My “Free Spirited” Child

So, one of my goals this summer was to spend some time getting to know my second born child. She’s what I like to call a “free spirit”. She’s really a sweet child, and tries hard to please, but I feel like we’re constantly fussing at her for things like spilling her water (for the 1,000th time!), stepping on my feet (also for the 1,000th time), dropping her bowl of cheerios on the floor, and so on. All avoidable accidents in my opinion. She’s like that dog on “up” who’s going along great but when he see’s a squirrel everything else is forgotten. Yup, the bowl of cereal is there, and you’re eating it, but you get distracted with a toy or something and bump the cereal off the table with your elbow. I try hard not to be upset because it is an accident, but you’ve got to pay attention to what you’re doing! So, my goal has been to figure out how to connect with her so that we’re enjoying each other more and it’s not just constant frustration.

My first born, I understand, I’m a firstborn and she’s a lot like me. A rule-follower, likes to keep everyone happy, a bit of an over-achiever, and fairly confident that in everything she does, no one can do it better (even if the child standing next to her in ballet class is way better than her).

My second-born on the other hand, is a total mystery. She’s pretty much always in her own little world, very spontaneous, blissfully happy one second and melting down the next, and in general hard to figure out. So, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to her moods. What makes her happy, and what is it that she likes to do. Surprisingly, she’s not actually that difficult to understand, she’s just a lot different than me so I have to consider things from her perspective.

Some interesting things I figured out.

1. A hug goes a long way – if she’s melting down, just sitting out the couch with her for 5 minutes can turn her day into “beautiful bouquets of flowers” – literally, I’m fairly sure this is how she thinks about it. She loves to come in my room early in the morning – sometime between 3am and when we get up, I’m not sure of the exact time because I’m asleep – and just snuggle in bed. She’s always happy on these mornings so I’ve quit trying to send her back to her bed but instead I just make room for her. And it makes sense, as a baby, there were nights she just wanted to sleep lying on my chest on the couch. If she’s upset and I need her to talk to me, just holding her hand while we talk helps her calm down. (now, if I was upset, this would irritate me, so I’m doing the opposite of what I would like)

2. Spontaneity is fun (and does not come naturally to me) – So, she wants to walk through the sanctuary instead of the hall on the way out of Church, it actually doesn’t take any extra time, it’s just not the usual route, we detour through the sanctuary and she skips the rest of the way to the car. Made her day, and honestly only requires that I pay attention and participate in something she considers novel.

Or, why she feels compelled to smush her face agains the screen door EVERY TIME she comes inside is a mystery to me, but I just smile and say hello, she says “hi” and continues on. I’m learning to just roll with it.

3. She loves to accessorize – I like accessories, like small hoop earrings, thin chain necklaces, and bracelets that don’t make noise when I use my hand. She on the other hand, likes to go through my jewelry box and pick out the largest, jangliest necklace she can find and wear it. Currently she’s wearing this bulky gold chain (don’t worry, not real gold) that I never wear because it’s just too large for me. I think she thinks her outfit’s not complete without a little bit of “bling” so I just roll with it. She is pretty cute running around in her princess dress, flip-flops, and mommy’s necklace.

4. She needs her space – being the middle child isn’t easy. Her older sister is constantly telling her what to do, and her little brother is constantly in her space stealing her sippy cup and snacks. Some days she just wanders off to her room alone, I’ll poke my head in and ask if she’s ok and she’s happily playing barbies or ponies by herself and perfectly happy about being alone. She doesn’t want company and I don’t feel compelled to make her join us. She’ll be out in an hour or so when she’s ready to see people again.

5. Praise her when I can – she got a certificate at preschool the other day for ending her day at the top of the behavior chart – the kids start in the middle so you have to be extra helpful to make it to the top – I made sure she remembered to show it to her Dad at supper time and explained to him what it meant. She was super excited to have made it to “pink” at class, plus get the certificate, and get to show it to everyone. It was a good day for her. She really likes to help, so a lot of times I praise the attempt, while she’s helping me clean up the mess. I’ve learned not to fuss at her too much, she already knows that she should have watched where she was going so she wouldn’t make a mess. I try to focus on what she was trying to accomplish and how good she is at helping me clean it up.

6. Let her help – even if it means a mess. Inside, I cringe every time I hand her a glass of water to carry or a plate of food to take to the table. Most of the time she makes it fine, but about 5% of the time she gets distracted on her way from the counter to the table and the water gets dumped or stuff starts rolling off the plate. It’s just a part of childhood and I’ve learned to keep an eye on her and refocus her when she needs it. And, I try to give her mostly mistake-proof jobs. Assigning her the job of giving everyone a fork at dinner is a great job for her. I hand her 5 forks and she distributes them, it’s hard to make a mess with that one.

7. Most importantly of all, just embrace and enjoy her unique personality – It is, after all, how God made her. And the more I stop trying to make her personality conform to mine, the more I see how sweet and fun she really is.

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