Spirited Child

We've been looking for answers for a while now. Something was just not connecting, not right. We passed the "terrible two's" and the "oh he's just three-its worse than two" and now we're just about into 5 and we're done waiting for him to grow out of the elusive "it". My first breakthrough was about 18 months ago when I read The Spirited Child, a parenting book that had me literally in tears and laughing and cheering out loud. Someone understands this struggle, I thought! I took the quiz at the beginning of the book to see where on the spectrum of "spirited" my Winston fell- well obviously on the extreme end of just about every category (intensity, persistence, sensitivity, perceptiveness, adaptability, energy, and first reaction). It was a fantastic beginning and a resource I go back to constantly but still not enough. 12 months ago we decreased our digital intake significantly, we established Friday Night Movie Night and abolished all other screen time. I have slowly let in a few additional things since then like a scripture story video on Sundays and the occasional Trick Shot Titus clip before naps but this was another crucial step along our journey. Things got better, but they also didn't. This summer was really tough and had me in a dark place so by the end of August I went in to Mama Bear mode working the phone lines demanding more help. Here's what we see:

Winston really struggles with social boundaries. It's kind of endearing that he can walk up to anyone in the grocery store and immediately make a new friend but its also a little terrifying as he has no sense of stranger danger whatsoever. Evan always says we could just leave him there in the store and he'd never notice. Also he is constantly up in people's faces, doesn't understand personal space. When I was at his preschool last spring for a Mother's Day Tea, he walked into the bathroom attached to his classroom where everyone was lined up washing their hands in preparation to eat. He just pulled down his pants and peed right in front of everyone and walked out like he never noticed they were all there! When we walk down the halls at church he puts his arms out and has to touch everyone we walk past for no apparent reason (that is, it's not apparent to me). He seems to not recognize age difference either, one of our neighbors has a 10 year old son who he loves to play with and thinks he is his best friend but Winston is constantly tugging on him and doesn't recognize when the older boy (understandably) gets annoyed or tired of playing. On the flip side, if we have friends over playing and their one year old little brother touches a toy that Winston holds sacred, he will bulldoze the baby without a second thought. It's as though he can't distinguish between minor inconveniences and major threats, it all registers the same in his brain- EMERGENCY. In fact every emotion he feels completely consumes him, which is really fun when it is joy or excitement, but not so fun when it is anxiety or anger which unfortunately have been making much more frequent appearances. The anger has been the biggest problem lately, any time he gets told "no" or something doesn't go the way he wants, his immediate response is "Then I'm going to punch you in the face." and then he does, repeatedly swinging at me and I have to restrain him. Any sort of change in routine or alteration to plans is a particular trigger for the anger. We were going to drive through the car wash one day but then I realized the bike rack was still attached to the car so we couldn't go through. Winston started screaming at me from the back seat telling me I was a bad mom and nasty because we didn't go through the car wash. I get yelled at often. It isn't just me though, if he sees another mother asking her child not to do something at the playground, he will go get in her face and tell her to stop talking to her child that way. Another time I was planning on making tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner but some saint dropped off a meal for our family instead. Winston cried for 15 full minutes about this deviation from our plan. He is constantly teasing or will walk past Cosette who is quietly playing by herself and just kick her for no reason. When I ask him why he did it, he just says "I don't know." I really think he doesn't know. Social norms like waiting in line are still not a concept he can tolerate. He is very impulsive, for example if he sees someone sleeping he absolutely cannot restrain himself from getting in their face and screaming, waking them up. And speaking of sleeping, its something he's never done well. From the time he was a baby he has fought sleep like you wouldn't believe and any sort of stimulation can keep him up all night long, any sort of tiny toy or book or even a card in his bed is the undoing of tomorrow. He's very sensitive to textures- refuses to wear socks, often takes his shirt off and feels too warm when no one else is, changes into pajamas whenever he can get away with it. Sounds really bother him like the blender or the blow dryer- he will cover his ears and come and tell me to stop because its hurting them. He is constantly seeking stimulation- mostly technology and craves music and movies and shows and any form of technology to an addictive degree. He has a photographic memory and recognizes tiny details, he has taught himself to read and memorized thousands of logos. When he walks into a room he will notice if I have moved a lamp or changed out a picture and this is usually very upsetting to him. He can remember all these things yet he still can't remember simple family rules that we have discussed over and over and over (and over and over again) and he keeps breaking, not purposely but because he literally didn't remember. He requires absolute supervision and constant prompting to complete simple tasks like getting dressed or picking up his toys, needing very simple and specific commands on replay. He is often defiant, like if I say, "Win, please don't jump on the couch." He'll walk right over to it, get on and jump and say "Ha ha look at me mom I'm jumping on the couch!" Another strange thing is his first response to everything is always "no" even if it's his favorite thing- if it wasn't his idea or part of the original plan, trying anything new is always a "no". He gets overstimulated in situations like vacations or parties where there are a lot of different people and noises and activities and this basically guarantees a meltdown or aggressive outburst from him. The grocery store is an all out war on his senses.

After discussing these things with a therapist and our pediatrician we are under the impression he has Sensory Processing problems. Basically his brain can't process all the information it is receiving in the normal way. We are starting occupational therapy this Tuesday where they will stimulate his senses in a controlled environment and then teach him coping mechanisms to handle it appropriately. Our pediatrician also prescribed Vayarin, a specially formulated Omega 3- PS vitamin that is clinically proven to improve ADHD symptoms. I am really excited to have a plan and to better understand what is going on inside his brain, it removes so many of my fears about my own parenting failures. Winston is such a wonderful boy and when he isn't sensory overloaded I can tell how much he wants to be good. We love him fiercely and can't wait to get him the help he needs to function more normally. If you have any helpful information on Sensory Processing Disorder- let's chat! PLEASE!


  1. Kamille, I don't have any advice. As you know, Blaik is very similar to this in a lot of ways (the need for consistency, the inability to be flexible, being told he hates me daily, the physical struggle, the compulsiveness, intense emotion for days, clothes that are trying to kill him, etc.). However, because there are some differences I would hate to "give advice" that totally doesn't fit your specific situation. But I can tell you this. Wow, you are a great Mom. I know the deep deep emotional exhaustion that comes from having a kid that you can never give enough to (or at least it feels like that). Or a kid that makes it so you can never completely relax. My heart was out of my body for years (still is) for fear that it will be my kid that is making the other kids cry...again. My heart goes out to you so much. I would never assume to know the extent to what its like for you, but I know enough to say, wow, you are undertaking so much, and you are doing amazing. I'm tearing up because I don't know if you feel desperation, but I know I sure have, and I wish you didn't have to. Then there is the guilt we deal with. The guilt of not doing enough for our needy kid, of getting too frustrated when they are being impossible, or of your other kids feeling forgotten. But really, I am so impressed by your pro-activeness, and my heart goes out to you so much. If you ever just need to vent to someone who would never judge you or adorable Winston, I'm here. (801) 717-6685.

  2. Hey! I'm Jill, a friend of Evans from Cameron Park. Occasionally I check your blog because I think you're awesome and I really love seeing the ideas you have for service for little ones and teaching the Gospel. Sorry if that's creepy! Anyway, I used to work with kids with Autism (which he obviously doesn't have) but they also frequently have sensory processing issues. We recieved a lot of trainine with it and I read a lot of books about it. Some of the most helpful were, "The Out of Sync Child" and "The Out of Sync Child Has Fun". They are geared towards Autism but really it's stuff that I use with my neuro-typical kids all the time. Things like, "let's jump 15 times while we wait in line" or just being aware of things that could trigger a hypersensitive response can help. You set him up for sucess. My daughter needs to chew a lot so we try to gI've her age appropriate things to chew on so she doesn't eat her fingers to bits. Stuff like that.

    What is so great about sensory processing is that everyone can relate a little. Like there are people who like really soft tickles on their arms and there are people who prefer massage because those soft tickles really aggravate their skin. Or certain pitches or voices that really hurt your ears but don't hurt the ears of others. You'll be able to anticipate issues because you'll say, oh I know he's hyposensitive to touch (needing propreoceptive stimulation more-sports) and sight (media is very visually stimulating but can also rev kids up) and hypersensitive to sound (maybe trying repetitive classical or just any music during stressful times) and you'll be able to teach him how to accomidate for those things.

    As a fellow mom though I want to give you a high five for seeking input from your Pediatrician. It's been hard for me to gauge when something is really wrong or if it's just me that can't handle my own kid. Way to go with your gut and I'm excited for you guys. I'm sure your therapist will be able to answer any of your questions, but if you ever want ideas or if it's the weekend and you have any questions you can always email me at jillcs2 at gmail dot com. :) Best wishes!

  3. Hey Kamille! Sorry it's been such a struggle. It's no joke when you have an intense child. People nod like they get it- oh yeah, my kid is active too. NO, it's more than that. I can't say I understand, but I can relate on a smaller level. Chloe is definitely spirited, but in regards to the quiz, she landed more on the mild end of the spectrum. I've found that understanding where she's coming from has been a huge difference, but of course you can't get entirely in another person's brain. Figuring out her triggers and trying to avoid them and coping skills when we can't avoid has helped so much. For example, I try to avoid her being overly tired at all costs. We will skip fun activities so she can nap (she naps occassionally). Somedays it's 6:30 bedtime, most days it's 7pm sharp and somedays it's going to have to be 9pm because we have lives, but I try not to stray for more than a day or two on that. And I still have her nap when needed (luckily she will go down if I can reason with her on it.). Then there are days where she is over tired and the evenings are scary. It's a full-on physical war. Yesterday was like this. We stayed at a birthday party 20 minutes too long. I knew she was over-stimulated, but I was being too lazy to leave. The transitions out of there and getting home were really bad. But I knew the magic cure for her like this is water. So straight to the bath. She screamed, kicked and yelled and I finally threw her in her room because she wouldn't get in the bath. 8 minutes later I was able to get her out of her room and in the bath. Just 5 minutes of standing in the shower and she came out a new kid. Kind and happy and ate her dinner. Okay, I gave too much detail here. I'm not trying to give you ideas, but give an example of what has helped us- identifying the triggers, trying to avoid, and having a few go-to mechanisms for managing. And I recognize you're dealing with a much more intense level of spirited, plus sensory processing, which I can't speak to. Anyway, I obviously need a support group too. :) It sounds like he has SO much to celebrate too. I sometimes get lost in the craziness of Chloe, but I love in the Spirited Child book how it says being their parent is AMAZING and also really hard. Maybe being fine with being left at the grocery store isn't a bad thing at all! Really! (but I see your concern). Also, identifying which things I'm "more" of has helped me a lot. The Sensitive chapter was written about ME. I cannot handled noisy places, bright lights, even shopping at Target for more than 30 minutes gives me a headache. Crazy, right?? But I look at her at a party and I can mostly catch it before she crashes- She can't make eye contact with me when she's had too much. She can't focus on one thing. We're working on it... Anyway, I'm glad I stumbled upon your fb post today. It's good for me to have a reflection and check-in on how I'm doing with her often. You're an awesome mom and the fact that you're thoughtfully considering all of this says a lot. Winston will benefit so much from your care.

  4. Okay, I'm still thinking about this... haha. I only have one other friend who I've been able to talk to about spirited kids who really gets it. ChloƩ is also very obstinate (not all the time, but often), she does NOT like new things (but funnily was fine with our recent move), very perceptive (notices EVERYthing), and cannot handle parades, loud sports games or parties (she even covers her ears during musical numbers at church). So, again, I don't want to say I understand your situation, but I can relate. It's frustrating and even disappointing as a parent when you want to do fun things with your child or just want to have a "normal" day. I often think of something a friend mentioned to me several years ago after she had her first child (before I had kids). I asked if she had to change a lot of her life. She said, "We adjust together." Meaning in some ways, the baby would have to adjust to her lifestyle (she's really active and traveled a lot at the time), and at the same time she had to adjust to slowing down and taking care of a baby. I like that mindset because then I don't feel like I'm at my child's mercy, but also that I will have to make adjustments to allow for her happiness. I'm sure you have adjusted a TON and sacrificed so much in the name of making peace with your spirited child. But maybe you can't take him to the store, at least not on a regular basis. I was reminded for the 5th time recently that we cannot do parades or marching bands. Someone HAS to take Chloe to do something else or we just can't go and that's fine. Store is obviously harder, but if it's something that really bothers him and he doesn't quite have coping skills for at his age, then maybe you have to shop at night, get a sitter, do delivery, whatever. I promise I'm not trying to say I know more than you (obviously you've spent the last 5 years in trial and error with this), just offering thoughts. And again with the sensory- I sometimes will change 5 times because my clothes don't feel right. I cut so many tags off my shirts because I'm in physical pain if they touch my skin. I don't remember feeling those things as a kid, but I do remember getting in fights with my mom as a little girl about not wanting to wear certain outfits, so maybe it was sensory related. I listened to a podcast about this.... I want to say God Centered Mom podcast, but it was an episode from a few years ago. Sensory issues are frustrating, but totally real. And can be totally functional. :)

  5. Hi, I stumbled across your blog awhile back and this post really resonates with me. I have a younger brother who has sensory processing issues (to smells, sounds, and touch) and intense emotions. As he's grown and developed different coping techniques he has learned how to manage them well. He is now a healthy, happy young adult attending college and although he occasionally experiences bouts of intense emotion, it has improved so much from when he was little. So I guess I just wanted you to know that you're not alone in this experience. Another thing that has helped him is going to a child psychologist. That can sound scary, but the child psychologist provided a lot of tools and techniques that my parents used with my brother. It also helped them better understand his thought process and why he would behave certain ways. I hope this helps give you a little peace of mind that things get better.

  6. Hi Kamille! This is Megan Olsen, Natalie's sister. She referred my to this blog post and I was excited to read. My son is very sensory sensitive and I want to help him but not sure how to get started. I have some experience as a teacher with sensory processing disorders but my son seems so unique to me of course and I'm really feeling the need for someone to help me since he's two and we're together 24/7 which makes for exhausting days. How should I start in your opinion? Thank you so much for sharing on your blog!

    1. Megan! So sorry I am just getting this- I hope you see this reply! First thing I would say is find a way to give yourself breaks. Even though he's only two, see if there is some kind of mother's day out class or a weekly babysitter that you can set up to give both of you a break from each other, DO NOT FEEL GUILTY about it either, its better for both of you and for the relationship. So far, our OT has been helpful in things like getting Winston to wear socks and improving his fine motor skills but SO much of it has just been trial and error figuring out what works and what doesn't. Charts and lists are very helpful for him and a lot of other people I know who have a child with similar issues, even when they are very young you can print out pictures for a bedtime routine, a morning routine, etc. I'm sure you've already read the Spirited Child book because Natalie is the one who recommended it to me but they have amazing ideas. I also like principles in the book Peaceful Parent Happy Kids (although not all of them, take it with a grain of salt). When Winston was two people told me I was letting him walk all over me and needed to be more firm with him but a sensory overload is different from a tantrum and they have to be treated differently. Learning to recognize which is which is important and takes some time. What I really wish I could find is a mom's support group that met regularly so I could just go and talk to other people about it in person and not feel guilty for struggling. If you have more specific questions or want to know more of what we have tried send me an email! kamillefox{at}gmail{dot}com


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