Teaching Healthy Living to Your Spirited Child

February 05, 2015

Teaching Healthy Living to Your Spirited Child

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My last article, Early Signs of a Spirited Child, discussed my experiences raising a “spirited child,” and specifically, possible early indicators that you may be the lucky parent of one of these unique individuals!

Spirited children often get described as strong-willed, intense, persistent, sensitive, active and intelligent leaders.

Now I’d like to talk about ways we can nurture healthy living habits in our spirited children.

How is this any different than teaching healthy living to a more mellow or typical temperament child, you ask? Well, there are certainly similarities, but there are unique aspects of these children’s personalities that sometimes require different approaches when it comes to eating well, physical activity, and mental health.

In turn, there are unique needs we have as parents of spirited children, since our children’s temperaments can challenge our own emotional reserves. (Ask me how much I enjoyed my daughter’s 30-minute meltdown today because some kid’s foot accidentally touched her in the play area at the mall).

Here are some ideas we’ve employed to impart healthy living habits to our spirited child:

1. Make meals a learning experience

Spirited children tend to be avid explorers with a lust for learning. Your child may be more receptive to trying new foods when the meal is treated as an opportunity to learn rather than a power struggle.

For example, I recently took my daughter out for Japanese food and explained that Japan is an island so its residents eat a lot of seafood. We later looked at a map of Japan so she could see that it was surrounded by water.

In another meal, we ate naan (Indian flatbread) and talked about how different it was from challah, the sweet, thick bread Jewish people eat on holidays.

2. Involve them in meal preparation

Spirited children thrive on choice and autonomy. Let them help you pick out meals from a cookbook and accompany you to the grocery store or Farmers Market, or even help grow vegetables in a garden.

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My daughter loves shopping with me, and I allow her to pick out the most deeply hued tomatoes and bell peppers, explaining that they have the highest nutrient content.

Allow your child to help with food preparation as well if you’re feeling particularly patient. They may be more inclined to eat a meal they’ve had a hand in preparing.

3. Model a physically active lifestyle and include them

It goes without saying that physical activity benefits everyone in countless ways. For spirited children, exercise may meet additional needs. It offers opportunities for the challenge they crave, an outlet for their physical energy, and a natural stress reducer that may help stabilize some of their intense moods.

Try letting your child pick from various forms of exercise to get a sense of what he or she likes: team sports or solo exercise; a dance video indoors or a hike through a state park.

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Daughter Athena accompanying me to Zumba class!
Better yet, let them design their own exercise routine since they thrive on being leaders, making an obstacle course through the park or deciding whether to skip, jump, roll, hop, or “swim” down the hill at the park.

4. Teach relaxation techniques

Regulating strong emotions can be hard for spirited personality types, especially in early childhood. Make relaxation a purposeful part of his or her day, experimenting with different techniques until you both find what works.

 

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We’ve done yoga, quiet music, deep breathing, and essential oils before bed. We also make a habit at bedtime of reflecting on our day and the things we are thankful for.

I didn’t realize how much of my role as a parent of a spirited child would be that of an amateur therapist. These children tend to require a lot of emotional maintenance.

We do a lot of role-playing in our household to talk through emotions and appropriate behavioral responses. For example, our daughter has a very hard time sharing, so we act out situations that involve sharing, letting her reflect on her feelings and talking about different behavioral choices she could make.

6. Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others

As I wrote about in my previous article, raising a child with an intense temperament can be quite challenging. It can feel like the techniques that work for other children don’t work for yours, which can lead to self-doubt, frustration, and burnout.

Knowing when you’ve reached your limit and enlisting help is critical.

Also important is understanding that you are not responsible for your child’s emotions. It took me a long time to accept that sometimes all people – including children – just need to cry.

It’s not my job as a parent to prevent all tantrums, and in fact treating all tantrums as “bad” behavior is not healthy. Your child’s tantrums do not represent a failing on your part or theirs.

7. Keep a sense of humor

Laughter really is the best medicine. Last week my daughter spent roughly four consecutive days whining about a phantom unidentifiable illness, coincidentally during the exact same four days her brother was suffering from an ear infection and was therefore the beneficiary of large doses of TLC.

She was really milking it, saying I needed to make her a get well card. So I did.

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