Thursday, January 28, 2010

Raising Your Spirited Child

I just finished reading a great book called "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. She is an educator in Minnesota's Early Childhood Family Education Program and author of several other books. She also founded Spirited Child and Power Struggles workshops.

This book is amazing. I imagine that I will return to this book many times throughout the years as I'm raising Boo and any siblings he might have. This book is applicable not just to the age that Boo is at now, but to many ages.

One thing that this book does a wonderful job of is encouraging parents to really consider who their child is as a person. Kurcinka speaks about the different aspects that make up temperament and the challenges that are unique to children who seem to be a bit "more" in one aspect or another. Specifically, she discusses extroversion versus introversion, intensity, persistence, sensitivity, perceptiveness, adaptability, regularity, energy, first reaction, and mood.The extroversion/introversion chapter alone provided me with so much insight regarding my child.

Boo is without a doubt an introvert. I never quite realized it until reading Kurcinka's chapter comparing the two. In fact, I kind of knew that I tended towards introversion myself. Reading Kurcinka's chapter on introversion versus extroversion gave me greater insight into myself and into my child. I've often wondered why so and so can go to one thing after another, bouncing from one activity to another all week long, and I start to go nutty if I go out more than two nights a week. I used to think that maybe something was wrong with me for not being able to handle as much activity or a higherlevel of busyness. The reality is that I'm just not wired that way. Just as an extrovert feels like they're dying inside if they don't get enough time to socialize, the introvert feels incredibly drained by constant social commitments and activity. Introverts feel energized by spending time either alone or with a favorite friend. I have always tended towards one on one outings with friends in lieu of large group activities. I can feel energized going for coffee with a good friend that I trust, but if I go to a party involving lots of people I need time to recover afterwards. What I find energizing as an introvert is a night in with a good book! Anyways, this book of Kurcinka's is about children, right? So, getting back to that, I've realized why Boo clams up when we go to Kindermusik and the teacher prompts him to count or point something out in a book. I admit that I'm sitting there watching anxiously and thinking, "I know he knows how to do this. Everyone's going to think my child's behind. Why won't he perform??" But the reality is, being an introvert, it's hard for him to go to Kindermusik and participate in the activities and follow the instructions. But being put on the spot to answer a question or pointing something out in a book - well, that's just beyond him as a little introvert. Granted, as he gets older he'll be able to do more despite his introversion. But his personality will more than likely lead him to draw back a little bit. And the great thing is, that's OKAY. In our culture, I think we prize extroversion a bit. I love how Kurcinka's book draws out the strengths that introverts possess. And the reality is that pushing him to act like an extrovert will only cause him to feel bad about the way he is. Instead, I need to accept him for who he is and nurture the strengths that are inherent to introversion.

I realize that I'm going on and on about this one point. But it was a huge eye opener for me. Boo attends my home daycare by default that he lives here. Recognizing that he is an introvert gives me insight to notice when he's trying to communicate that he needs time to himself. In fact, I've been frustrated by Boo for not wanting to join in on art projects when I'm in the kitchen with all of the other children doing some fun sort of painting, coloring, or whatever the art is for that day. But you know what he's doing while we're in there and he's refusing to join? Playing with the toys by himself, perfectly content. Thinking about him with this insight made me realize that this is how he finds time for himself in a busy home with friends around constantly. Knowing this I was able to relax today when he didn't want to join the finger painting fun. I didn't ask him nearly so many times, "Are you sure you don't want to come and paint?" Now I know that he's doing something that makes him feel energized and happy. And I can always paint with him on the weekend. And when we respect who our children are as people, we give them the space to have their needs met, which ultimately leads to a happier and better behaved child. And don't we all want children who behave well?

I think that's what I liked about this book. The end result is that we all want our children to "behave" for lack of a better word. This book has so much information about getting to know who your child is as a person and then respecting that. We can respect their unique personalities and set them up for success in different situations rather than forcing them into something that sets them up for failure. Of course we can't control every situation and our children will be faced with things that go against their personality that they must deal with. But if we set them up for success as much as we possibly can, they will have more energy to deal with those situations that are less than ideal. I like how one parent in one of Kurcinka's groups put it. "We don't teach children how to swim by throwing them in the deep end." We shouldn't do that in their daily lives. Very young children have few coping skills and need years to learn how to cope with a variety of situations. It's okay to do what we can to make it easier on them as they get their feet wet and start the learning process.

I feel like this has been terribly rambly, but this book is awesome. There's so much more that I could go into, but I risk writing a novel about a novel. So I probably need to stop. I highly recommend that any parent look into this book - and not just if you feel your child is in the "spirited" category. I think any parent of any child could benefit from this book!

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