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The Nine Common Temperament Traits

  1. Intensity -- strength of emotional reactions. People often remark how "alert" an intense baby is or how much "personality" she has. While average kids will giggle at something funny, intense children burst into peals of laughter. When they are happy, they are always smiling, laughing, singing. When sad or upset, they are desolate, inconsolable. Intense children are very easily overstimulated. When too wound up they lose their impulse control and often hit, bite, pinch or kick for no apparent reason.

  2. Persistence -- we value persistence in our society, and spirited kids have it -- they will stick to something for a long time. But they also have the negative kind, stubbornness. They "lock in" to ideas and have trouble unlocking. They can never take "no" for an answer; they'll ask for the same thing 20 times in a row if allowed.

  3. Sensitivity -- low sensory threshold for noise, lights, emotions, temperatures, tastes, smells, clothing. Spirited kids are physically sensitive to environmental factors. Lights can't be too bright, noises too loud, clothing too tight or scratchy. Dressing a sensitive child is a special challenge: shirts have itchy tags, pants have elastic waistbands, and socks are full of lint and other booby traps (Kurcinka asks, "How do you deal with a child who can feel the 'seams' in tube socks...?").

  4. Perceptiveness -- Perceptive kids notice everything around them. The smallest detail seldom escapes them. However, these details provide distractions which make completing other tasks difficult. Perceptive kids are often accused of not listening, when in reality, their attention is simply focused elsewhere. Adults have learned to screen out stimuli which are not important -- for example, we often drive on "auto pilot," not paying attention to anything around us except the other cars. Yet, we complete our task without mishap. Perceptive children have not learned to screen out extraneous stimuli, nor have they learned which stimuli are more important to attend to than others.

  5. Adaptability -- to transitions, surprises, changes in schedule or routine. This is the trait that causes a child to melt down about a sandwich. She can't handle getting rectangles when she was expecting triangles. She's not being picky or demanding, she just doesn't adjust well to changes or surprises.

  6. Regularity -- of eating, sleeping and bowel habits. Spirited kids often have irregular body rhythms. As new parents we are told that we will soon learn to distinguish between our baby's various cries. But for the parents of spirited kids, this is not always the case, since the child's eating, sleeping and elimination patterns are not regular. My own daughter, now 4-1/2, still has some problems sleeping through the night, and usually gets up before the sun. Nothing we have tried improves her sleeping patterns -- that's just how she is, and we have learned to adjust.

  7. Energy -- activity level. Most (but not all) spirited kids have limitless energy. From morning until night they are moving. My daughter tap danced all through my pregnancy. When I had an ultrasound at 17 weeks the technician said, "I'm having trouble getting a good picture because the fetus keeps moving too much." Nothing has changed since then!

  8. First Reaction -- to new people, places or experiences. Take a spirited kid into a new situation and they will turn shy and clingy. They need a few minutes to warm up. Ask a spirited kid a "yes/no" question and the first answer will most certainly be a resounding "no!" With a little encouragement and patience, these kids will try something new -- we just have to wait until they're ready.

  9. Mood -- While some spirited kids have generally happy or sunny personalities, others tend to be serious, analytical and cranky. They are not trying to be difficult, this is their disposition, which is directly linked to brain patterns. These kids tend to see what's wrong with things instead of what's right. They don't display their emotions easily, so determining when they are happy is hard. There are no management techniques for moody kids; parents learn to cope by realizing that their kids can't help how they view the world.