School Strategies for the Spirited Child

School Strategies for the Spirited Child

Today I am going to share some of our school strategies for raising the spirited child.  As some of you may know, I have gone back to college and am taking an Education Assistant course that will allow me to work with children who have special needs in our School District.  I also have a background working with children as a coordinator for a variety of organizations including the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs.  However this idea of the “spirited child” really hit home when we realized that one of our twin boys struggled with behavioural issues.

So what is a “spirited child”?

A spirited child is one who has an exorbitant amount of energy, has intense emotions and has difficult to manage behaviours.  The book Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Kurcinka, outlines several key characteristics:

Intensity, Persistence, Sensitivity, Perceptiveness, Adaptability, Mood and more.

Spirited children tend to have MORE of these characteristics than typical children.  They are more intense, more persistent.  Often this can present itself in negative behaviours like shouting, acting out, tantrums, being defiant, running away, crying and being demanding for example.

Does this sound like your child?


One of our twin boys has always been more spirited.  We had developed ways to effectively manage his behaviour at home however when he went to school it was a whole different ball game.  Let me be clear.  Our boys are awesome.  They each have their own gifts and talents.  But for the purposes of this post I want to share with you the struggles that we have had with our spirited son.  So that you can know that it is not just you, your child or your family.  Many parents struggle while raising spirited children.  The reason that I know this, is that I recently shared with my Facebook friends my frustrations around the limitations of our public school system and their ability to help children who are struggling with behavioural issues.  You see, our six year old son had been sent to the principals office and, on a separate occasion, sent home early from school.  We have only been back to school for two weeks!  I created a Behaviour Strategies document to share with the school staff and many of my friends requested to have a copy to add to their own resources as they were struggling with some of the same issues.  I was truly surprised at how many of my friends had spirited children of their own.  Here are a few excerpts from that document:

Things we know about our son that might impact his behaviour:

He is attention seeking.

He is highly peer focus and oriented.

He is a “power kid” and craves choices.

He has low impulse control.

He has anxiety issues.

Positive reinforcement WORKS for him.

Negative reinforcement decreases his self-esteem and increases his negative self-talk.

I very proactively met with the principal and counsellor as soon as our school year started.  We discussed strategies that would help our son be more successful and built upon an awareness of his behaviour.  Sadly I was not quick enough to implement or suggest a behaviour modification plan for him and as a result he has been negatively impacted by the reinforcements used.  Here are suggestions that I have since shared with the staff at his school:

Suggestions for modifying his behaviour:

Rather than a “time out” ask him to take a “body break”. This may be as simple as a walk to the water fountain/bathroom and back. Give him a designated zone that he can go to when he recognizes that he needs a break (but don’t “put” him in the zone, give him a choice).

Give him a “fidget” or a timer that he can hold onto help him self regulate. Say things like “I can see that you are struggling with __________. Why don’t you hold this for one minute and finish the activity then.” He has stated that a timer helps him calm down. We have one that I can bring to school.

Give him classroom tasks or special privileges like cleaning off the white board (this only works sometimes at home).

Reinforce positive behaviour. Recognize when he is doing it right. Note the small things like sitting at circle time for 2 minutes without bothering his neighbour. Praise the small bits of positive behaviour and ignore the negative behaviour when possible.

His love language is one on one attention. While this is not something readily available in the classroom setting what we try to do at home is go on one on one dates at least once a week to focus solely on his needs.

Give him choices whenever possible. Avoid power struggles, he will always win. Give clear choices, walk away and allow him to make decisions on his own.

He will become embarrassed if disciplined in front of his peers and his behaviour may escalate. Whenever possible, pull him aside for a quiet talk and avoid giving him an audience.


I am happy to report that many of these strategies were already taking place in his classroom.  We have seen some improvement in his behaviour but I am afraid that for our son we may have a long road ahead of us.  For some spirited children, these behaviours may be indicators of a more serious issue or possible diagnosis.  We are meeting with the school based team {parents, teacher, principal, counsellor} so that we can all be on the same page and create a consistent plan for him to become more successful.

Talking about our son who is having a tough time self-regulating and managing his behaviour in school is difficult.  It is not something that all parents understand and can bring about judgement of our parenting.  But having a spirited child IS NOT about bad parenting.  It is about children who have non-typical behavioural issues and supporting their needs.  What is so interesting in our case is that we have twin boys.  Raised in the same household, with the same parenting techniques yet vastly different in their personalities and behaviours.

If you are struggling to raise a spirited child I would encourage you to talk about it, seek help, do research, advocate and let your voice be heard.  You are not alone.  Again, to be clear, not every spirited child will have additional issues but many of these behaviours may lead to further diagnosis.  I am actively involved with a number of Autism Awareness Organizations and encourage you {especially if you are local} to check out Autism Connection for more great, online resources.

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  1. M Hewett says

    It’s like you are living my life! We have been in school for a month and my son exhibits almost all of the behaviors listed. He to has seen the principals office and has received punishment for his behavior but it seems like none of it is working. I plan to print this off and share with his classroom teacher and his guidance counselor. Thank you I have felt alone in this sea of confusion.

  2. Emilie says

    I feel like you have just described my 5 year daughter. We had a Pediatric Neurologist appointment today and he used the term spirited to describe our daughter. Your post helped me soooo very much. I am a Special Education Professional and was at a loss with how to help my own child.

    spirited child mommy

  3. Jenna says

    This is a great article. Thank you. I am realizing that my daughter is spirited and am trying to develop strategies for at home and school. I am concerned about how a school deals with this. Have you ever had a teacher or school push back about utilizing these strategies for your child?

    • says

      Most teachers and staff have been open to feedback and suggestions. The only time that we struggled was at a team based meeting where the teacher was focused on my child’s negative behaviour and not on problem solving and coming up with solutions. Working closely with the school and having open, honest discussion with my child as he has matured have helped to make his school career progress more smoothly. He is now in Grade Five. Best wishes <3

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