Raising Your ‘Spirited Child’ without Going off the Parenting Deep End


This child had refused to order his own hamburger (as he has done many times before) and when I calmly told him he could either order it himself, or go home without his burger, he went completely berserk. Yes, I was in a “food fare nightmare” — with my formidable opponent, an 8-year-old.

I felt my cheeks flush as public onlookers waited in complete stunned silence to see who would win — the big one or the little one?

Taming Your Spirited Child
Surprisingly, over my years as a family counselor, I have come to love working with spirited children. These children have a fire in their belly, a spark in their eye and a feisty attitude that assures their future in walking to the beat of their own drum instead of blindly following the crowd — a trait many parents hope for during the teen years. Yet that day of the hamburger incident, I was worn out, embarrassed and on the verge of saying “I quit!”

Raising your spirited child can be exhausting. Fortunately for me, I learned some common-sense parenting tools that eliminated nearly all future fights. Here are some of these parenting tips that can support your efforts in taming your spirited child and help you navigate the emotional mine field successfully.

Use consistency. Follow through on everything you say. Spirited children are gifted at manipulating “chances” and finding loopholes to obtain exactly what they want. Hold your ground as calmly and firmly as possible — whatever you do, don’t back down.

Talk less and act more. This works well, because when you get into a debate with a spirited child you are certain to lose. This is why during the hamburger incident example above, I gave two simple options — to order the hamburger or go home without it (the talking less part); and then, I silently waited (the action part).

Develop patience. Waiting out a fight without saying anything (especially if a temper tantrum erupts in public) can be one of the most difficult, yet most important, things you ever do as a parent. Spirited children are bright — they know that the biggest weapon in their arsenal is to push your embarrassment button. Swallow your pride and do not cave in just because you think you look bad in public. Remember, if you cave in your child will learn to use this trump card every time he wants his way in a public setting.

Take time out for yourself. Being a parent can be exhausting (especially with a feisty child). Find little ways to take time out for yourself (share child care with a friend, hire a babysitter more, use extra hours at day care) so you will have more energy and patience to draw from during the trying situations.

What Does the Future Hold for Your Spirited Child?
These parenting tools tame the negative opposition, but let your child’s beautiful spirit flourish. If you attempt to use traditional discipline practices and make your child do what you want, you face an un-winnable uphill battle.

Fortunately, these common-sense parenting tips use firm boundaries, mutual respect and discipline — teaching a child to naturally learn and grow from their mistakes rather than fight you every step of the way.

In the midst of your next fight, you may wonder if there will be an end to the madness. I am here to tell you that there will be a resolution to your current dramas. In my case, these tips allowed me to triumph and actually enjoy raising a spirited child.

This same child, who threw award-winning temper tantrum performances in public and could bring me to my knees, is now a responsible, respectful and enjoyable 17-year-old college student whose year ahead is completely paid by scholarships he was awarded. For us, we both won in the end.

Remember to keep the faith and know that if you follow the basic principles above, eventually “this too shall pass.”


Kelly Nault-Matzen is a family counselor and author of “When You’re About to Go Off the Deep End, Don’t Take Your Kids With You.”

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