Parenting a Spirited Toddler

spirited toddlerI clearly remember my older daughter’s first tantrum.  We were at the Children’s Museum and an older kid refused to share a toy with L.  Cue kicking, screaming, and crying.  The tantrum continued as I carried her out of the museum and for most of the drive home.  Weren’t they supposed to wait until 2 to start tantruming?  L was only 17 months, and while she always was a high-needs and difficult baby, this tantrum caught me off guard, and I quickly began to research what I could do. I came across an article by Judy Arnall.  Although it did not provide specific strategies, the article provided a name for my daughter’s personality: the spirited toddler.  Somehow knowing a name for it helped me feel better.

L was the toddler that instead of sitting nicely in my lap, stood in the center of the circle dancing, or went around to others and visited during story time. Diaper changes, getting dressed, and other grooming chores are always a wrestling match (and many times involved crying and screaming).  Although much improved from what it had been, bedtime still involves many tears and at least one or two times awaking up at night needing Mommy.

L also is very empathetic and makes friends easily.  She goes out of her way to play with the shy toddler of the group.  She is very affectionate, surprising you with a hug as she runs to the next thing.  She needs cuddles multiple times a day.  She has a great, although strong, personality and routinely charms strangers at the grocery store.  She has an amazing memory and will tell you about things that happened when she was only a year old.

L feels everything more strongly, good and bad.  It is my job as her mom to help her navigate these strong feelings.  Over the next few months, I learned through research (and a little trial and error) strategies to help L’s day smoother.  Setting specific routines and explicitly teaching the routines using a picture chore chart aided in the grooming struggles.  Five minute countdowns helped with transitions.  Choices sometimes avoided tantrums.  Consistency as well as firm boundaries also help to avoid some tantrums.  When all else fails, riding the tantrum out until she calms down again (sometimes for 45 minutes or longer), talking how to do things next time instead of having a tantrum, and moving on, helps L recover for the remainder of the day.

Parenting L as a spirited toddler takes a little extra patience, but each day is interesting and incredibly rewarding.

Becky Nagel is a stay at home mom to an energetic, spirited toddler and a happy, easy-going baby from Denver, Colorado.  She enjoys running, hiking, and cooking with her two girls.

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