Raising Your Spirited Child

Written by NPN Guest on October 10th, 2010

Responding With Sensitivity

What makes a child “spirited”? The Spirited child is MORE Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. If this describes your child, you might want to check out the book Raising Your Spirited Child.

Both of my daughters are spirited. Never did I think it would be possible to have two spirited children. Of course they have their own personalities, but the same characteristics are there, thankfully not to the same degree.

It gets crazy in our house sometimes, and after reading this book I realized why – I’m spirited too!

Can you imagine three spirited females under the same roof? My poor husband! The book helped me realize so much about myself. By the time Charles gets home, I need time to collect myself. I don’t always get it: Charles is ready to tell me about his day, and the girls are so excited for daddy to be home. So instead of waiting for his arrival, I’m learning how to take small breaks for myself throughout the day. This way I’m not a frazzled mess by the end of the day or having regular tantrums with the girls.

I first picked up Raising Your Spirited Child back in the summer of 2008. Ava had just turned one, and I remember thinking “I am so glad I only have one spirited child” HA! Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Nakiah was what some would call a “high needs baby” from the beginning. The nurses in the nursery said she scared them when she cried. She always had to be on or near me1; it was clear that she was sensitive, and so I started doing some research. Sure enough, I was not imagining things.

Ava was the complete opposite of Nakiah. She did not have to be held all the time, and she would fall asleep by herself, anywhere. Imagine my surprise as she got older and I started noticing the same things in her that I saw in her sister.

Below are my observations of how the traits of spirited children have manifested in my girls, and a few ways that we have learned to work with our daughters’ spirited personalities.


What upsets one of my girls does not upset the other. They are both extremely persistent in different areas. I’ve found a way for all of us to be happy with their persistence:

I say yes more.

You read that right. We say yes as often as we can. That doesn’t mean that our children run over us. Usually when we say no, they know that we mean it. We really only say no to something if it’s dangerous. I’m not going to tell them they can’t play in the rice just because it could create a mess that I don’t want to clean up later (we use rice instead of a sandbox). The rice isn’t harming anyone. It’s fun for them, and it’s a great sensory activity.


Nakiah is our oldest, she turned five in December. She is very sensitive, and she becomes quite intense when she is upset. She’s also intense when she’s playing. She plays hard. She loves to run, climb, wrestle; she can hang with the best of the boys.

After reading Raising Your Spirited Child, I started preparing her before we would go out to certain places. She doesn’t like loud noises, such as what you’d find at a movie theater or church. When we were living in Minnesota we found a church to attend, and I forgot to explain to her that it could get loud with the music. It took me a while to figure out why she started flipping out within five minutes of us walking in the door. It was loud for me, so I can only imagine what it was like for her.

I made the same mistake of not preparing her before we left for a children’s movie one morning. We had the movie that was showing on DVD at home, so I figured it would be fine, and if she wanted to leave it wouldn’t be a big deal. Little did I know she would want to leave within five minutes of taking our seats.

At both places, she freaked out. Her eyes became huge, and she started crying loudly while saying she wanted to leave. The movie was in the mall, so we walked around and went to Lego Land. With the church, Charles took her out for a few minutes, and she was able to calm down and come back in, but we didn’t stay until the very end of the service. She grew to love the church services, and she even likes the movies now.

I quickly learned from those mistakes, and I started to prepare her for what it would be like any place we went. Our outings went so smoothly after that. I would prepare her for doctor visits, playgroups, any new experience or location that was potentially loud. She was three years old back then, and I continue to notice the difference in her as she’s gotten older. If I forget to prepare her she doesn’t have a good time, and her reaction is very intense to that situation.

I’ve noticed it’s important to prepare Ava, our 2.5 year old, for certain situations, but not to the same degree as her sister. A couple of weeks ago we had a playdate at our house, and there were seven children present (including my kids). They age range was six months to five years. The kids were all playing so well together, it was really nice. At one point Ava climbed into my lap, buried her head in my chest and said, “mommy I want it to just be me, you and Kiah.” It was pretty loud at this point, and she remained in my lap for about 20 minutes. Eventually, she got back down to play and was fine for the rest of the time. That moment of reconnection was enough to get her through.


Both girls are very sensitive. If they hear another child crying, the want to make everything alright. If one of them is upset, they rush to console the other, most of the time. The exception is when one says to the other “you’re not my friend.” That statement brings lots of tears, and they come to us very upset. I’ve also noticed they seem to be more bothered if a cousin or friend takes a toy, tells them they can’t play, something like that.

We have to be very careful of their moods. They are together 95% of the time. That other 5% is necessary so they can get some space.

Nakiah has to have all of the tags cut out of her clothes, and the seams on her socks have to align perfectly with her toes. She gets very upset if her socks aren’t on right. Ava gets upset if you open or close a door when she was expecting to do it. We can’t flush the toilet after she’s done, because it will result in a meltdown. She has to be the one to flush it.
Nakiah is more willing to accept help with getting dressed, where Ava will have a fit if you try to help her. She needs to come to you for help. It’s rare that we can offer her help with anything and she accepts it.

Both girls can be selective about what they eat. Aren’t most kids? Nakiah has to smell her food first. If she doesn’t like the texture of something she won’t eat it, like cheese. It’s got to be a certain cheese, and on certain foods, or she won’t eat it. She can tell the difference in some brands of food!


You can’t sneak anything past my girls! If they see something on TV, or hear someone say something, they want to know all about it. They will know if we’re telling the truth. The other day Charles was mad at me, and we didn’t think the girls overheard what he said. The next morning Ava said to me, “mommy, daddy was mad at you yesterday.” Like most kids, they pick up on more than words, they pick up on body language, facial expressions, etc.

Both girls notice if I sigh when they ask me for something. I’ll hear “mommy why you make that sound?” Or “mommy why you make that face?” They feel my moods when I don’t think they can. It’s not just us, they seem to pick up on things with other people as well, sometimes with a complete stranger.


This is Nakiah ALL DAY! Take five boys her age and put them in a room together to play: that’s the energy you’ll see coming out of her. She plays hard. I’ve learned that cards, coloring, and cooking with me aren’t enough for her. Everyday she has to run, jump, or kick something. Today the girls were racing down the hallway. Sometimes Nakiah gets so excited and into her play that she starts grabbing at the other kid’s clothes, or she just wants to hold onto a child’s arm. I am constantly reminding her that not everyone likes that. Ava is used to it now. I remember one of the first times my parents kept her for more than a few hours. They were both talking about how tired they were and how she wore them out. They told me they didn’t know how I did it. This was before Ava was born.

Nakiah can go from toy to toy, running, jumping, to books, coloring, to puzzles, to wanting to play a game on the computer, to wanting to watch a movie. This girl doesn’t sit still for long. Even while at the computer or watching TV, she’s up moving around. She’s always gone from one thing to another. It can be very tiring at times. It’s not like this only happens a few days out of the week. This energy goes on 24/7.

I am so glad the girls play so well together. I was starting to have trouble keeping up with her! Even now it can get to be overwhelming at times. I feel I’m being pulled in multiple directions, but I like to think I’m getting the hang of it now.

The girls keep me on my toes. It’s not possible to have three spirited children, is it? I’m looking forward to going through the book again, this time along with the workbook.

In what ways your children are persistent, intense, sensitive, perceptive, or energetic?

What are some of the gentle parenting solutions that work for your family?


Darcel is an Attachment Parenting, Unschooling, Homebirthing mother to three children. She is very active in her local Attachment Parenting community. Darcel blogs about family life, pregnancy, birth, unschooling, mindful parenting, gentle discipline, and motherhood at The Mahogany Way, where “Raising Your Spirited Child” was original published.

  1. If I had known then what I know now about babywearing, I would have worn Nakiah in a carrier more often!

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