This book changed. my. life. And Dawson's life along with it.
First- let me say a HUGE apology to every mom with a fit-throwing toddler out in public who's parenting skills I was so quick to judge. Little did I know that it is so NOT about the parent but nearly ALL about the makeup of that child. We carried Bennett screaming and crying out of a public place ONCE when he was three. And I thought that had something to do with me. Ha. I needed a large slice of humble pie. By now, I've eaten more than my fair share. (I suppose that goes with the territory of motherhood, doesn't it??) Which is why I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that parenting is so much more about teaching us than about us teaching our kids.
If all of these words describe your child, please get a copy of the book, Raising Your Spirited Child, TODAY: Intense, Persistent, Sensitive, Perceptive, Difficulty Adapting (And the bonus traits--your spirited child may have some or all of these. Dawson has all of them: Irregular, Energetic, First Reaction is negative to anything new or different and Moody). (If these traits describe your child but you'd score them a 3 out of 5 or lower on a few of them, then they're probably just spunky, not spirited.)
This book helped me turn all of the negative labels I had for my child and switch them to positive ones. And to realize that all of the characteristics that made him so difficult to parent at 2 years old, will be celebrated when he's an adult (if directed in a healthy way). It also made me understand that he sees/feels/smells/hears things differently than an average kid. He literally has heightened senses, which makes loud, busy, crowded places a nightmare for him. I've learned what is likely to set off a tantrum and how to possibly avoid it. (He still has tantrums. A lot of them. But they're shorter and more sporadic. And I don't feel like I want to run away from home anymore.)
(He started preschool a couple of weeks ago. Blogging time is hard to come by these days. And he's in 3yr preschool because his birthday is Sept. 14th)
Life with Dawson is still very challenging. But thankfully along the way I've been learning that it's actually possible to stay patient and calm when your child is screaming their head off and trying to hit you and bite you and throw anything within reach at you. My patience goes a whole lot further these days. I still lose it with him occasionally (like when we're running late or when my husband's been out of town for the third night in a row) but God is really changing me in this area. I've also learned that its ok to remove him when he's out of control and hold him and hug him and whisper to him instead of trying to force him to stay in time-out for an hour (which I'd done before. Many times.) The balance of discipline with him is very hard but I just keep doing the best that I know how to do. And to accept judgment or advice from other moms who don't have a spirited child is fruitless. So if you are a friend to one of those moms, give her a bit more grace. And let her know that you know she has a hard job. But that she's the perfect person for it.
The biggest thing I've learned this past year is that when you have a spirited (or even just a spunky) child, you get a big dose of the hard stuff but you get an equal dose of the amazing stuff. You get a child with so much feeling. Dawson went through a phase last year where he'd compliment people on everything--"I like your hair, Quinn!", to his cousin. "I like your dress, Mom!" when I was wearing something other than sweats. "Cool trick, Bennett!" as he'd watch his older brother flip around the house. He's always had incredible manners, saying "please" and "thank-you" without any prompting. He also has a HUGE imagination and can get lost in play for at least an hour all by himself (when brother isn't around to interrupt him). He's quick to make friends wherever we go, not shy at all on the playground. But if we walk into a room where there are a lot of adults he doesn't know, he'll completely panic and freeze up. He's literally gripped the door frame with all his might before, and held on for dear life. (The complete opposite of Bennett. Bennett has a hard time being brave and making the first move with new kids, but if we walked into a large room full of people, if there were at least a couple of familiar faces or he didn't have to leave my side, it wouldn't even phase him.)
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood has been such a great show for Dawson, because he can easily identify with the way people feel. He's extremely empathetic. One morning I was lamenting about our new table. One of the boys had spilled a bunch of water the day before so one of the boards on the table had started to lift up a little. Dawson started singing the Daniel Tiger song, "If something seems bad, turn it around....and find something good!" He's so in tune to what people are feeling around him, it's amazing. While Bennett is extremely smart, he's usually in his own little world. Dawson, however, feeds off of every emotion of the people around him. It's very important with spirited children to not let them sense your stress because they will become extremely irritable. (A bit of an impossible task as a mom!)
A big challenge we still deal with is that he doesn't sleep through the night. He did up until he was three and we moved him out of the crib. I knew it would be a hard transition with him. Little did I know a year later he'd be sleeping on the floor of our room because at least then I can get to him more quickly when he wakes and can settle him back down right away. Not always, though. Sometimes he's awake, sobbing uncontrollably for 30 minutes at a time or more. Its not night-terrors. He's just a very light sleeper and has an impossible time settling himself back down once awake. And when he's tired, he's just so emotional and unreasonable. I'm not sure why we didn't have this problem when he was in the crib. But that's typical of life with him. There aren't straightforward answers to much of anything. According to the book, nightwaking is very common with spirited children. I just figure eventually he'll outgrow it. And I'm learning to tell myself in the middle of the night when I get woken up and feel so frustrated that its an opportunity to act out sacrificial love. I continually have to give up the idea that I deserve a good night's sleep. I'm working on being selfless, even at midnight when I'm just settling into a really deep sleep. It's taken me a long time to get there. But God is gracious with me and my slow progress. Plus, I suppose this is just payback since all three of my boys were sleeping 12 hours a night by 12 weeks ;)
* Dawson loves to ride his scooter. Fast.
* He hates to lose a race to his brother. (And everything's a race.)
* He loves to go to the library as much as Bennett does and he loves to be read to. One of his favorites is Richard Scarry's, The Best Word Book Ever.
* He's a good eater and isn't afraid to try new foods (he'll always refuse it at first and then we sing the Daniel Tiger song, "You gotta try new foods 'cause it might taste good!" and then he'll always accept a bite and usually likes whatever it is and then gobbles it down.
* He still loves King Kong and T-Rex but now has a new obsession with Indiana Jones.
* Dressing up is still his thing. (look up the hashtag #superdawson on Instagram and you'll see several of his best-dressed moments.)
* We haven't done any organized sports with him yet (I think its a bit crazy to start that before five with a child who's prone to meltdowns) but he's very anxious to start. He'll definitely be our athlete.
I am so thankful for this boy, who stretches me and teaches me and exposes my weak spots. I am a better person now than I was before he was in my life. He has always been the child who has caused me to lean on God the most. And that is a beautiful gift.