Sunday, July 6, 2008

Book Review: Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Emma the Brave and I were struggling and I didn't know why. She was having multiple meltdowns a day and my patience was wearing thin. Don't misunderstand: she was (and is) a happy kid--almost euphoric. But she had (and still has) a unique ability to swing Tarzan-like from slap-happy to guttural rage with almost no warning. How could a child so exuberant and willful be constantly a hair's breadth from becoming a puddle of mush? It was dumbfounding.

Had she always been this way? I didn't think so. Maybe. If not, when did it start? I couldn't say. Was it because we'd moved over 6000 kilometers from our native country and culture? Was immersion in a second language too much? Were my expectations of her evolving faster than she could keep up? My questions were endless. All I knew for certain was that something had to change.

I bought two books simultaneously, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Raising Your Spirited Child, then I read--or at least I read one. Three-quarters of the way through How to Talk, Emma and I had made real progress. It took another two years for me get to around to Raising Your Spirited Child, but I finally did. In retrospect, maybe I should have read it first.

First published in 1991, Mary Sheedy Kurchinka begins by defining who is the spirited child.
"They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than normal children."
She goes on to have the parent-reader rate their child's temperament and then their own based on nine temperamental traits. She also has them determine whether their child is by nature an introvert or extrovert thereby determining their energy source. A big fan of measuring tools, I decided to rate the whole Mighty family. Here's how we ranked out:

Mighty Mom: spirited introvert
The Captain: spirited introvert
Emma the Brave: spirited introvert
Mighty Mouse: spunky extrovert

It's easy to assume that we should all get along famously, having so much spirit in common, but it's actually is a source of conflict. The Captain is the king of persistence. Try getting him to do anything before he is good and ready is next to impossible. Emma and I are pretty intense, but her far greater sensitivity and introversion requires patience from me when I'm at my worst. And then there's Mighty Mouse, highly persistent, as well, and the token extrovert. Try to get an introverted moment's peace when she needs to recharge by talking--it's not going to happen.

The book goes on to teach the reader how to work with spirit and plan for success. Ms. Kurcinka in no way gives spirited children free reign to overstep the bounds of respectful conduct. She does, however, place the onus on the parent to predict and prevent trouble spots such that their child has the greatest chance of success. The strategies she suggests would be effective with any child regardless of their temperamental profile. Her message to parents is that you are not alone, that your child is 'more,' and therefore requires 'more' from you, but, with the right care, they will be the rose in your garden, a joy like no other.

Other books by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka include: Sleepless in America; Kids, Parents and Power Struggles; and the Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook. I've listed them more for me than anyone else. Who knows? They may come in handy some day.

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