When Your Kid Is Really And Truly 'Spirited'

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa/Getty

Some parents, like me, didn’t know they had a spirited child until they had a second one to compare them to. Before my second, average-energy kid came along, I just assumed I was doing motherhood wrong. I wasn’t firm enough with my boundaries, didn’t cuddle him enough, didn’t say the right words with the right soothing, motherly tone of voice. Didn’t offer him enough opportunities to release his energy. His “spirited” nature must’ve been due to something I had done or failed to do.

Then I had my second child and understanding set in.

Parents of spirited children have heard other parents say that all children are spirited. All children are “hyper!” All children break rules! All children cry! All children are assholes sometimes!

Okay. That’s true, all humans have their difficult moments, but parents of spirited children know there’s a whole other level of energy and intensity that comes into play when you have a child who is legit spirited.

Again, for me, I’m not sure I would’ve recognized my son as a spirited child if I hadn’t had my daughter come along four years later to act as a basis of comparison. Or maybe I would have, but it would have taken me a few more years to see it. But my daughter, who is on the other end of the energy spectrum, made it clear.

Where my daughter thrives on words of encouragement, my son couldn’t give two shits what you think of his effort or lack thereof. Where for my daughter a gentle admonishment serves as adequate discipline, my son has always needed repeated harsh consequences in order to get the point across. Where my daughter would play quiet pretend by herself for hours, my son always needed one-on-one interaction, guided play, constant engagement, lest he opt for bouncing on the furniture and tearing curtains off the windows.

It was my son who smashed our glass coffee table as a toddler. Right in front of me, in a split second, he rushed to our beautiful wooden table with glass inserts and banged on it with his hard plastic drum sticks, instantly sending cracks spider webbing across the top. I understood then that we would never own another piece of glass furniture, nor would we be displaying any delicate figurines around the house any time soon.

It was my son who spilled my coffee so many times — while I was holding it! While I was on guard! While I was currently in the act of telling him to be careful! — that he permanently traumatized me so that when any child comes near me while I’m drinking a cup of coffee, my whole body tenses. It is my son who can be a sore loser but just as much a sore winner. Family game nights are intense AF, filled with what I euphemistically refer to as “teachable moments.” It is my son who makes constant noise, any kind of noise, noise noise noise, all the time. I admit this has yielded some interesting talents. He’s gotten pretty good at beatboxing and is a wonderful singer. But still, oh my God, his ability to create nonstop sound is really… something.


But it is also my son who dove headfirst into the world of Harry Potter at age eight, who at age 11 came tearing into my bedroom after midnight when he should have been sleeping, sobbing because he’d just read the part where Dumbledore dies. It is my son who is confident almost to a fault, who dresses how he damn well pleases and likes what he likes with zero regard for following trends. It is my son who is an endless stream of creative ideas and deep thoughts. His heart, like his energy, is wild and without limits.

With spirited kids, you bolt your furniture to the walls. You enforce strict bedtimes because you desperately need those quiet two hours at the end of the night. With everything else, you learn to choose your battles. You learn to go with the flow. You have to, or else you’ll be constantly swimming upstream, against the current, exhausting yourself.

Plenty of kids are more like my daughter — compliant, easy to please, concerned that rules are being followed — and that is beautiful too.

Then there are the spirited children, like my son. Balls of energy, nonstop movement, nonstop noise. Some parents are like me and had their spirited child first and didn’t realize the force of nature they were dealing with until their second, calmer kid came along. Other parents have their docile child first and get all smug and convince themselves they must just be super chill parents — and then their second child comes out spirited and they realize they’ve been punked.

If you happen to be the parent of an only child who sometimes screams and cries and acts bratty but who mostly behaves and responds to gentle discipline, you do not have a spirited child. You have an average energy child, and you should definitely not judge the parents of the kid you see climbing the desks in your child’s classroom because I can almost guarantee you those parents are trying their best, but some kids are forces of nature and can only be controlled so much. But definitely don’t assume that your parenting is better just because your children listen to you. The universe is listening and will bless you with a spirited child for your next one if you don’t watch out.

Those of us with spirited children know the relentless repetitiveness inherent in parenting these kids. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter what you do or what you say or how fast you are. With a spirited child, you are going to end up with some broken furniture and a graffiti wall. But that really is okay, because though their spirit may be untameable, it is also beautiful in its wildness, and you wouldn’t dream of taming it anyway.

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