The Science of Parenting

Going Bold | S.3 Ep.15

November 12, 2020 Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Season 3 Episode 15
The Science of Parenting
Going Bold | S.3 Ep.15
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The Science of Parenting
Going Bold | S.3 Ep.15
Nov 12, 2020 Season 3 Episode 15
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Check in with author and expert Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka on her best tips for parenting spirited and feisty kids and learning to love their energy.

Send us an email: [email protected]
Find us on Facebook or Twitter: @scienceofparent.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For the full non-discrimination statement or accommodation inquiries, go to www.extension.iastate.edu/diversity/ext

Show Notes Transcript

Check in with author and expert Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka on her best tips for parenting spirited and feisty kids and learning to love their energy.

Send us an email: [email protected]
Find us on Facebook or Twitter: @scienceofparent.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For the full non-discrimination statement or accommodation inquiries, go to www.extension.iastate.edu/diversity/ext

Mackenzie Johnson:

Hey, welcome to The Science of Parenting podcast where we connect you with research based information that fits your family. We will talk about the realities of being a parent, and how research can help guide our parenting decisions. I'm Mackenzie Johnson, parent of two littles with their own quirks, and I'm a parenting educator.

Lori Hayungs:

And I'm Lori Hayungs, parent of three in three different life stages, one is launched, one is in college, and one is in high school. And I'm a parenting educator as well. And here we are, and it's getting close to the end of our temperament season. We have just a few episodes left and we launched season three in August, we're going all the way through November. And this entire season, we have talked about temperament and how it impacts your parenting. And this episode, we are going to talk about a third and final pattern - our feisty or spirited pattern. And we have a special guest that we are super excited about.

Mackenzie Johnson:

A very special guest, very special guest.

Lori Hayungs:

Yes. But just a quick reminder about what temperament is and what it isn't. Remember, temperament has always been with us from the beginning. So we like to call it our predisposition to how we react. It's inborn. And as we think about it, remember, we've talked a little bit about envisioning those babies in the nursery at the hospital and how they just come with these reactions, whether it's a loud cry, or a small cry, or many arm and leg movements in the bassinet or they just hang out quietly, right? That's temperament. It's always been there. And then what we do is we layer on our experiences throughout life, we layer on our growth and development. We layer on the interactions we have with people and all those things become become part of our personality. But as we're talking about temperament, remember, it's that inborn natural gut reaction to life and those things around us.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, yeah. Always been there. Oh, yes. And as you know, on our podcast, we like to look at this research and the reality around it. So the cool thing about this temperament research is, you know, we talked a lot about Thomas and Chess, they did the studies on the original nine traits. But there's tons of other great researchers out there, in particular, thinking about Jim Cameron and his colleagues at Kaiser Permanente, following these temperament traits and thousands of kids' profiles for over 30 years to understand temperament, how it impacts us in our parenting. We do have a landing page on our website scienceofparenting.org. You can go there to find all kinds of goodies, resources, things to refer to about temperament, and everything we've basically covered so far in this temperament season, because we're getting close to being done talking about

Lori Hayungs:

But let's not speak of such things. temperament.

Mackenzie Johnson:

It'll go on forever. It's everywhere. It'll be good. But yes, so tons of great research, and all kinds of good resources for you on that landing page at scienceofparenting.org. But yes, for today, we've been talking for the last two weeks about some of these patterns. So when these temperament traits kind of fit together in clusters are patterns. So there's that fearful, flexible, feisty or Yes, beard in so and yes,

Lori Hayungs:

So that's what we're going to talk about today is the feisty or spirited and you might wonder, where's that word coming from? Well, the person who created the word is going to tell you herself in just a moment. But in the meantime, what this feisty pattern tells us is a lot about our reactions in the moment. And then the heated things because it's temperament after all right? And when we look a feisty, we've talked about f arful, kind of that shy, inhibited, and the flexible, they kind of go with the flow, I think you get a picture of where we're going with this spicy word, right? So Mackenzie, tell us about the traits that go with it.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yeah, so you hear several of these mentioned, you know, coming up through the episode, but in particular, and since we've already covered all nine traits, I'm just like, oh, well, you guys know this. So I can just tell you the traits and if you haven't heard them yet, you can go back and listen to those episodes. So this temperament pattern or cluster around feisty or spirited, some of the traits that we have here. So I kinda want to say if you have several or all of these, you or your child might be spirited. So the temperament traits including slow to adapt, being highly perceptive or distractible, being highly intense, having irregular body rhythms. That's a weird word, irregular, irregular. That's how I normally say, irregular body rhythms, being highly perceptive and or being highly sensitive. And we're not going to talk about whether or not I meet some of these traits. We're not going to discuss that. Instead, we're going to discuss our special guest.

Lori Hayungs:

Exactly. So today we have Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, Lee. Yes.

Lori Hayungs:

Yes, sharing with us on this spirited and feisty temperament pattern. And Mary is an internationally recognized parent educator. She's a best selling author with over a million books in print. Her work has actually been translated into 24 languages. She holds a doctorate in education, focusing her research on spirited infants and sleep and family systems. She also graduated with honors with a master's degree in family social science and a bachelor's degree in child development and early childhood education. PS, she may have got that bachelor's at Iowa State University. Her books include Raising Your Spirited Child, Kids, Parent and Power Struggles. Listen to this Sleepless in America, and the soon to be released, Raising Your Spirited Baby. And the crowd goes wild.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Okay. I also feel like the way I'm acting through us putting this together is kind of giving away whether I was spirited. Okay, I'm gonna bring you together. So we're gonna show you this conversation. I was so fortunate, honored, humbled, whatever were all of the words, to have this conversation with Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka about our spirited kids, and parenting them, and how we do that with temperament in mind. So we'll go ahead and show you this clip and just know that I was fighting my inner fan girl the entire time. So let's go ahead and have a listen. Alright, Mary, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm so excited to hear all of the insight that you have on this kind of spirited temperament. To get us going, can you just tell us a little bit about your work on this spirited or feisty temperament

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

So I have always wanted to work with trait. children. I'm one of those people that when I was 13, I read a book called Dibs in Search of Self, which was about a child psychologist actually. And I was like, that is what I'm going to do. And I started in early childhood education, but quickly recognized, I wanted to work with their parents. And fortunately, I was living in Minnesota and Minnesota had just started a statewide early childhood family education program through the public schools. And so I started teaching. And then I had my first child. And many of the strategies we were teaching didn't work at home. It was very humbling. I considered changing my career. But then I began to recognize there were other children like my son, who were typical kids, but they were more. There was more intensity and passion and persistence and sensitivity about them. And I began to recognize and research what made them that way. And what did they need? Because many strategies people recommended, like ignoring them, let them cry it out, absolutely do not work with these children. And so I just became passionate about it and started a curriculum for a class and then speaking, and then people asked me to share this information with their family members in another state. And then someone said, don't you want to write a book? And it all just grew from there.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Wow. Okay. So you absolutely have like the professional and the personal experience when it comes to spirit with kids, it sounds like.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Yeah, I do. And I think that's really important because there's a lot of information and even titles that people use to describe spirited children that are not positive. And that was, I coined the term spirited because one, my husband is spirited. And I love this guy. And I could see in him how these traits of intensity and persistence and sensitivity are traits we value in adulthood. But the kids need a little help developing the skills and so I was adamant. I'm, you know, an absolute warrior in protecting parents of spirited kids, that your spirited children arrive spirited. And people will say, in utero, this baby was rolling around so much we call them bear or, you know, the nurses in the nursery said, you got to keep them in your room. This one's waking up every other baby. And you know, they arrive wired like a racecar. And it takes more skill to be the parent of this child who is sensitive and perceptive.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, absolutely. And, yes, I have two children at home. And one of my kids I would say, is spunky. You know, I've listened to your book and so not I'm not sure all the way on that full end of spirited but yes, some of those traits that just require more from us as parents, you know, to navigate and to help them teach those skills. And so actually, one of the questions I have for you is, you know, you mentioned the coining this term spirited, sometimes we hear the term feisty or maybe not so positive or difficult. And so is there a difference between these things, or just spirited is just kind of a more positive term for it?

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Spirited is a very intentional term, because what spirited does is immediately draw you to their strengths. And how we perceive someone changes our response, if we see someone is difficult and obstinate, and you know, hyper, it's like, I don't want to spend time with this person. And the fact is, our arousal system goes up, we activate it. And these children are so sensitive that they will perceive that and they synchronize to the stress level of the adults around them. And so by focusing on spirit, that they are tenacious, they are, you know, committed to their goals. These are traits that predict success when well guided. And so it changes our relationship with this child, when we can see that potential.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, absolutely. And to be able to value, one of our writers on our podcast, Barb Dunn Swanson keeps reminding us of temperamental gifts. We have temperamental gifts. And I do, I think that term spirited helps us see some of these traits that do require more, but they are gifts for our kids, and especially traits we want to see into adulthood. We just have to survive and navigate through childhood to get into adulthood, right?

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Well, I think the key is, and one of the things I do stress, is being spirited is never an excuse for poor behavior. What it means is understanding this is a high energy child. And so we have to channel that energy in positive ways. But we don't have this child jumping on someone's couch and saying, oh, he can't help it. He's spirited. It's like, no, that's not how this works. That's not how it works. This is a tool for understanding. Yes, he's energetic. So let's make frequent stops. When we're traveling, let's plan every day to get him outside for large muscle play. Let's help him be successful, and focus and channel that energy. But it's not an excuse to say, oh, he's wild, because he spirited.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. And we talk about that balance of, you know, understanding and accommodating our child's temperament and holding appropriate expectations for them. You know, that like, yes, you're not allowed to jump on their couch even though you're high energy or the expectation is that you're allowed to feel frustrated, you're not allowed to punch your sibling. You know, we still hold those expectations. And we understand, you know, we work to understand and accommodate that temperament.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

And teach the skills you know. So one of the things that marks spirited children is their intense arousal system. They are much more easily triggered. Once they are triggered, they stay elevated longer. And as a result of that, they have to be more skilled, which initially means as the parent, you have to give them more support. So as babies they need more holding, they need massage, they need breaks from stimulation, they need total darkness to sleep, you know, so we have to be protective. And we break skills down into teeny tiny steps to begin to help them learn how to get the brakes on. We build their emotion vocabularies. They have to be able to say, I'm getting frustrated. You can't manage an emotion that you can't name. And so as a parent, we have to stop and think, what is he feeling and needing? And anger is the second emotion. So we can't just say, oh, he's mad. We have to get behind that. Is he afraid? Is he anxious? Is he disappointed that something happened that was unfair? Those are the words we have to get to and give to him. So he can say that's not fair, instead of kicking his brother?

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. To have the words, right? That's what we want them to ultimately get to. And it's what we expect, once we get to adulthood, right? We don't expect to be kicked by another adult. And so we're teaching them that skill we want them to have long term. Yes, yes, absolutely. Okay, and you started to mention a couple of some of the temperament traits. We have spent an episode on each of the nine temperament traits from Thomas and Chess. So a few that I heard you mention were higher sensitivity, perceptiveness or distractibility, some high intensity. And you know, as I'm listening, I'm realizing many of these traits are ones I've already fessed up to having. Any others that particularly come to mind for this spirited child?

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

They tend to be slow to adapt. And many also have an irregular temperament. And so they really need their environment to help them set their body clock, because that's the other thing that spirited children must have is adequate sleep and regular meals and exercise and predictability in their day. That's foundational to helping them manage and regulate that fine tuned arousal system.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, and we have some spunky and spirited kids in our family, you know, nieces and nephews, and my own kids. And when we're together at family holidays and things get all out of whack. And then by the end of a family holiday, we're like, all exhausted from our children. We are having a hard time but because it's been very irregular, right? Yes. And so thinking about that sleep and and I think even just recognizing that it maybe takes a more conscious effort to help them sleep, or it takes more effort, you know, to set up those regular mealtimes. I think it's okay to honor that for parents. Would you say that is something parents struggle with?

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Absolutely. We know that parents of spirited children have to be more skilled, and they are working harder. And that's one of the things whenever I'm doing consults with families is I'll talk about that. Taking care of you is taking care of your child. And I have a new book, Raising Your Spirited Baby, coming out. And 50% of that book is taking care of moms and dads and helping them to get the sleep they need, helping them to remain calm so they can pick up the cues and respond quickly and sensitively. Creating moments of predictability in the day for mom and dad. Not you know with a very irregular, unpredictable baby, it feels out of control. And so that self care and I really, again, in my interactions with parents talk about, let's take care of you. Because if you can stay calm, if you can pick up the cues, if you're able to stick. I call them because I'm living in Montana, I say I want you to be a mama or papa grizzly when it comes to this routine, and so we have to take care of you.

Mackenzie Johnson:

I remember all too well, with my child that, yes, I would say is closer to spirited, maternity leave with that very little, very irregular, very sensitive, very perceptive baby, it was hard and I'll be honest, I threw myself into it. That's what I thought I was supposed to do, throw all of myself into this. And, you know, leave nothing behind, you know, leave nothing for anybody else. And it was not good for me. And so I can appreciate and I've very much lived how hard that is. And I mean, I love my daughter, right? I love that she's spirited and spunky. And all of these traits are so fun for me, and I know will be great traits in adulthood. But that doesn't mean it wasn't really hard to then. And so I'm excited that we get to talk with you so that hopefully other parents can feel more prepared to navigate when it's tough, and to have strategies for these kids that are just more.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Right. And then, you know, what you're also talking about there is building your support system. Raising a spirited child is not something you want to do on your own. But the challenge is because their intensity is significant,you worry. Well, if I leave him with somebody else, will he freak him out? Or again, we need somebody who will honor his routine and not say, oh, he's not tired, look at him. He's running all around. And so we have to work harder to build that support system. And we also need those people who say, look at his coordination. Oh, my gosh, he's so curious. Look at him on that dining room table, or, you know, in taking apart something and can see, again, the beauty of this person and and the wonderful aspects of him or her and not only understand, but I think appreciate and realize life's richer because this person has come to live with you.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, yes. And all of the things you said, I am thinking of people and children in my life. And I'm like, oh, the stories we could tell, right? You know, and I even think of legitimately having conversations with friends and family, you know, where they express a concern about, like, we can't just hire the neighbor kid down the street. I don't think they can handle them. Um, you know, and so having specific people in your support system who understand and value, yes, value, not just tolerate, right? We want people who love this kid like we do, and see those beautiful things, because there are so many wonderful traits about this particular temperament style. You mentioned that curiosity. I think of one of my favorite things is just the sense of humor. I think spirited kids are just so funny. And sometimes getting myself into trouble because I'm laughing maybe when I don't want to be or shouldn't be, but there's so many great things

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

And the creativity. And I've been about them. working with spirited children and their families for decades now. And people will send me updates or photos. And I recently got a photo of a young woman riding a camel, this was pre-COVID. And the mom said, this is my spirited, young adult adventurer. And she was riding camels somewhere in the world. And he had graduated with honors and double majors. And, you know, we do know from the research that given what they need, these children do excel and they're pretty amazing people.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And that's something to cling to, as a parent, you know, that long term mindset of who will you become and the ways that you'll excel, that's a great thing. But in the meantime, can I ask you about some of your suggestions for parents when they're in the thick of it, maybe sometimes having a hard time, you know, meeting the demands of a child who is more with the spirit?

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Well, again, I like to focus on two elements when working with spirited kids. Structure is one. And structure are the things that stay the same. So they're your daily routine. They're your rules and expectations. And when parents come to me for consultations, I often, actually the majority of time, the first thing we do is create a daily routine that protects their sleep. That reduces and eliminate surprises and unnecessary transitions. So we set it up that they wake up, they get dressed, they toilet, brush teeth, hair, toilet, all of those things before leaving the sleeping area. Because every time you stop, start, every time you go upstairs, downstairs, in a room, out of a room, ask them to stop playing or turn off electronics, it's a transition. Transitions require regulation to come to the right level of arousal for them. And they open you to power struggles with spirited kids. So the first thing I'm going to do is, and quite honestly, 99% of my kids who are experiencing behavior issues, they're short on sleep. So that's the first thing we fix. Because then the frequency, the intensity, and the duration of the meltdowns diminished drastically. So now we have the time, we have the energy, we have the patience to do the emotion coaching. And that's working with them, teaching them the words to use, the actions to take, really important to teach these kids problem solving skills, that, you know, I will listen with you. But I also need you to listen with me. And so together, we'll come up with a solution we're both happy with. The neat thing about that, and I write about that in Raising Your Spirited Child, is children as young as four can be heard saying, when two children want the same toy, there's many things we could do on this. But the best part of that is if you teach those problem solving skills when they're young, these kids can be delightful teenagers, because they've already learned to manage intensity. They've already learned how to be a problem solver. They're perceptive enough to keep themselves typically out of trouble. And because you've had to form that relationship with you, they're comfortable coming to you as a resource.

Mackenzie Johnson:

I love all that. And I'm thinking to myself of all the stories we could tell you talking about structure. One thing we do with our, you know, preschool age child, we call them done cards. And they're just kind of the routine that no matter who is putting you to bed in our house, is it Mom, Dad, or like a grandparent is here, that the routine looks the same. And then when you've gone to the bathroom, you close the card and it's done. When you brush your teeth, you close the card and it's done. And I'm like, okay, all right, we're doing okay with that. And then there's downstairs cards, you know, for in the morning. She's got to get dressed, go to the bathroom, brush teeth. And then once we get downstairs, you get your shoes, you get your backpack, and then you get breakfast and figuring those kinds of things out to help provide that structure and consistency. We have found it helps eliminate a lot of the meltdowns and struggles with us because she knows what to expect with us. You know, no matter who it is doing that particular routine that day.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Well, and the two other things you've done with that, Mackenzie, is along with your words, you've provided visuals. And because spirited children are so perceptive, sometimes they have difficulty processing directions if they're only verbal. So when you use visuals, like your cards, or I'll do visual plans that we lay out like a cartoon frame, or that you add that visual component to the verbal direction. And now your spirited child can hear you. And the other piece that you've done, as you said, is when you have that predictable routine, is anyone can do it with your child. So now you get a break because grandma can do it. The sitter or the nanny can do it. Dad can do it. Anyone that is a caregiver for the child can do it. And again, it remains consistent because you have it established and you have the pictures that show everyone what to do.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes, and it's a nice thing. My daughter, like I said, a little more spirited, you know, that low adaptability trait of, this isn't how we do it, you know, and so if you try to do stuff out of order, or what she considers out of order, that's not how you do it. Um, and so it is like, okay, as simple as we can get it. And, I mean, I do want to provide that consistency and routine for our daughter. But I've got to be honest, it's also a little selfish of like, I need some things that make my life a little easier sometimes. As well, I think that's a win for both of us, which is really good.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Because to start the day fighting, you know, and if you don't have the routine, then sometimes your child gets up and gets dressed, sometimes they don't. So then they start to play, then all of a sudden, you're saying to them out of the blue, it's time to stop and get dressed. Well, now you just surprised them, which will trigger a slow to adapt child. If your child is persistent and committed to her goals, she wants to finish what she's doing, and you're asking her to stop before she's finished, she's not going to be happy about this. Whereas if you get up, get dressed, take care of all those things, have your breakfast, and only play after the tasks are completed. Now, you can play for a while and we'll use a color timer, again, another visual tool, to help you know when it's finished. We will transition you. We'll say you've got 10 more minutes. What else did you need to do? Go do it. You've got five, where do you want to save that? What do you want to take with you? Now it's time to go? We've been fair, and we can expect them to work with us?

Mackenzie Johnson:

And yes, getting on the same team. And you know, I think of we talked about the term cooperation, you know, versus compliance. And so getting on the same team, and it's not that necessarily that our child wants to be difficult, they might have intense feelings, big, you know, goals that are important to them with their persistence and those things. But we really are on the same team.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Yes. And then the other piece of that is, we also set clear limits with spirited kids. And the challenge with that is if you as a parent are not as persistent, or you're highly sensitive, and, you know, when they shriek and if it is louder and more piercing, you don't like it, you want to avoid it. And so sometimes we don't follow through because we don't we don't want the fit. But the fact is, our spirited children need to know that we will do what we said we would do. So for example, you know, it's time to go, you can walk to the car, or I will carry you. I'm going to count to three, if you have haven't decided to walk, then I will carry you. And you count, one, you can choose, two, you can choose, three, you didn't choose. So what you did choose is that I will carry you. And this is when the child throws a fit and says, I'll do it. And the parent must say, sorry you made a choice, and then pick them up and carry them so that the child learns, you will do what you said you will do. And those limits are clear. And they can trust how you will respond, which actually is calming to them because they can predict it.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Providing that sense of predictability, which again, low adaptability comes out to play. They know what to expect, makes it easier, actually makes their world easier and more consistent. Yeah, that makes so much sense. So I do have a couple specific questions that I feel like come up when we think of this child who's maybe like we said, more spirited and wonderful in so many ways. But sometimes some of the, I like to call them the parenting conundrums. So with a spirited child, I think a lot of times we wonder, especially if our child, like you said, is irregular. You kind of covered a little of this, but is flexibility important with a spirited child because you know, you think of accommodating their temperament or you know, rigidity in terms of getting them what they need. So how how do you help us as parents define? Does our kid need more rigidity or do they need you know, like, the things are firm or do they need more flexibility?

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

They need both.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Okay, okay.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

And I will say instead of rigidity, they need consistency and predictability. Okay. But they also need often for spirited kids, we actually have to teach flexible thinking. So, like you said, for your daughter, it's like, okay, it's out of order. This is not right. But perhaps we don't have what we need today to follow the typical order. And so that's where the problem solving skills come in to be able to say to that child, we've got a problem. You know, usually, we have yogurt smoothies for breakfast, but we're out of yogurt. And, you know, so we need to think of three things we could do to have a good breakfast today, and what would make both of us happy, and your child says, go get yogurt. Yes. And you say, that's one idea. But we need two more. And she locks in, I want yogurt, there's nothing else. And that's when we have to say to her cause that's rigid thinking, we have to be flexible thinkers, we need two more. If you need to take a break for a couple minutes, we'll take a break. And then we'll come back because we need to be flexible thinkers. And so you know, we work with them. And sometimes we have to set a limit with that to say, you know, I'm going to give you a break. If you can't think of any other things, then I'm choosing scrambled eggs today. And they come back and they're not ready and it's like, okay, then today, we will have scrambled eggs. And they may not be happy about it. And they may not even eat. But we also know that within a couple hours, we'll be giving them a mid morning snack because they need it. And soon they will learn that if I want to be part of that decision, I need to work with mom and dad. And that's such a critical life skill to be able to listen and work together to come up with decisions that make everyone happy.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, yes, you know, you look for that in friends. You look for that in colleagues. Oh, yes, that's an important life skill. And I have to laugh. You talking about teaching flexible thinking, I'm like, oh my gosh, do I have to do that. Yes. I don't think I've talked about this on an episode before. At the dinner table a lot of times, we'll ask each other, what was fun today? Or what was hard today? Or what was funny? And my daughter gets really upset if I try to make her go first. I'm like, oh, so how was...? No, no, no, Dad goes first. And then it's you. And then it's ... this is the order, you're doing it wrong. There's a couple places in the town we live in that she's convinced they're a different name than they are. And so we drive past and she goes, that's that place and I'm like, okay. I finally landed on, okay, I disagree. We disagree on this. Because there's no talking around it. I'm like, someday you'll learn to read. But yes, that skill. Ah, I have to teach flexible thinking.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Yes. And you know, that's a great example there of what you could do is, I think of the birthday candles 123, you know, and I would get them from my table, and I would rotate them with our seats of, you know, okay, today, you're number one and daddy's number two, and mom is number three. So you're first and then the next day, it's daddy's first, mommy second, you're third. And it just rotates so that she gets used to that sometimes she is first. We can also teach her words to say, I like to listen or watch first. May I please listen and watch first? So we can also teach her to tactfully ask for the time that she needs. And so it's a combination of both teaching her how to ask for what she means respectfully and appropriately. But then also, sometimes you got to go first. And so we'll practice it a little bit. And this is a very non threatening situation to practice it.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. And that is one thing that I know you really have and the resources that you have available, talking about how to teach our kids about their own temperament so they can advocate. And that's one thing when we did our kind of dive through these different temperament traits this season, we haven't really gotten to cover too in depth yet. And so I just want to tell our listeners, we are going to talk about this strategy more on our Facebook Live at the end of the season, because I do, I think that's such an incredible and empowering skill to hear a four year old, you know, that's how old my child is right now say, I need some time to warm up. Or, you know, I need this, I'm not quite ready or insane those things and they can and I even think, you know, teenagers that have that emotional intelligence to say those things, who are spirited or, heck, I even think of myself as probably a spirited, if I'm honest, adult when I have a strong, intense reaction, I have to say things to people, like, I need some time to process this instead of, I think this is stupid, right? So yes, I love that idea of the tact we can teach our spirited, intense kids some of that tactfulness on how it's appropriate to express what they need and want.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Yes. And many spirited children also have a strong sense of justice and fairness. They don't like things that seem unfair. And so for those kids, we have to teach them phrases like, that doesn't seem fair, or I don't like that rule, or I have a different idea. Or may I have a choice? So again, you know, they are assertive, and they are going to be leaders, and they are going to question authority, which is actually a good thing. But we also can teach them to do that respectfully and appropriately.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes, that's not fair, rings around the halls of our home. That's not fair. That's not fair. All the time. So that sense of justice? Oh, I see that play out in my favor. Oh, excellent. Well, I do have another parenting conundrum I want to ask you about. So, you know, we talked that we've had an episode on parenting styles. And we talked about trying to balance appropriate expectations and warmth. But sometimes when the idea with spirited kids, you know that they are intense, that they are more, sometimes parents feel, the word I'm thinking of, that they need to dominate, right? They need to show an intense child or persistent child who's in charge. And so, you know, as we think about raising our spirited kids, this idea of dominance to show their child who's in charge, you know, I'm curious just to hear your perspective on if you think that's helpful, if there are certain aspects of it that are on or off, and how you think that plays out with spirited kids.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

So there's a difference between intimidation and authoritative. And so spirited kids, one, they'll match your intensity level. So a spirited child is already intense, and I yell at them, or I grab them. It's like I just threw gasoline on a fire. I've now fueled the intensity. And we don't want to go there. That's it's just then, you know, the child ends up hitting you or kicking you because now they're in complete fight or flight. So, but that again, doesn't mean we just ignore it, because ignoring absolutely does not work with these children. And so how we approach them is I'm somebody coming to help. I will help you. What do you need? And that we stay calm. But at the same time, it's like, if you can't stop yourself, I will help you stop. You know, I'm not going to let you break that. I'm not going to let you kick me or hurt your brother. And I will stop you. It is cleanup time. And if you're not ready to clean up now, then you can take a break and we'll save this pile for you. But you're not going outside, you're not turning on electronics until that pile is picked up and I will help you if you need some help but we work together in our family. So spirited children need those clear limits, but they need a calm parent and following through with those those clear limits.

Mackenzie Johnson:

I love that distinction of, yes, sometimes people say, well, we know who runs the show in that house, you know, and that's not what we're saying, to let your spirited child walk all over you. Yeah, the clear expectations and I think the calm adult who can help with those clear expectations. One of our kind of flagship parenting strategies, we call it Stop, Breathe, Talk. And we talk about the value of recognizing our own emotions, you know, we stopped the interaction, no matter how far we are into it. We take that deep breath that helps reregulate our system and our brain. And we think about what we want from the interaction. And you know, what we really want is to teach our child to you know, we all work together to help clean up, or to teach our child, it's important to keep our bodies clean, and that's why we take baths. Or you know, what's the real goal, but we have to be regulated to do that. And so you talking about being the calm parent, I guess I just want to remind everybody of that Stop, Breathe, Talk, that deep breath in the heat of that moment. Especially like, I am also an intense person and have an intense child, more than one intense child. So I do, I have to take that moment to reregulate or it does, that gasoline on a fire is exactly what it is.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

And that is one of the challenges because it there's a genetic link to being spirited. So what triggers your child will also trigger you. Um, and again, another thing I work with with parents is protecting their sleep. And when we do a daily schedule, the first thing I do is one, I encourage them to wake 30 minutes before the kids so they can dress in peace. They can do some meditation, they can exercise, they can savor a cup of coffee. It doesn't matter what as long as it brings them to a point of calm energy. Because starting the day with a child jumping on you or screaming in your ear, you start the day in the red zone. You're already intense energy. And then the other we do is after kids go to bed, if you're co-parenting, it's couple time. That's the first thing you do when the kids are in bed. So you take care of those adult relationships. And if you're a single parent, you take time to connect with other adults. And then the last is their bedtime and talking about, you know, we make choices, TV, Facebook, Twitter, you know, or sleep. And please choose sleep.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, I cannot. I needed someone to say that to me. Yes, I have an irregular temperament and it is so easy for me to stay up. And I get that second wind and it comes hard and I'm ready to get stuff done. And I do get stuff done. And I'm exhausted the next day. Yeah. And so you say it and I'm like, ooh, okay, I maybe felt like I scored some points with those routine done cards. I'm not scoring points in the getting my own sleep routine down. I've got to work on that one.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

So what I have parents do is set an alarm on their phone. So 30 minutes before you want your head on the pillow or your head needs because adults need eight and a quarter hours of sleep. So if you wake at six in the morning, your head needs to be on the pillow at 945. So I actually have parents set an alarm on their phone for 915. And that's stop what you're doing, get ready for bed, go to bed. And initially, you know, they laugh at me. They're like, that's never gonna happen. And I'm like, try it. Because it becomes self-reinforcing. You aren't exhausted, you actually still get all that stuff done, because you're more energetic. But it's not at the expense of your sleep and your well being because there's huge health costs to not getting adequate sleep. Oh, absolutely.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Okay, I'm gonna have to try that and I'm gonna have to report back. Well I even think that's kind of like sneaky teaching yourself for warnings, which we talked about giving our kids who are less adaptable, like okay, you have 10 minutes. Okay. You have two minutes. Okay, I have 30 minutes before I have to go upstairs. Right. Oh, that's so great. Oh, well, Mary, thank you so much. I guess I do want to give you one more chance. Is there anything else we didn't cover that you want to make sure that parents of spirited kids get the chance to hear?

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

I think two things. One is there's information to make it better. You're not alone. You don't have you know, you contribute genes if this is a biological child, but the bottom line is your child came wired to be spirited. This is an asset. These are traits that we value in adults. And whether it's my books, Raising Your Spirited Child, Raising Your Spirited Baby, the books of others. There are other wonderful temperament authors. There is information that will make it better. And you truly, there's those who've gone before you. You don't have to travel this path alone.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Well, thank you so much, Mary, for joining us on this podcast episode. It is so great to have you and to hear, you know, your very specific, you know, you have great experience and this specific expertise in this temperament. And so to hear all of your strategies and insights and honestly, just your encouragement that you've lived, the spirited child life, and that you value spirited people, I think it's just so good to hear from you. So thank you, again, for coming on our podcast here.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Thank you. And if I can add one more, I thought of one more. There is a Facebook spirited child group. It has tens of thousands of parents in it from all over the world. It's active twenty-four seven. And you can also go to my website and sign up for the weekly blogs. And they'll come right into your email box on just different strategies in working. Otherwise, you can also find all of them on my website, parentchildhelp.com.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Awesome, we will go ahead and drop that. We have a temperament landing page that we have on our Science of Parenting webs

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Great. Thank you. This has been so fun.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, thank you. Well, I just want to say thanks again, for coming on The Science of Parenting and talking about the research and reality around the spirited temperament.

Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Thank you.

Lori Hayungs:

Oh, Mackenzie, that was so good. I loved watching it when you did it. And I love seeing it again here.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, so good. And I had so many aha moments when you see me make that like, I don't even know what the face is, dumbfounded, silly. I was truly having so many aha moments just listening, you know, both about understanding my child and their temperament. And like the goodness of fit aspect of what I can do with my child, she clearly has so much like personal and professional experience. And I'm just so grateful she was willing to share with us. Oh, yeah.

Lori Hayungs:

Amazing.

Mackenzie Johnson:

So she did give, like I said, so much good stuff. And so we wanted to take a second to process that. And I was like, how do I organize this so we can like say it and summarize it? And I ended up with, you might call it a framework.

Lori Hayungs:

Organized it. Come on girl.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Okay, I might have I organized it.

Lori Hayungs:

Okay, yeah, you organize it into a framework.

Mackenzie Johnson:

But so I just kind of like wanted to put this together for us to summarize it really quick, because it was so much good stuff. And so I came up with these kind of three categories of five things that we can teach our spirited child, five things we can do in parenting our spirited child, and five things for us to remember as parents of a spirited child. So Lori, will you start us with the teach?

Lori Hayungs:

This is genius. And this is why we make a good team, right? You create a structure and I'm just comic relief. Yeah. But five things that we can teach our children who happened to be spirited. And just in case, you might need a reminder, they maybe got it from you. So these might be things you could teach yourself along the way. So anyway, here we go. We need to teach ourselves and our children about their emotions. We need to actually maybe give them labels for their emotions. What is it that they're feeling, name it for them and help them to name it. We need to help to teach them their skills in tiny steps. They're not going to be able to get all the way to that last step. We're adults, we've had lots of practice of getting to that last step when it comes to controlling our spirited and feisty selves. And so we need to teach them in baby steps how to control their feistiness. We need to teach them to express their needs tactfully. We might teach them literally to say, I don't like this rule, it feels unfair. Or we might teach them to say I would like more time. Another thing that we can teach them is to understand their own temperament and recognize that it has strengths and when we teach them about it, we might help them learn to say things like, you need to know what to expect. Or sometimes your body feels tired or hungry and it's a different time than everyone else. We might have to teach them to say, I feel strongly about this and helping them understand we recognize when they feel strongly about things.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, yeah. And the fifth one is helping to teach flexible thinking and problem solving, which was absolutely one of my like, oh, my goodness, that is yes. That's what I want to do. Yes, we do sometimes in our house maybe with the spirited people can be rigid thinking, well, this is the way, this is the correct way. Why would we do it a different way? Yes. Flexible, flexible thing we can teach.

Lori Hayungs:

Exactly. How about five things to do?

Mackenzie Johnson:

So yes, as a parent of a spirited child, five things we can do to help them and to help reduce the parent child power struggle. So it's good for us and good for them? Which hey, two for one, I'm always about that. Exactly. Yeah. So first, we can be very intentional in providing structure for our spirited children. So both in routines, and in consistent rules and expectations for them. So that structure kind of helps them know what to expect, which can reduce meltdowns. Second, we want to build support systems of people who value and understand our spirited child. So instead of saying like, wow, man, they're really getting into things they shouldn't. I loved her example of, oh, my goodness, aren't they curious? Right? I'm sort of flipping then people who understand that so they can support you, and encourage a positive relationship with your child. Hmm. Okay, this third one, I maybe kind of tossed out there. But the Stop, Breathe, Talk when emotions run high. That is one of our flagship strategies for parenting here on our Science of Parenting team - that stop, take that deep breath, and then talk right? Getting ourselves and emotions regulated and checked instead of letting our emotions run wild. So that Stop, Breath, Talk. Fourth, that we can do as a parent of spirited kid.

Lori Hayungs:

My favorite.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yeah, practice self care. And it was just like, okay, she said it. Did you hear her? Mary's the one who brought it up. So that means this is the permission if you thought you didn't get it in season two. When we're talking about the six superpowers on self care, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka just said it to us. So yeah, practicing the self care both in taking care of our needs, like sleep, which I maybe still need to work on. But things like sleep, and even just your mental and emotional well being. So I said like sleep and sanity, right? All those kinds of things, taking care of ourselves. And then the fifth thing to do is to set clear and transparent limits. And okay, I don't know if you guys caught this because I absolutely did on listening to Mary. Back in season one, there was an episode where you Lori gave this example about Treelo. And you were like, okay, if you don't choose, I'm gonna choose and I'm gonna choose that one. And I'm gonna choose it. Like when I count to three, I don't remember. Mary gave an example. I was like, that's what Lori said in season one. And I'm like, you sneaky sneak. Did you get that from

Lori Hayungs:

I totally did. I've known Mary a long time. And her? when my children were little, that's when I met Mary and so absolutely, that Treelo story with Emily being a two year old was verbatim me learning from Mary Sheedy Kurcinka at the time, yes.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Okay. And I really like that, you know, that's like a really specific strategy in the moment. Okay. You can choose or I'll choose, okay, you're not choosing, okay, I'm going to. Exactly. So this is what I'm going to do. And then I guess one of the things I didn't put in here, but one of the things to do is follow what we said. Like if I said, if you don't choose, I'm gonna choose and by the time I count to three, or whatever, like, okay, you didn't choose but by the time I count to three, so I'm choosing what I said it was. Our kids need, they actually need that from us. It might feel like, oh, if they'd had a second. Like, no, they need to know what to expect. And that what we say is what we'll do so yeah, clear and transparent.

Lori Hayungs:

Because I was thinking that, you know, I did that with my daughter, that Treelo story when she was two. And maybe by the time my kids were like four or five, they would say, no, don't get to three because I don't want you to choose and that's because we just, that was my go to phrase. You choose or I'll choose for you. No, you don't get to choose for me.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, you sneaky sneaky. I mean, I mean, it's so smart. Of course, why wouldn't you but like, I didn't know in season one that's what you were doing, and that it would come around here in this temperament season. But I do like that one. So I'll give you kudos for it.

Lori Hayungs:

I give Mary total kudos for that. So five things to remember. Your child does need a clear limit, and they need a clear limit from a calm adult. They're going to match your intensity. So you need to be calm, they're going to match your intensity. And remember that their temperament is a gift and an asset, and that there is information out there that can help make things easier. And most importantly, you are not alone.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Not Alone. Yes, yes. And I think sometimes, you might see your friends with maybe flexible kids and they're, you know, they're just like doing whatever, and everything seems to be going right. And it's like, why is this so hard? Like what's wrong? You know? No, there's nothing wrong with you. There's nothing wrong with your child, right? Their temperament is a gift. And it requires more of you. And it's not because there's anything wrong with you or your child. And there's other parents out there who are living this spirited child life. Oh, yeah. You're not alone. I'm so glad she reminded us that at the end. Yes, exactly.

Lori Hayungs:

Well, I'm appreciative that she took the time to visit with you and I have always been appreciative for being able to use her strategies and her information. And then super appreciative that we can share this with you today. Yes.

Mackenzie Johnson:

All of those aha moments, like yeah, like I said, all of them. So many good things that I was learning, you know, just being able to have the chance to talk with her. And so yeah, so that's our spirited kids. They're wonderful. And they come with all these beautiful quirks and they do kind of demand more from us, right? We have to do more to take. You know, we describe it as spirited kids are a little bit more sometimes. And that sometimes means they need more, and so exactly enough to help you navigate life with your beautiful spirited kids.

Lori Hayungs:

Yes. So thanks for joining us on The Science of Parenting today. Remember to subscribe to our weekly audio podcast on Apple or Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And on Facebook, where we do a wrap of season three, but we're not gonna talk about that and we will be ready to take your comments and questions about temperaments.

Mackenzie Johnson:

It'll be a good time. So join us next week. And for now, please do come along with us as we tackle the ups and downs, the ins and outs and the research and reality all around The Science of Parenting.

Narrator:

The Science of Parenting is a research based education program hosted by Lori Hayungs and Mackenzie Johnson, produced by Mackenzie DeJong, with research and writing by Barbara Dunn Swanson. Send questions and comments to [email protected] And connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. This program is brought to you by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For the full nondiscrimination statement or accommodation inquiries, go to www.extension.iastate.edu/diversity/ext