The Fussy Baby Site

A Matter of Perspective?

This past weekend was all about sick kids.

Thursday night Emily came down with a gastro and Chloe followed suit the next morning. Emily’s also on an antibiotic for a chest infection, Chloe’s on one for a urinary tract infection, and both girls have got sore throats (are we having fun yet?).mom laying with sick baby

But if there’s a silver lining to our children being sick (and it’s admittedly a small one), it’s that it’s the only time we get to see Chloe calm, even relaxed. Of course she can’t be too sick (or she becomes a complete mess) but just enough to slow her down a bit.

Suddenly, instead of never being able to stop moving and squirming, she lies still on the couch. Instead of moving from one subject of conversation to another, easily distracted by everything going on around her, she talks to us calmly and wants up for cuddles. She’s more measured and reflective in her thinking and speaking, and often less rigid – more agreeable to changes and transitions. And best of all, our little tornado sleeps a bit better. In short, she becomes a very different little girl.

Chloe is a restless child. She always has been. She takes in everything around her – all the static, and doesn’t miss a beat. She’s super sensitive, has difficulty filtering, and for this reason is always on overdrive and has difficulty focusing. She has an uncanny memory for little details that others might dismiss (the colour of the nightgown Mommy wore the day Emily was born, for example), but difficulty paying attention when listening to instructions or an explanation.

For those of you who have intense children, like Chloe, I highly recommend a book entitled, Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

When Julie started reading it and recommended it to me, it was because it seemed to sum up so perfectly the type of personality we were encountering in our little girl.

The author starts out by explaining why she chose the word spirited to describe some children. She wasn’t happy with the words people had used to describe a child like hers: “difficult, strong-willed, stubborn…” She much preferred the definition provided for spirited: “lively, creative, keen, eager, full of energy and courage, and having a strong and assertive personality.”

That sums up many of my kid’s key traits, how about yours? And it emphasizes the true strengths of our children’s personality rather than labels born of our own frustrations.

Sheedy Kurcinka goes on to describe what she has discovered through her research to be the most common characteristics of a spirited child. Let me know whether you recognize any of them:

Intensity – “The loud, dramatic, spirited children are the easiest to spot. They don’t cry; they shriek.” They’re noisy when they play, when they laugh, and even when they take a shower…”

Persistence – “If an idea or an activity is important to them, spirited children can lock right in.”

Sensitivity – “Keenly aware, spirited kids quickly respond to the slightest noises, smells, lights, textures, or changes in mood. They are easily overwhelmed in crowds by the barrage of sensations.”

Perceptiveness – “Send them to their room to get dressed and they’ll never make it. Something along the way… will catch their attention as they walk by and they’ll forget about getting dressed.”

Adaptability – “Spirited children are uncomfortable with change. They hate surprises and do not shift easily from one activity or idea to another.”

Those are just some of the characteristics outlined in the book, and I’ve abbreviated the author’s descriptions substantially. But you get the picture. I think that a lot of parents of fussy babies will recognize these traits as their babies continue to grow and develop.

Raising Your Spirited Child gives a lot of good advice for how to manage the crazier moments at home, at daycare, and in public more easily and with less frustration. It also helps parents to see that while the characteristics they’re trying to manage come with frustrating behaviour, they are also what make their children beautiful and unique.

And if you’re parents of a fussy baby right now, all I can say is good luck and be patient. The good news: while the basic characteristics you’re experiencing don’t change, the children do adjust, adapt, and learn to cope. Chloe, for instance, will probably always be restless, but she’s learning all the time how to listen, how to focus, and how to follow through, even when she’s not sick.


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.


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