A Spirited Child

What’s that Shakespeare quote? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? I respectfully disagree. If we called roses ‘hell-stink-fart flowers,’ then they certainly wouldn’t smell as sweet. Kids would dare each other to sniff them and nobody would exchange hell-stink-fart flowers on Valentine’s Day. Our minds would interpret the smells in our nostrils as something disgusting rather than something sweet.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. No, not the smell of hell-stink-fart flowers. The importance of what we call things. Specifically, I’m thinking of it in the context of how we describe Wildling.

When Wildling was a baby and I was desperate and sleep deprived and wondering why this child cried anytime she and I were not in physical proximity and why she simply wouldn’t sleep and what was I doing wrong, I came across descriptions of ‘high needs babies.’ It was like a lightbulb went off. There was nothing wrong with Wildling, she was just a high needs baby.

But I don’t like that term, not really. It sounds too much like co-opting ‘special needs.’ I don’t want to compare raising Wildling to raising a special needs child, and I think if I call her ‘high needs’ it gets misinterpreted.

Lately I’ve been reading two books, going back and forth between them. One is The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them by Elaine Aron; the other is Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

Both books (to me anyway, and full disclosure, I’m only abut halfway through each of them and have to renew them from the library yet again) seem to be talking about the same subset of children.

But what is Wildling? Is she ‘highly sensitive,’ or is she ‘spirited?’ And here’s where names matter: I’m going to call her spirited. If I say she’s highly sensitive, that has negative connotations (to me, anyway). I wasn’t raised in a sensitive household. Sensitivity was considered a weakness. Haven’t we all heard people say ‘stop being so sensitive’ to someone whose feelings were just hurt? If I tell people, like teachers or family members or the general blog reading public, that Wildling is ‘highly sensitive,’ how will that be interpreted? I know it’s probably wrong, but instinctively I think people will ignore her needs or dismiss her concerns because the word ‘sensitive’ is in there. It’s easy to say ‘oh, she’s just being sensitive, ignore her.’

On the other hand, calling her ‘spirited’ makes her sound energetic and fun. Sure, she’s having a mental breakdown and screaming her damn head off because Mellow got too close to a toy Wildling thought she might want to use sometime in the next week, of course she’s acting like that, she’s so spirited! It’s a lively and fun description. She’s spirited. With that name, she’s the same kid, but in less whiny more exciting packaging.

I once described Wildling to a friend of mine as ‘brilliant, but fragile.’ She heard it as ‘brilliantly fragile,’ and told me it was the best description of Wildling that she had ever heard. Wildling is fragile, emotionally. She can’t handle change. She can’t handle deviations from her plan, even when she hasn’t shared her internal plan with anyone. But if I describe her like that, it changes perceptions of her. Will she break, shatter into a million pieces if something doesn’t meet her needs/expectations? Yes. But if I say that she’s fragile, how will she be treated? If I tell her she’s fragile, how will she internalize it? Weak? Brittle? In danger of shattering and not being able to repair herself?

Kids internalize what we call them, and others will treat them accordingly. I don’t want people treating Wildling like she’s highly sensitive or fragile. I want them to smile at her great spirit instead.

So that’s how I’m going to talk about her. She’s spirited, brilliant, clever, and determined. She’s energetic, strong-willed, and focused. She’s Wildling.

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One thought on “A Spirited Child

  1. This is one of my favourite posts! I struggle with exactly the same dilemma! I truly believe that the language we use to describe each other shape us in some way. My daughter has always been spirited. Off to check out those books… X

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