my spirit child / my flagging spirits

Wednesday 23 June 2010
I received a lovely email from Heather last week who came out of blog lurkdom to recommend the book by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka titled "Raising Your Spirited Child", to help my understand/cope with Anna's "spirited" personality. Isn't "spirited" a much nicer term than saying my wilful/ annoying/ exhausting/ PITA child? All terms I use readily (in my head not out loud) when dealing with Anna. Apparently spirited children are more alert, persistent and sensitive than others, plus they are more energetic, have worse moods and are shy in new situations. Yes, that describes Anna pretty well. I have this book on order.

Well this week, my spirited child has:
  • has spent two to three hours every night screaming after being put to bed instead of going to sleep, and then waking at 11pm-midnight to start another 3 hour screaming match. Yes she has a regular bedtime and bed routine (bath, book bed), she also has soft music playing all night, heating to keep her room to a constant 20deg, curtains with three layers of lining to keep out the light, and we tiptoe around keeping quiet. All to no avail!
  • after an hour of the second stage screaming match, she comes into our bed to sleep and she quietens down but then she then proceeds to play with my hair or stroke my face or arm for most of the remaining night;
  • broke the arms off my prescription sunglasses, the second pair of my glasses she's ruined;
  • slapped some children at daycare;
  • refused to eat dinner most nights, instead opting for raisin toast; and
  • managed to peel a few keys off my laptop:

Sigh..... but, her vocabulary is amazing, her words come out loud and clear, and she is pretty switched on - she saw me searching for a shoe the other day and she went off and found it! Of course she probably hid it in the first place but she was smart enough to work out what I was looking for. She is also starting to recognise pictures and say what they are, her current favourite being dog, clock and car:

I know long term having an alert and smart child is great, but boy is it tiring right now...

Anyway enough babbling on about my child - the reason I tell you all of this is to report on my woeful progress this week on those annoying curtains, other sewing, this blog, essentially anything not related to trying to get a screaming toddler to settle and sleep! Basically curtains are half done - I've done four drops, only four more to go. And I vowed to myself not to move on to anything else until they are done so I am aiming to finish them this weekend even if I stay up all night, because I have plans for another red skirt for me.

I did however quickly whip up this lumpy looking dog bed from some bright green terry towelling from the stash, stuffed with fabric scraps:

It's just a rectangle of fabric with rows of stitching sewn across the width to create a channel to stuff. Of course Anna had to have a test lie down before the dog did:

Yes, she's still in her pyjamas and slippers - it's been cold around these parts lately! And then she generously shared her dummy with the dog:

I wish I could say I managed to get the dummy from her before it went back into her mouth, but alas I wasn't quick enough. It's alright though, because shortly after this photograph she rinsed it out in the dog's drinking bowl LOL! Germs are good for kids, right?

The dog bed looks a little small, I measured it to fit into his sleeping crate, but didn't take into account that when it was stuffed it would get shorter. Anyway it does the job and got some fabric scraps out of my sewing room, although two days after I took this photo the dog has ripped part of it open so now those sewing scraps are swirling around the garage! Double sigh, I think I have a spirited dog too......

I will see you all shortly on the other side of my curtain sewathon, I promise!


  1. She sounds like my niece... When she was Anna's age I would be exhausted every time I baby sat for her. But now she's going into kindergarten and she's SO bright, and she's calmed down quite a bit. Hang in there!!!

  2. You made me laugh this morning. Thanks for the tip on how to wash DumDums:)

  3. My 5 year old son is spirited. Unfortunately I didn't know that is what he was when he started showing signs at 10 months old. We have battled with him for the last 4 years. Sleep/eating/just general behaviour.... it is all a struggle. Thank goodness my 18 month old daughter doesn't appear to be spirited. Good luck!!!

  4. Kristy, I do feel your pain and offer much sympathy. My "spirited" child graduated high school 2 weeks ago so he did actually make it without me killing him or myself. ;-) Once we got past toddlerhood, it did get easier because his body and coordination skills grew into the things his brain wanted, and he matured enough to really understand reasoning and consequences. Can't reason with a toddler! :-)

    The one thing you definitely need is time to recharge. Don't overlook yourself in your exhaustion! My DH understood (after I was very clear with him) and would take both of my boys to the park or store or whatever, just so I could have a day at home to myself, since being at home to unwind, relax, and putter around is what I really craved.

    Oh, and the bedtime antics? We had those too, and DS would just scream and/or trash his room during those tantrums. I really didn't like the "cry it out" or "remove everything in the room" theories and finally gave up - letting DS just sleep in our bed for a while. And we're all still perfectly happy and well-adjusted. ;-) I actually did enjoy that time because those were the few hours of the day when he was silent and still and I could just snuggle him and get some sleep. DS decided at some point (around 5 yo) that he didn't want to sleep with us anymore and he put himself back to his own bed. It all worked out in the end.

    Hang in there! Just do what feels right to YOU and you'll get through this difficult stage.

  5. I feel your pain Kristy. My daughter was a spirited child (probably why she is an "only" child too!), but she grew into a beautiful, talented independent young woman and her pluck has served her well. She is 28 now and once you get past the teen years it's smooth sailing...

  6. At least you sew in the midst of this...with my first child I just gave up sewing until she was about 3. I couldn't summon the energy with working full-time and taking care of a precious child. Mine learned to read by 2.5 and was talking rings around everyone by 3. There is hope! Hang in there!

  7. Having a spirited child who is now 5-years-old I feel your pain. He thankfully now can entertain himself when he wakes up at night (that means he turns the tv on upstairs or comes downstairs and plays the Wii at 3am). I keep telling myself that he has the traits that are wonderful in adults (well not the tantrums) and that it is all worth it. Sometimes that works and sometimes going outside and screaming works better.

    Best of luck to you - she is absolutely adorable. Hope you get some sleep and some sewing done soon and her spell calms down. I notice that Jacob's spells come and go and things will get better.

    Oh - my son has slapped, bit, punched and showed his boy parts to kids at his daycare so I definitely feel your pain.

  8. Thank you for sharing about your "spirited" child. My son, who is now 3 1/2 yrs old is also "spirited," or "strong-willed" and (my personal favorite) "high-need." You are right that raising a child like this is tiring, and difficult. Most parents do not have children with this personality-typing because these children make up a smaller percentage of the population. However, they do usually become great leaders!

    Even though I know all these great facts, I still wish there were more moms that could relate, and not judge. Somehow when your child does not act appropriately, we moms tend to blame ourselves.

    Continue to stay strong, and know that with as many bad moments there are, you will also be blessed by good moments that make it all worth it!

    BTW, I really like your blog!

  9. I wish I was about to share a fantastic idea that would see you all getting a fantastic night's sleep. My first child was just like Anna, until one day it just stopped (as if by magic). She's got two of her own and a third on the way now and she's fantastic so it was worth it all in the end. Good luck, and I absolutely love your blog.

  10. I also have a very spirited child and it is hard work.

    It a can be very alienating because other parents tend to judge and criticise rather than be supportive, will give you a million inappropriate solutions to "fix" your child and make you the perfect parent that they are.

    Having read through your comments I think there have been some words of comfort for me there too.

    Your daughter hitting other children at daycare is normal for this age and very common. There is no intention to hurt other children she is too young to understand that concept. Of course you get a lot of flack from other parents who think she is being willlful or malicious. She's just being a toddler and she's learning how to communicate.

    I struggle to get sewing time for myself these days too. I barely have any energy at the end of the day. I loved Debbie Cook's advice about getting time out for myself and have taken some steps in that direction so there is hope on the horizon.

  11. Oh dear, I'm afraid I have nothing helpful to say apart from hang in there! With any luck she'll gravitate towards a lucrative career and be able to put you in a NICE home when you're old! Only one of mine is like that (but without the night time screaming). And he is TIRING!

  12. My daughter is now 6 and she is 'spirited' too. She has never slept for more than maybe 6 hours a night and gave up daytime naps when she turned one. She walked early, talked fluently like her 14-months-older sister and could read at the age of three. She's skipped a year ahead at school. It's like she is on fast-forward! She needs to be 'challenged' or she gets frustrated and difficult. As for sleep, find yourself an industrial strength babygate for the bedroom doorway, put in a nightlight she can't reach and leave out lots of safe toys and books for her. My daughter would get up and play in the middle of the night and put herself back to bed at the end of it when she was ready. She had bedtime at 7:30 like her sister (who sleeps like a log) but rarely drops off before 10pm. Stop fighting it, you can't change or fix it, so go with the flow and set some rules for her. And pour yourself a glass of something strong, you're doing a wonderful job

  13. Your life sounds very exhausting at the moment. Try and look after yourself - it does get easier (or so they tell me!)

  14. I live with a man who was a 'spirited' child and he is still a 'spirited' adult. He's still hard work. You just have to keep them occupied. The dog germs will do Anna good.

  15. Wow, I am tired for you. No advice here, as my daughter was pretty typical and my son was the opposite of Anna. Just keep telling yourself this too shall pass. I like Judy Ross's advice about the lovely nursing home in the future. You can rest up then, right?!

  16. Hi
    I am new to your blog and this post was the first that I have read, While reading it and comments I was immediately reminded of my now 5 year old niece. At three she started refusing to sleep, crying for hours on end and biting and even refusing to talk. By the time she was four she was sleeping less and becoming more frustrated. My sister finally took her to a child psychologist whom after watching my niece cry for one hour straight advised her that the Psychiatrist was a better choice. After being seen by him he did something that he said that was leery to do but he gave her medication. She took one pill weekly after about four months she was done to just as needed. She is now 5 and in kindergarten and no longer needs the medicine at all. I think you need to start with her doctor for help because the less she sleeps the more likely she is to get sick.

  17. I am tired from just reading your blog entry Kristy. I can't really imagine living it! Hang in there and good luck. You are doing a great job

  18. Kirsty , you need to attend your GP or maternal health sister about this. I am a Victorian GP and we have some very good inpatient and outpatient programmes to deal with sleep problems. I am sure you have them in NSW too. Sleep deprivation is awful and Anna is probably feeling tired too! I hope this helps. Janine

  19. Hang in there - my spirited child is now 5 and although he can still throw a stonking tantrum they are pretty rare and always at home. Luckily my second child is the opposite and the most mellow child imaginable (bliss!).

    I did have sleep problems with my boy but after seeking help realised that he was overstimulated at night with mobiles, toys etc and things seemed to sort themselves out when I removed anything stimulating from his cot (he was younger than Anna). Maybe getting rid of the music, toys etc could be worth a try?

    I do think that some kids/people are just more high-maintenance than others and all her personality traits that can make her difficult to parent will make her a wonderful person when she's older (I have to keep telling myself that when we're having a bad day!).

  20. Toddlers are all mildly demonic self absorbed little things. They are small and need to control what they can of their environment(Especially the important stuff -like Mummy).Slapping other kids is perfectly ok if you are small-under threes have limited social skills.Im sure all the other kids are doing the same-no one ever mentions if the other kids were doing something mean or swiping her stuff. The good news is after about three(my youngest is three and a half) they get a better control of their emotions. It can be hard for someone used to being productive and organised when a singleminded tornado is unleased in the household. I admit I initially slept with Lucy- and now I lie with her till she goes to sleep (in her bed). Good luck and I hope you get some decent sleep!. By school age you will be glad you have a smart livewire.

  21. Oh my... looks like someone needs to find you a book on High Spirited Dogs too! Hang in there it can/will get better. Sounds like you two need to get yourselves some head phones or ear plugs!
    I love the part about how Anna shared her plug with the dog and then rinsed if off in the dog's dish! Sounds like my grandkids!
    Try to get some sleep when you can!
    Has Anna's baby doctor got any idea's?

  22. Spirited child, spirited dog. I'm laughing my butt off picturing your dilemma...but I really do feel sympathetic. Look at it this way, it could be worse...this could be your SECOND spirited child. LOL!


  23. Welcome to the real world of parenting huh. I understand how some people don't want children at all. It can be really tough. I hope you find some balance soon. We co-slept with our toddlers who are now in their own beds at age almost 4 and 2y6months. I am so glad I got those extra hours of sleep. I doubt there is anyone who has the 'perfect parenting' life so don't despair. Keep positive and look after yourself too. Anna sounds like a very smart child even if she is a handful. She won't be a toddler forever. Can't wait to see those curtains.

  24. Children #2 and 3 both went through nighttime issues just like you're describing. I will invite ridicule, judgement, and hate upon my head by saying that after a few days we let them both cry it out.

    All of my kids are varied degrees of "spirited". They're also very confident, outgoing, leaders. Hang in there, it gets better. :) Be consistent and those frustrating toddler behaviors can become great strengths.

  25. just keep your eyes out for worms! we just had to worm our little boy because of a love-in he had with my parents dog!

  26. Just remember Kristy what makes her a challenging child will make her an interesting adult. My eldest daughter was a totally wild, sleepless, energetic, imaginative child. We channelled her energies into the performing arts (dance lessons from 3 etc). She is now a talented soprano and actor, with tremendous confidence and a captivating (but not crazy making) energy that hopefully she will take into a professional stage career. Number one rule, don't try to suppress the energy, go with it.

  27. I have two spirited children too (who fight in a very spirited way!) and it is really tough sometimes. They are super active, very verbal, and refuse to just sit and watch life go by. Keeping them engaged (which means out of trouble!) has been a full time job. BUT things are now starting to pay off; they get great grades, they are active in sports, and it they have been invited to do special programs and attend gifted schools. Turns out what made them a pain also makes them sucessful (though I think it gave me PTSD!)

    I'd say Anna is just too intense for a small body, and when the world allows her to do what she needs to do she will be super sucessful. You just have to survive her preschool years!

  28. My kids never went to bed before 9 or 10pm when they were little. They just were not tired - not yawning, not cranky, growing well, etc. Everyone gave me the "bad mother" rap, but I came to understand that they were wrong. Some little ones just don't need much sleep. My husband doesn't sleep much, either.