What Is a Spirited Child?

This post is part of the Parenting a Spirited Child series.

parenting a spirited child


If you have a spirited child, you probably know it. However, you may not realize that some of your child’s personality traits and temperament are common to spirited children. I believe knowing this allows parents to be more understanding of their child, which will help them be more patient during difficult times of parenting.

The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is the word more. They are normal children who…..possess [certain characteristics] with a depth and range not available to other children.”  –Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Raising Your Spirited Child

Characteristics of a Spirited (or High Need) Child

Spirited babies are often said to be “alert” by many spectators, as they often sleep less than the average baby. Along with this, many do not like to be held for long periods of time and like to be facing outward to observe the world. As soon as they are able to the spirited child will want to move about as much as possible. The spirited toddler and child will keep you on your toes and probably leave you exhausted at the end of every day. Their abundance of energy is envied by many, especially their parents.

Some spirited children are loud and dramatic, while others are quiet and observant. Whether their intensity is channeled outward or inward, their reactions are always powerful. Tantrums can be expected, with the frequency and length depending on your child’s level of intensity.

Some spirited children have a difficult time getting on a regular schedule.  As babies, they will often need to freed frequently and have odd sleeping patterns. Because of this, they do not thrive well on a rigid schedule and may take a long time getting into a consistent routine.

A small percentage of spirited kids tend to be very serious and analytical. These children tend to be perfectionist and have a difficult time finding enjoyment in many things.

Little details are rarely missed by the spirited child. He may notice things that most people pass without a sideways glace. This can cause the child to be easily distracted and often accused of not listening.

Spirited children tend to be very goal-oriented. They do not easily give up. This can be a wonderful trait, but also a challenge, depending on the situation. Learning to guide this characteristic is extremely important for the child’s success.

Many spirited children are very sensitive. Some are easily over-stimulated and overwhelmed in crowds, others seem to have a hyper-sensitivity to sounds, smells, textures and light. Most are very aware of emotions, which can cause them to be very compassionate individuals. This will also allow them to absorb and reflect the emotions that others are feeling.

Uncomfortable with Change
Most spirited children don’t adapt well to changes. They usually need outside help from a trusted someone with transitions. Many will suffer from separation anxiety, especially when they are young. (This is how they get labeled “clingy” as a baby or toddler.)

While all children have some of these characteristics, a spirited child will display most, if not all of them. For more information about characteristics of a spirited child, you may find these resources helpful:


What characteristics would you add to the list?


This post contains affiliate links and is shared with some of these link-ups.


  1. says

    This is a fabulous list. Recognizing our child’s uniqueness rather than putting all kids into a one-size box and expecting their behavior to reflect that–so wise. I wish I had been more insightful as a young mom. My oldest was very spirited (plus more) and I handled it poorly because I didn’t understand. A couple of my younger ones are also very spirited, but I know how to handle it a little better now. Our relationship is better and they are more responsive.

    • says

      You are right. Every child is unique and needs to be raised a little differently. I’m so thankful I can rely on God for wisdom in discerning how to be a parent! Thanks for your comment, Stephanie!

    • megan says

      this post is just as relevant today as when you wrote it, and i am delighted to have come across you website, jenni! i am confident that i have one (my 3.5 year old son), if not two (11 mo daughter) ~ actually, i am confident, as they say, “the apple does not fall far from the tree”.. two beautiful, loving, energetic and “more” spirited children. it has never been easy. but the rewards so great. i have compared for so long. and just now am i finally able to let go & realizing to accept their individuality, their immense strengths. your post and the comments that follow are refreshing, honest, empowering and comforting. thank you for the laughs and the tears, and tomorrow i’ll be an even better mom.
      peace & blessings to all parents, megan

  2. says

    This so describes my little 2.5 year old Zehava. It is sometimes hard to describe her to family and such because I feel like a bad mother. She is “more” but I love her just the same. She presents some difficulties that my other children never have, but God made her special in her own way. I will be subscribing, because I definitely want to keep up with this series you are doing! Thank you!
    Lindsey @ Road to 31 recently posted..Principles For The Christian To Vote ByMy Profile

    • says

      “It is sometimes hard to describe her to family and such because I feel like a bad mother.” I totally feel you on that one. My spirited little gal never fits in to any of the “normal” parenting practices. I just have to smile and thank people for their advice, but I know in my heart that she won’t respond to conventional parenting.

      We just take it one day at a time ad get really creative!
      Jenna@CallHerHappy recently posted..Um…Happy Birthday, Ellen?My Profile

    • says

      I have to guard against wanting to apologize for my daughter sometimes. Our children were created with their temperaments for a reason and we much embrace that. Thank you for sharing, Lindsey!

  3. says

    After working at a Childcare center for years, I know exactly what you mean with this list. There is one thing you should add, Spirited Children are often highly intelligent. It’s hard to realize how smart they are at fist because the other characteristics are so glaringly loud. But once you understand the child and are able to work with them, then you will see just how truly bright they are :)
    Kendra @ A Proverbs 31 Wife recently posted..No More SwapsMy Profile

  4. says

    This was a wonderful post. My firstborn was especially spirited and so was my 6th born. I remember holding them outward and older ladies telling me I should really hold my baby the other way, lol. He was an adventure to raise, and a blessing to see him as an adult living intentionally for the Lord.

    This post will help many young mothers.

    I’d love to see a follow up with ‘how to raise and discipline the spirited child.’ I know that when I was raising my son, I would read the books of a popular Christian author but was left hanging as to WHAT actually to do in disciplining and disciplining my son.

    Thanks so much for linking up with WholeHearted Home this week. I hope to see you again this coming week.
    Judith recently posted..Quiet Time Tips: S.O.A.P. Study in ColossiansMy Profile

    • says

      Judith, thank you for your comment! I hesitate to write a post on discipline for many reasons. For one, I think it is a very personal decision between parents and God. Secondly, as a new parent, I don’t feel equipped to give such advice. However, I may consider compiling a post of several parents’ advice. If you are interested writing a guest post to share your journey as a parent of a spirited child for this series, feel free to contact me! :)

  5. Nannette says

    I am actually in tears reading this and at my wits end with my ‘spirited’ 4 year old. She is bursting blood vessels in her face with 2-3 hour long temper tantrums over silly things, and has been a challenge right from birth. She never slept for more than 15 minutes and even reading a story is hard work, as she points out every tiny fault in the illustrations. She cannot cope with any change in routines and has made holidays impossible for the whole family I have three children, and she is the middle one and creates difficulties every moment of the day and is turning me into a dragon at home. I hate myself for not coping with her. I know she is intelligent and sensitive (she nuzzles and sniffs peoples bare skin…) and I love her so much. I can’t tell you what it means to have found this site. I started to think she was ill. I will definitely keep up with any advice or suggestions you have. I feel I have a small lifeline now. Thank you.

    • Angela says

      My 4 year old is making me physically ill from behavior. I want to make sure I don’t crush her spirit, but at the same time I have to figure out a way to discipline her & make her into a “good human” I am a single mother & am struggling with her so much. I am feeling like I am the world’s worst mother.

      • Nannette says

        Yes I find that’s the hardest thing. Trying to embrace them as the wonderful individuals they are, without ‘spoiling’ them and encouraging bad behaviour. Although my daughter is intelligent, special and tenacious, sometimes her behaviour is just wrong and rude, and I find it hard to explain to her why it can’t be tolerated. We are so often at loggerheads, and I find it so hard not to get dragged down into behaving like a four year old myself! That’s the only advice I can offer really is NEVER lose control of your emotions. They are the child, you are the grown up. But so often I have slipped up and beat myself up for my own behaviour afterwards! Don’t think you are a bad mother…so long as you are still trying to understand her, still willing to change your own approaches, still acting through love, then you are NEVER a bad mother. You are not alone in all this. x

  6. fairfarmhand79 says

    Oh my.

    I have one of these, and she’s my oldest. She can be a wonderful person, but she can also be a difficult person. My mother said it best when she told me, when my daughter was just 3, “If you can ever get that child pointed in the right direction, you will never have a worry. Because NOBODY will ever talk her in to doing something she doesn’t want to do.”

    She’s now 16. She’s not easy. She never will be. But she can still be a wonderful person.

    I’ve had to read and learn so much from her. I’ve been humbled so much in parenting her because I’ve had to learn to lean fully on Christ through this journey. I have a fuller appreciation of God’s grace because I see how my difficult, sinful behavior must feel to Him.

    Typical parenting methods are terrible failures with these kids. They take extra of everything–energy, time, love, patience… You have to stop the comparisons and meet your child where they are. You have to be creative and you have to REALLY listen.

    I homeschool this girl. It’s no picnic, but I’ve learned techniques for dealing with her and her unique challenges.

    My spirited child is going to do big things with her life. I can’t wait to see what it is!

    Book recommendation for those dealing with these kids: The Explosive Child.
    fairfarmhand79 recently posted..What Can You Do With 90 Seconds?My Profile


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