Kids with MORE!: Raising Your Spirited Child and Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child
In Victorian times they were called "naughty;" in mid-century they were "maladjusted" or just plain "spoiled brats." Whatever the label, "difficult" children have always been with us. Some grew up to be talented geniuses or leaders of society; some less fortunate or less well-parented did not. Now termed "strong-willed," or "spirited," we recognize these children as kids who are normal--and then some!
Authors Mary Kurcinka and Robert MacKenzie assure harried parents that these strong-willed children come with qualities which are prized in adults, but as young children who are "wired to be more," they can be strenuous to raise. Compared to the average child, such children are more persistent and yet more distractible, more energetic and active, more sensitive, more reactive and demanding more regularity in daily routines, and more extreme in mood, whether upbeat, soberly analytical, or gloomy. They have a hard time with transitions, hating to stop an activity they've committed to. They hear and see everything, it seems, except what their parents or teachers are saying to them. Some can't tolerate scratchy or too-warm clothing, crowds, or vivid sounds, smells, and lights. The normal slings and arrows of life, such as having their sandwiches cut in triangles (or not cut in triangles), can provoke long sob sessions, and a sudden change in plans can cause a tantrum.
Both authors describe these characteristics in similar terms, pointing out to struggling parents that these are temperaments which are genetic, hard-wired from birth for the most part, but also temperaments which have real strengths to be brought forth by informed and nurturing parents. Both authors offer advice about recognizing these children and the triggers which lead to "meltdown" when the child is on system overload. Kurcinka and MacKenzie offer extensive tips and behavior plans to apply to such situations as getting dressed, following directions, bedtime and sleep habits, mealtime behavior, dealing with visitors at home or away, non-routine situations such as vacations and holidays, and, of course, the big challenge--school.
Although the scope of both books is similar, there are some salient differences in style. MacKenzie's take is a bit more of a "tough love" stance. "The hard way is the clearest way for strong-willed children to learn your rules.... Strong-willed children are action learners. They require large amounts of hard data in the form of experience before they learn you mean what you say," he writes. MacKenzie's style is more succinct, with fewer anecdotes, and quickly gets down to pragmatic programs and tips for shaping behaviors in the child which help him or her mature safely and well. The text offers frequent shaded summary boxes to drive home key points. Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child is a bit more of a a how-to manual, and if time is a factor (for parents, isn't it always?) his book helps the parent start changing the child's behavior right away.
Kurcinka's book, however, has some strengths of its own. She spends more time developing and describing the characteristics of what she terms the "spirited child." For example, in her longer discussion of the extroverted and introverted child, she points out that it is not the social skills of the child by which one determines the type, but the way in which the child renews his or her energy which is crucial: extroverts recharge by talking and socializing, whereas introverts renew themselves by solitary activity and thought. She takes pains to teach re-labeling, that is, replacing pejorative labels for spirited children with favorable ones. For example, she suggests pointing out to kids whose internal clocks are irregular that their flexibility will make them great emergency room doctors or fire fighters.
Kurcinka also gives much more attention to the match between the parents' inborn temperaments and the child they seek to guide, pointing out that if a child is "spirited," it's almost certain that there is a "spirited" parent, or at least grandparent, in his or her family tree. Kurcinka also stresses the importance of "getting to yes" with the strong-willed child, respecting the nature and dignity of the child whenever possible rather than simply imposing a rule. Recipient of the Parents Choice Award and recently fully revised, Raising Your Spirited Child is substantial, with 458 pages of text, but is absorbing, deeply thoughtful, and thought-provoking reading.
My advice to the parent seeking help with a strong-willed child would be to read Robert MacKenzie's book first to jump start a behavior modification plan and then to read Mary Kurcinka's book at a more leisurely pace for further insight and more nuanced advice. If face time with a book is limited, her text is also available in audio book and audio download format.
Other books which also deal with this subject are Transforming the Difficult Child, by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Eisley, Taming the Spirited Child, by Michael Popkin, Parenting the Strong-Willed Child, by Rex Forehand, and The Everything Parent's Guide to the Strong-Willed Child, by Carl E. Pickhardt.