The Spirited Child: Living with No Filters

10:13 am |

For Chloe, the world has no off switch and no tuner.overwhelmed spirited child

In my last post I talked about perceptiveness. It’s one of the most impressive traits of a spirited child. They don’t miss anything, and it can be a wonder to watch.

But the flip side of seeing everything is being overwhelmed by it all, and a number of doctors / researchers have commented on this trait (see, for example, The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp).

They believe that colic is caused primarily by a child’s inability to tune out the world around them. Baby takes in everything, makes connections all over the place, and before you know it, overheats, looses it, and screams bloody murder.

Their ability to observe and to perceive at that age is impressive, but their ability to have a complete meltdown and throw a whole home in crisis… well, that’s impressive too.

Chloe’s always going to be easily overwhelmed. It’s in her nature. The good news is that she’ll learn to cope. And we are two very proud parents when we see daily how Chloe has adapted to her environment already. Here are just a couple of examples:

First time skating – Since last winter Chloe has wanted to learn to play hockey. She’s been obsessed with it ever since she saw kids at the park passing the puck (it had nothing to do with me – I don’t even watch hockey).

Well, we told Chloe that in order to play hockey she’d have to learn to skate. This was fine with her until she discovered that parents weren’t allowed on the ice during lessons. Chloe had always refused to be left at activities by herself.

But for skating, she was willing to give it a try. This lasted until her first fall, after which she begged to go.

Daddy:Chloe, you can do this. You want to do this. You want to play hockey.

Chloe:I can’t Daddy. I fall down. I’m no good at skating. I want to go home.”

(By the way, fear of failure and a drive for perfection are common traits for spirited children).

Daddy:Chloe, falling is normal. You won’t hurt yourself. I promise.” (I know, big gamble). “Just go out there and know you’re going to fall. And each time you fall, just laugh and get back up. You can do this Chloe. I know you can.”

Chloe: “O.K.”

Well, Julie and I had the best time watching Chloe the rest of the lesson. Every time she fell, she’d start laughing her head off – and it was the fakest laugh in the world (picture Chandler smiling). The instructors must have thought she was nuts. But it worked. She found a way to deal with her intense emotions.

Skating on a big rink full of lots of new people was a huge step forward for her.

Christmas 2011 – Our Christmases are not quiet events (whose are) and it’s a lot for Chloe to take. She finds the noise alone unbearable. She can’t seem to tune it out.

So before long, with a house full of people, Chloe was asking us to go home.

Mummy,” she’d say, “it’s too loud. Can we go home to our house?

At these moments Julie would take Chloe to another room so she could calm down and regain her composure. It’s not that she wasn’t having fun. It was actually too much fun.

She couldn’t decompress with so many people around. She needed an escape.

Julie told her, “Chloe it’s fun to be with other people, but there are a lot of people and it’s o.k. if you find it too much sometimes. When you find it too much, just go to a quiet place for a little while.”

Well, before long one of us would ask, “Where’s Chloe?” only to find that Chloe had taken a break in a room by herself. She had learned that this was a good coping skill and she used it whenever she felt like she’d had enough.

Talk about mature! How many three year olds know how to find tranquility when they’re overwhelmed?

Of course these are just a couple of many hundreds of examples – some big, some too small to describe, of Chloe learning to cope with the situations in which she finds herself.

She’s passionate, social, creative… I could go on. But she’s also quite introverted. She needs to be able to sooth herself when she’s over-stimulated, and sometimes we still need to help sooth her, just as we did when she was a colicky baby and during her difficult toddler moments.

But more and more, she’s handling it herself. As a result, the meltdowns are fewer and far between, and most of the time we have Chloe at her best, which is a special experience.

If you have a colicky baby and you haven’t checked out Karp’s book, I highly recommend it. The 5 S’s may just have saved our sanity.


Sean Sutton

Sean Sutton lives in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and two children, Chloe and Emily. He spent much of this year on paternity leave following Emily’s birth and started a blog to document his experience.


Photo Credits: David Castillo Dominici


Category: Spirited Kids, Stories

Comments (6)

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  1. Michelle says:

    Same thing with my daughter — and myself and my husband, for that matter. We’re a spirited family and none of us can take overstimulation! Luckily, she’s slowly learning to take herself out of busy situations (that’s what we call them) rather than melting down. (THANK GOD!!)

  2. Brandy says:

    That is inspirational!! Yes I do agree that our LOs are easily overwhelmed. Even by temperature, smells, etc, as we’re finding out. What an intense journey!! Also interesting that Chloe is introverted – I think our little guy is as well (we are both introverts who probably wind up in a ‘quiet corner’ together throughout the night at parties!). I wonder if introversion is also common with high-needs kids??

  3. admin says:

    @Brandy – I wonder that too! The funny thing is Sammy is LOUD and at times you’d definitely think he was an extrovert. But in realty he is most definitely an introvert. He likes being around people, but he needs lots of time at home and away from others. In fact, the day before Christmas holidays, his school called and asked me to pick him up at lunchtime because he wasn’t feeling well. When I got there, the teacher told me she thought he was just overwhelmed because the kids were loud and crazy that day…she has noticed he definitely needs quiet and orderliness!

  4. My daughter is the same way. She was extremely colicky as a baby, and I find that there are times she seems overwhelmed as a toddler. She can be so grown up sometimes that I think she’s older than her two years, yet she can have moments that I realize she really needs my reassurance that everything’s okay. She likes to have some space when she gets overwhelmed – her way of coping. Great article Sean!

  5. Donna G says:

    So pleased to read this – this is so my daughter and I often feel like no one else gets this overstimulation thing as their kids are not like that. She can also be both introvert and extrovert depending on the day, situation etc. We left one of our toddler groups as she would be all done and asking to go home after an hour! I sometimes worry about how she will cope when she starts school etc hoping it will get easier she has just recently turned 2. I also still have to soothe her, especially at nap time as she finds it so hard to switch off. Great to hear from others experiencing the same.

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