Featured, Parenting

The beautiful side of your spirited child

6 October, 2016

Hey sleepyhead. Weary in your bones AND your mind?

I wonder if you are mama to a spirited child?

Some kids are wild ones. Exhausting, challenging, beautiful wild ones.

You will know you have one, if you have one.

You have been through the wringer and have spent whole days thinking you must be a terrible, terrible parent to be raising such a bombastic human.

They are completely themselves in all their wild beauty, but this wild beauty jars against societal norms and expectations.

They WON’T be quiet in the library, in fact, they might even take their volume to a new level because their whole mind and body is just urging them to do it.

They WON’T sit in the toddler seat in the trolley at the supermarket; they want to tear up and down the aisles.

They WON’T sit up at the dinner table, they can’t sit still and they don’t like that food and they want to be clear about how you should only ever cook pasta and broccoli, they especially want to be REALLY clear about that to sensitive old Grandpa, who slaved all afternoon on a Shepard’s Pie.

the beautiful side of your spirited child

I have a very spirited child, my firstborn, Ramona. First this made me feel like a terrible parent. I felt like she was uncooperative and it must be a result of my lack. I felt every public tantrum as a verdict on my poor skills.

It is not only my perception, either.

I have been judged as a parent as a result of Ramona’s refusal to do something she was asked to do. What a joy it would be to say “I felt judged, but now I realise that everyone understands that some children just happen to be hardcore rebels and every knows parent are all just trying to do their best!!”  The truth is that society does judge parents when their children don’t conform to expectations and we must stop that. PLEASE. Can we stop that? A spirited child is not an indication of poor parenting.

the beautiful side of your really wild child

The second stage was a huge journey of trying to discover what was going on – it sent me digging deep for patience and finding new ways to kind of upgrade my attachment parenting to toddler level. It made me write lots of things about defiant children and their urges and creating lots of space for autonomy even in toddlers. It was a process that broke me to bits, in a way, but also made me get really creative and set me firmly on a respectful parenting path.

This was awesome, because then when my far cruisier second child came along I found parenting an absolute breeze! I would ask her politely, human to equal human,  to keep her voice down in the library and she would say “okay, mama!” and I would be completely gobsmacked, and (because of the first stage) feel like one seriously awesome parent.

My heart contracts a bit at the idea of having children the other way round –  a spirited one second or third, so you think you have this parenting jazz all sorted and then WHAM BLAM.

There could at least be a tell tale sign in the womb, don’t you think? So we can prepare. Heartburn = spirited child on the way. Thank you, body!

All the things I learnt about whilst being with Ramona – the saying yes, the tips for connecting over small daily moments, all helped, really helped. They helped her keep a slightly more even keel, and helped me create space for her bigness. But she is still VERY likely to completely combust in a very public moment, when all eyes are on us. It is just her way.

You see, the final stage of having a spirited child is accepting them, just as they are. You might be able to change them, but you would crush their spirit in the process. And probably yours too.

And of course, our children are not ours to change. No one owns a child. It would be far outside our role to think we should change them.

You can only accept them and keep your eyes peeled for all the beauty in their wildness. They fight hard, but they love hard too, don’t they? the beautiful side of your spirited child

They might not ever, ever wear socks with seams, and they might ragingly insist on taking all their clothes off when they go to the toilet, they might not ever say “okay, mama” the first time you ask, and they might pour out their whole angst on the floor if you can’t immediately find Stick Man when they want to read it.

But when you see them in the scooter race with all that fierceness written on their face, doesn’t your heart squash your lungs against your chest?

When they laugh feverishly from their scalp to their toe nails, doesn’t it feel like a shower of shooting stars?

When they ball their fists and stand mighty as a lion to the kid that called their little sister a “baby” don’t you absolutely know that one day they will turn this sense of justice into world change?

When they whisper “I love you mama” into your neck as you cradle their body, weak from the crying and the screaming of “I hate you I hate it I hate everything”, don’t you know they mean that love badly, and don’t you know they need you to love them and accept them exactly as they are?

You know.


Oh, guardian of a spirited one. I know just what you are experiencing. I know the depths and heights. Don’t let anyone, anyone’s judgement or headshake or tutting, detract you from your path of loving your wild one one in the way they need to be loved.

Let your wild one be exactly who they are.


PS Brand new video on this very subject over on my Youtube Channel:

PPS  I generally try not to label kids, or even talk an enormous amount about their temperaments or characteristics. Who am I to try and describe or prescribe or put a structure upon my child’s personality when they still have so much blossoming to do?

But in not naming a child’s spiritedness in adult to adult discussion, we are in danger of perpetuating the myth that a child’s behaviour is a result of good or poor parenting.

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  • Merophy 6 October, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Oh I think this post has come at a good time for me right now. I am parent to a spirited boy and oh yes it is sometimes very hard. Just now I am worrying about baby number two due to make its appearance this month. How will I parent another with my spirited first born in tow?

    • Lucy 6 October, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Hey Merophy, you will find your way:) Connect hard, practice mindfulness (it can be triggering) get supportive friends and family in place 😀 There could be some conflict but you can navigate this with respect and love and kindness. x x

    • Stephanie Coffta 7 October, 2016 at 2:38 pm

      Love this article! My Lucy is 4 years old and we got through 6 days of kindergarten before she was sent to the assistant principal’s office. A boy who had been bothering her punched her “in my heart” (in the chest) and she punched him in the stomach. After feeling like a horrible parent, I was able to see this spirited kid for who she was…a girl who wasn’t gonna take any crap from anyone, especially some boy! Lucy Ever will always be the one who falls out of the pew during church, hugs her 10-year-old brother so passionately that she knocks him out of his seat, and lives life BIG and full throttle. One day she will be the boss and run the world.

      • Lucy 7 October, 2016 at 3:11 pm

        She will! She sounds awesome. I love your lucy! hehe

  • Madeleine 6 October, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    My son Ossian is wild and sound just like your Ramona. I was myself just like that but it was not very accepting when I was a kid except by my mum. I feel my son gets the same treatment and I always whisper to him that he should stay true to himself and question the rules. I never thought to adress him as spirited, it sounds great and a good way to accept him fully.

    • Lucy 6 October, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Awesome 😀 It sounds like you are doing beautifully, whispering those words to him 😀

  • Jem 6 October, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    You’ve basically just described my Izzy, even down to (and especially because of) the sock seams… albeit she doesn’t seem to notice them as much these days.

    It’s hard, really freakin’ hard. She challenges me every single day in ways that I never thought possible. She makes me shout and cry and breaks me on a regular basis but she is fierce, just like her mama, and that will do her well in the future. I just have to remember that.

    • Lucy 7 October, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Yes, these days can be hard. We need to make enough room for them, I want to make more, but constantly need to dig deep so I respond and don’t react x

  • ThaliaKR 6 October, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you!

    All that you have learned with Ramona has made my parenting better! xx

    • Lucy 7 October, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Oh, Thalia, thank you x x

  • Sheena Boroff 6 October, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    This is so beautifully written! You’re describing my 2nd child, Memphis. Every word of what you said is true!

    • Lucy 7 October, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Thanks Sheena! x

  • Philippa 7 October, 2016 at 1:07 am

    This is perfect for me today and actually had me in tears recognising my spirited girl in your discription of yours! Thank you for reminding me of how wonderful it is to have a strong, independent and SPIRITED child! I don’t want to break that spirit though I do worry for her as I know from personal experience it can make life hard at times! I also know she could change the world! Thank you for your wonderful writings.

    • Lucy 7 October, 2016 at 8:48 am

      Thanks Phillippa. Yeah. We need a kind of mantra. We will not break their spirits, we will not break their spirits!

  • Exsugarbabe 7 October, 2016 at 5:10 am

    Thanks for writing this great blog and talking so passionately about your child.

    We have ridiculous expectations of children these days and it’s not for here and now happiness it’s for some glittering future that may or not happen and to fit in some jigsaw. What a lucky girl that she has a parent who loves her for who she is and wont treat her for some mythical “disorder”. We need the rebels to invent, change things and shake things up not graded zombies having treatment for being themselves.

    • Lucy 7 October, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Thank you, yes, we do, I think it is generally true of how most of society feels about all of children – no room for them!

  • Tina 7 October, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Thank you, Lucy, for this wonderful article!
    Your words feel like a soothing lotion on the itches some peoples stares and looks can give you.
    Lately I have been so stressed out by things my boy (now 3) does, that were totally okay for me a while ago.
    And I felt like mostly I was nagging him because of the opinions of other people. ” He should not do this or that” “he is too old to behave like this or that” And if I still let him behave this way it made me a bad parent.
    I will try to drown out the looks and the voices of other people and only listen to my gut feeling.
    Thank you for reminding me!

  • Sara 7 October, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Wonderful wise words that I needed to read this morning. My extremely intelligent and spirited 3 year old Charlotte challenges me daily to remain steadfast in my attachment parenting ideals. I’m finding that family (grandparents) compare her to her easy going and placid male cousins who in fact demonstrated a different temperament right from birth. I have intentionally stopped defending my parenting style and justifying her behaviour but the mention of the fierce positives is a great reminder, and so very true. Charlotte gives all of herself in love, feels deeply, is busy teaching herself letters in order to be able to read stories on her own, and debates ferociously the merits of a triceratops over a T-rex. I love my daughter and her wild spirit.

    • Lucy 7 October, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Oh she sounds beautiful. She is so lucky to have you as her mama. x

  • Luiza 8 October, 2016 at 1:42 am

    Nice post! My daughter is now 6, for which I thank all the gods and then some. At this age she seems to be able to satisfy her wild urges without causing quite as much havoc, but I’m well trained and merely waiting for the other shoe to drop 🙂 It took me some time to be able to appreciate it (maybe a few nights of full sleep ;)), but now, watching a family member try every random “rule” in parenting books on their unusually compliant toddler, I’m thrilled to have a child that educated me out of the idea that I can mold a child into anything that she isn’t. She’s her own person and I’m just along for the ride, making small shifts in direction here and there and occasionally oiling the gears. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • Lisa 8 October, 2016 at 2:24 am

    What I’ve learned from your blog has totally informed the way I communicate with my spirited child. Essentially, when she feels respected, she is (mostly) happy to be a cooperative member of our family. Thanks so much for this post, and all the links. Now she’s 2.5, its a timely refresher.

    • Lucy 13 October, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      Oh wow Lisa! That is SO awesome to hear 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Fabiola 8 October, 2016 at 5:48 am

    What a beautiful story! You learn from her as much as she learns from you to explore the world together. Brave and beautiful!

  • Kushla 11 October, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Totes cried a little there Lucy :-). Thanks for such a beautiful article (and yes! Have been LOVING how the ‘YES!’ has been making stuff between M and me way cooler!!! Thanks for that wee treasure too!)
    Fiercely-wildishly-wonderful wee beasties always have a special place in my heart- and I remember very clearly being one myself- which both helps and triggers me (as such things tend to..)
    I’m DEEPLY proud of my wee boy and all his ways, including his super-spirited ones!! I just love him all the more :-D.
    Arohanui Xx*

  • Adi 17 October, 2016 at 2:09 am

    So true! Seeing & appreciating that wild beauty (thinking of those beaming exhuberant wrestlers!!!) is the healing balm for a mama feeling judged. Oh the journeys these wild & wonderful children in our lives take us on…thanks Lucy.

  • Lucy 20 October, 2016 at 7:04 am

    I always think it’s funny that people want or value a compliant child. If you were looking for say characteristics you find attractive in a friend or partners or even celebrities you respect would compliance be top of the list??
    With adults we say they are revolutionaries, righteous, brave, independabt, free spirited, free thinkers, justice seeking movers and shakers or whatever. But for little kiddies we say they’ve are naughty or selfish or bad. Seems an unfair bit of hypocrisy to me!
    I join the spirited little one in my life in a big fat to all the judgey judgers out there!

  • Lucy 20 October, 2016 at 7:06 am

    *cannot spell out how you blow a rasberry?!?

  • Jamie Krieghauser 22 October, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    I am just so thankful to know that there are other parents out there that feel the way I do about my daughter. She’ll be turning 6 in a week. She was supposed to start school this past year, but during the summer I tried to get her “school ready” have her act the way they’d expect during public school and it was horrible. The more I asked her to act one way the more she acted out. However the very moment that I decided we were going to homeschool she did a 180! We still have our trying moments, sometimes throughout the entire day, and most of our family and friends look down on me for not having her in school, but we’re happy. The traits that drive me crazy today are the very traits that will one day make her into a strong, independent woman who won’t take any crap from anybody. My daughter does not fit any mold… and that’s an awesome thing! She’s going to change the world one day, she’s already changed mine!
    (Although it would be really awesome if her baby brother didn’t give me as much of a hard time. Momma needs to maintain some sanity,lol)

    • Lucy 24 October, 2016 at 9:42 am

      Ah, amazing! I have had the same experience with Ramona – the more strongly I feel about (changing) a certain “behaviour” the more she digs in here heels!

  • Jess 3 November, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks so much for your post. It was just what I needed. My spirited oldest child, 4 1/2 years old, started at a new preschool yesterday. We just moved to a new area and I’m already feeling pretty lost. Then his new teacher tells me all about how he behaved on his first day and how we’ll need to work on all these ‘behavior problems’ before he enters kindergarten next year because the teachers don’t have time for that in kindergarten. No pressure. Part of me, honestly, is so frustrated with my little boy because he’s a big old handful. And part of me is so pissed that his new teacher is making a big deal out of a four-year-old’s behavior! I’m not sure if a strict teacher who will be consistent is a good thing for him, or if I should go with my gut and run in the opposite direction towards a new school. Anyways I really appreciate your honesty and candor. Thanks for making me feel better!

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  • Sarah 24 April, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Hahaha love this.. Hmmm well I was a “spirited” child
    I constantly ran off in shops resulting in my head being stuck in railings in marks and spencer one day and being lost !
    Had my mouth scrubbed out with a dirty nail brush by a horrid teacher for being rude, i often sat through lunch and break time at school because I refused to eat the meat on my plate in school lunches( I became vegetarian at 13 in a non vegetarian household)
    My poor mum would always defend me against the barrage of negativity from school and aunties. She didn’t try and change me, she just loved me and I wouldn’t have been easy for sure !
    I now have my own beautiful spirited child, I understand her and can’t wait to see what an amazing human being she’s going to grow up to be.

  • Joleen 24 April, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Spirited Child sounds much better than High Functioning Autistic! My son is extremely spirited, and beautiful, and I wouldn’t change him for the world. I had 3 relatively quiet children, all at least a decade older than the youngest, and yes, it was a bit of a sucker punch. Thank you for your words of wisdom

  • Justine 27 April, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    This spoke so deeply to my heart. My first is your second. Eager to please. She lulled me into believing it was I, the stellar parent, who was responsible for her “good” behavior. My second is my spirited girl. She has humbled me and grown me more than anything in this world. This cut me right to my core. I lose my patience with her more than I care to admit, but with the same ferocity that she pushes me over the edge with, she pulls me right back in. Thank you for writing this.

  • Pamela 26 July, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    This arrived on my feed on the day of my very, very spirited child’s 4th birthday. He’s not much of a tantrum thrower just very honest, stubborn, aggressive and has an air of ‘I don’t give a shit’ about him. He’s also, as you describe in your post, so very loving and very protective. He’s my third child and eldest son. I have on occasion wondered what I’ve done wrong or much to my disgust thought is this really just a boy thing (this is the assessment of most people who are on the receiving end of his moments). His younger brother is nothing like this though. It’s taken me some time but I finally realise that he’s exactly who he is and I now need to accept that and try very hard not to break his incredible spirit. He takes me at times to the brink of my sanity but he’s taught me so much about myself and that all children deserve our respect and understanding even when it’s really difficult. Thanks for sharing.

  • Emily 27 July, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    A teacher once told me that her job was made harder because I clearly wasn’t setting firm boundaries (my children were running riot whilst the other kids were working well with their families on the science activities at a school event). It was somehow my fault. It broke me.
    She saw that and realised and eventually apologised – but still thinks he should be something he is not. I have two spirited children. they need to find a way to be in the world – but without losing sight of the world changing people that they are.