unbreakable persistence, life with high-spirited kids can be super intense and exhausting. But this means that their joy and exuberance can be just as intense as their meltdowns. Life with them is never dull. Plus, I hear this kind of temperament can help our kids become passionate, driven and dedicated future leaders. Here’s hoping.