The Fussy Baby Site

How to Soothe a Spirited Child

While intensity, when channeled appropriately, can be a positive personality trait, more often that not it is a source of extreme frustration for both spirited kids and their parents.

Spirited children may appear to hold their emotions right below the skin – They appear to go from happy and excited to all-out, on the floor, head-banging tantrums in seconds.

According to Kurcinka however, if we can learn to recognize our child’s cues, we may be actually be able to avoid some of the melt-downs that come from our child’s intense frustrations.spirited toddler in ballet outfit

These cues may include:

  • Clinginess
  • Hyperness (acting ‘crazy’ or out of control)
  • Loudness
  • Impatience
  • Restlessness
  • Stiff, jerky movements (in babies)
  • Not listening


These are just a few examples, but it’s quite likely your child has his or her own unique set of ‘warning signs’.

Becoming aware of what your child’s cues are allow you to be proactive and take the appropriate steps towards avoiding an all-out tantrum.

Practical Ways to Help Calm Your Spirited Child

Helping your child calm down once they have reached a peak level of intensity is no easy task.


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Whereas a soothing voice and a comforting hug may work with other children, they are often no match for the intensity of a spirited child’s emotions.

Soothing a spirited child means figuring out ways to hit the ‘reset’ button, and bring them back to a place where they are able to manage their feelings themselves.


Not getting enough sleep can make even an ‘easy’ kid fall apart. But for children who are more intense, getting enough sleep can make a huge difference in their ability to cope with their strong emotions.

While spirited children may resist sleep, they seem to need it even more than most kids. Even a short nap is often enough to snap them out of their overwhelmed state and bring them back to a place of balance.


Whether this is a warm, comforting bath, or even just letting them play with water in the kitchen sink, the soothing qualities of water often help calm a spirited child. Perhaps it is because it gives the child something outside of themselves to focus on, rather than turning inward and ruminating on the intensity of what they’re feeling.


As spirited children tend to be dramatic, giving them an acceptable way to express this trait can be helpful. Helping them put on shows, play a music instrument, or playing dress-up or pretend may alleviate some of the need to get attention in less positive ways.

Sensory Activities

If your child is sensitive to taste, touch, sounds, smells or textures, give him or her lots of chances to positively experience these senses:

  • Soft, plush stuffed animals
  • Warm, pliable playdoh
  • Upbeat music on the radio
  • Finger painting
  • Soothing back rubs
  • Cool, brisk air
  • Doing crafts with textured paper, foam cut-outs and fuzzy pipe cleaners

Physical Exercise and Repetitive Motion

Build exercise into your child’s daily routine, and you can potentially avoid some of the melt-downs caused by excess energy.

If your child isn’t interested in the exercise you’re suggesting, you may need to participate in it with him or her.

Here are some ideas some parents have used. These can work in not only avoiding melt-downs, but in bringing your child back from the middle of one:

  • Backyard obstacle courses
  • Races with siblings or neighbors, or
  • Timing laps around the yard
  • Jumping on the trampoline
  • Riding a tricycle or bike
  • Jumping on the bed (if you allow that)
  • Driveway hockey
  • Swimming


Try finding a comfortable, warm place to sit down, and invite your child to sit on your lap and read with you. This may distract your child and give them a chance to focus on something outside themselves.

As spirited children may actually become more ramped up by watching TV or playing video games, reading together can be a better alternative.


Using humor in unexpected situations may be enough to bring your child back to a place of calm.

Instead of yelling at your child for refusing to wear shoes outside, take off your shoes and let her watch you walk barefoot in the snow. It may even make her realize how silly it is.

Or rather than forcing your child into the bathtub, ask him if he wants to wash off the cooties he got from the girls at school. You can even pull out the magnifying glass and insist that you see them. Just make sure you do this when your child is old enough to know you’re joking!

Time-Out (not as a punishment)

The important thing here is to make sure your child understands this is not a punishment.

Even adults need time to decompress and sit quietly with their thoughts. When you notice your child starting to get overwhelmed, encourage them to cuddle up on their bed with a book, spend a few minutes in their room playing quietly with toys, or even just moving off to the corner of the kitchen when mealtime gets to be too much.

Teach your child that it’s OK to remove themselves when they feel overwhelmed. This is not only a good way to avoid melt-downs, but gives your child a sense of control and confidence that they can manage their emotions.


*The ideas above are taken from Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. For more detailed information on the ideas presented above, I highly recommend reading the book in it’s entirety.

Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici

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