Please Don't Tell Me She’s Spirited

by Brittney Herz
Originally Published: 
Two kids on the sofa, one kid is standing on it and assumed to be a spirited child, and the other is...

It happens so many times. We’re at the store and I tell her to run to the end of the aisle and look for something that doesn’t exist, like a red box with purple letters (although that has backfired and we ended up buying cookies). I’m just trying to keep her occupied while I actually shop. She bounces around and talks in a sing-songy way. She starts to climb up the racks. I correct her, tell her no, we can’t scale the grocery store furnishings like King Kong. She starts to shake the boxes of cereals and crackers to listen to the different sounds they make. At this point, people are staring. I still correct her, tell her no, not everyone likes to purchase crumbs when they buy a box of Ritz. After two or three aisles of this, I inevitably I get the comment from one stranger or another.

“My, she sure is spirited.”

Usually, it’s after she’s either knocked something over, yelled or screamed in excitement or rage, or jumped off of something high and laughed hysterically. At five going on six, she’s a little too old for some of these things, and “spirited” is one of those words that nicely implies that.

I know vernacular when dealing with pediatric mental health can get dicey, and “spirited” is a word that seems innocent enough. You see my child, running from thing to thing, jumping from place to place. She may appear to be “spirited.”

A child dealing with ADHD, ADD, or manic episodes is doing a lot more than being spirited. Living with those big emotions is so much more than that small, innocent word implies. Even with the best of intentions, it can negate what a child, and the parent, are going through. What my daughter and I are going through. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to get a lot of support or understanding when you tell someone your child has ADHD, anxiety, or bipolar. Generally speaking, I believe a lot of initial reactions are that of either doubt, uncertainty, or plain ignorance of what pediatric mental illness is. Calling her spirited sounds so beautiful in a way, but is disregarding her in another.

I have had to explain over and over, ad nauseam, for people to understand my spirited child means no harm and is suffering from something you can’t always see. No, it’s not behavioral. She may have behaved fine when you saw us yesterday, and is now trying to jump out of the backseat of my car today. That spirited little girl is struggling. She is fighting to be a child.


That is not to say there is no good in a child with pediatric mental illness. A child with bipolar or ADHD can manage to use their imaginations in ways many people will only be able to watch on the big screen. Their imaginations are continuously growing, able to create worlds most people could only try to envision. Even young children with anxiety and ADHD can have such attention to detail and ability to recall tiny factors. There is an excitement about life that many ADHD children just seem to exude. My daughter has all of these beautiful qualities and then some.

Just understand your words carry more weight than you may realize. Even with simple comments that sound innocent enough at first glance. Understand children with mental illness are indeed spirited, but they are so much more than that.

They are fighting to be themselves, and it takes more than one word could ever sum up.

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