One of the beautiful mysteries of parenting is how different our kids can be from each other.
One child can spend hours playing independently, and another wants constant engagement with others. One child tends to be mellow and adaptable, the other is easily excitable and highly energetic.
It’s beautiful, yet also has the potential to completely stymie us just when we think we’ve got our parenting groove on.
I called my youngest daughter (now 5) my “tiny dragon” as one of her pet names early on in her life, because her temperament is fiery and intense, and because of the fact that she was much more physical at a younger age than her older sister.
The contrast between the two has been a beautiful thing to watch over the years, but it has also caused us to learn some new skills and forced us to grow as parents. What worked with our oldest daughter just doesn’t cut it with her younger sister, and any attempt at talking to her during one of her fiery outbursts quickly deteriorates into a battle of wills (and this child has a will of iron!).
I’ve learned a few things about being a father to a fiery child, and while they may apply to other kids as well, the following tactics are especially potent with a spirited or intense child.
Fatherhood and the Fiery Child: 7 Tips for Parenting Your Spirited Child
- Keep your cool: First and foremost, don’t let your child lead the situation (or better yet, don’t follow their lead), and make sure that you’re in control of your own mind and emotions, so that your own reaction doesn’t escalate the situation.
- Practice diversionary tactics: Knowing how and when to use diversion to ‘break the spell’ can be the most powerful tool in your parenting skillset, as some of our kids act as if they are under the thrall of their emotions and they need something to break the cycle. A simple quiet “Look at this” or “Let’s go see what’s happening in the back yard” in a calm voice works wonders to shift their focus and help them move past the emotional issue at hand. This doesn’t mean that we ignore or gloss over their feelings – we are just giving them space to change their focus, and we can talk over the underlying issue when the yelling and screaming is done.
- Use the sidelines: Many times, if there are other kids around, it’s best if we can take our child away for a bit until they have gained a little control over themselves again. I explain to mine that if she is screaming or using her body on the ‘other players’, then she needs to go ‘sit on the bench’ until she is ready to play nicely with others. Removing a kid from the situation without an explanation or a way for them to return to playing might just blow up in our face – kids need to know why, and they need an ‘out’ for their situation.
- Please feed the animals: This may seem overly simple, but when children get hungry, they can get pretty cranky, which sets the scene for a meltdown if we aren’t careful. And some kids are very sensitive to low blood sugar or an empty belly – mine sure is! If we can address the situation and feed them before the doo doo hits the fan, or if we can ‘break the spell’ and put food in front of them, it might give us the edge we need in order to bring some order back into our chaotic family condition.
- Follow the schedule: Some kids freak out on a regularly occurring schedule – i.e., at 3 pm everyday, little Joe loses his patience and throws a fit – and therefore knowing our own child’s schedule and adjusting our activities accordingly goes a long way toward helping things go smoothly. Consider keeping a snack bag or coloring book or favorite CD (with headphones!) at the ready, and try to feed them before the regularly scheduled meltdown happens. Or don’t schedule play dates or group activities during this time.
- Everyone needs downtime: One of the biggest challenges for parents of young fiery children happens when they stop taking a nap during the day. Our own ‘quiet time’ disappears, and we’re left scrambling for things to fill that time with them. Even the most spirited child needs some time to play quietly by themselves, and just because they don’t need a nap anymore doesn’t mean that they don’t require some ‘down time’ to recharge. Having a special bag or box of activities just for quiet time will help us to facilitate some independent playtime for them.
- Empower them: I’ve noticed that my daughter really needs to feel like she has some control over her life, and not just what outfit she wears or what she wants to eat. We try to give her some power over the activities in her life, and always attempt to respect her choices. We don’t let her control us or her siblings, but we do let her know that we listen and respond to her with love. Sometimes it’s as easy as allowing her to decide the order of things in her life (Get dressed before or after breakfast, sit over here or over there, turn left or right when we go for a walk, etc.), and sometimes it’s more about just listening to her and acknowledging her feelings and decisions than about ‘giving her power’.
While these spirited children may be cause for extreme frustration, and may cause us to stretch and grow as parents, our world is in need of more spirited individuals, and I can’t wait to see what gift mine brings to the world.
Got a fiery child at home? Leave me a comment with your additions to this list, please.
Image: woodleywonderworks at Flickr