Book Review written by Jill Humpherys
Years ago, I remember asking my three-year –old son to help pick up the toys before lunch. I ran through every parenting strategy I knew: asking nicely, making it a game, offering choices, and finally spanking. That was when I realized that I had one head-strong child. Unfortunately, Michael Popkin had not yet written his excellent parenting book Taming the Spirited Child: Strategies for Parenting Challenging Children Without Breaking Their Spirits. Dr. Popkin gives excellent advice about building relationships, dealing with emotions, and using discipline and structure to help children learn and grow without engaging in power struggles.
Dr. Popkin helps us to better understand the challenging child, who is more curious, more adventurous, more powerful, more persistent, and more sensitive. The acronym he uses for this is CAPPS. It certainly helped me understand my challenging children. Many gifted children have these characteristics and can be very spirited. He uses many acronyms to better help us remember different aspects of the program. The one I found most useful is FLAC, for Feelings, Limits, Alternatives, and Consequences.
Feelings. Dr. Popkin helps us to understand that accepting a child’s feelings and empathizing with him helps him to feel respected and understood. Dr. Popkin states, “when the child receives the empathy of the feeling response, she feels like she has a companion to share her concerns and who is willing to help her solve her problems. This spirit of cooperation is a huge step in the direction of taming a spirited child.”(Taming, p. 149) Perhaps what I could have said to my son is, “It is difficult to stop playing and pick up the toys, isn’t it?”
Limits. Dr. Popkin says, “After acknowledging the validity of your child’s feelings about the situation, you want to remind him gently of the limits that you are operating under. The limits may refer to family rules . . . or it may simply be the needs of the situation as perceived by you the parent or by your youngster’s teacher.”(Taming, p. 149) This gentle reminder of limits helps the child understand that we can’t always have what we want and that we have to function in reality, where there are rules and time constraints. My son may have better understood why we needed the toys picked up if I had said, “We have to get the toys picked up so we can have lunch.”
Alternatives. Brain-storming some alternatives together shows respect for the child and invites his participation. Dr. Popkin says, “As children get older, looking for alternatives becomes more of a cooperative venture. You can make suggestions, but do not feel that it is up to you to come up with a solution. Kids who have been involved in such problem solving can be remarkably creative in finding innovative, and acceptable, alternatives to their problems.” (Taming, p. 152) Being that my son was only three, I’m not sure that he would have come up with many solutions, but I could have offered several. “Would you like to pick up by yourself or would you like me to help? Would you like to pick up the blocks or the trucks first?”
Consequences. “if you stay friendly and let the consequences flow logically from the impasse that exists,” advises Dr. Popkin, “your child may find the added incentive of avoiding a logical consequence enough to agree to one of the alternatives.”(Taming , p. 154) He gives the example of a slow-to-dress child who will miss a nice breakfast if he doesn’t hurry and have to settle for a quick snack in the car. He suggests, “it is handy to always build in some fun things in any routine so that if the child balks at one point, he loses out on the rest of the routine, including the fun parts.”(p. 155) I might have said, “When we pick up the toys quickly, we’ll have time for a story after lunch” or “ Would you like to help me decide what to fix for lunch after the toys are picked up?”
My other favorite chapters were entitled, “The Dynamics of Power” and “Discipline: Showdown at the O.K. Corral.” I hope you find Dr. Popkin’s book as interesting and helpful as I did.
As for my head-strong three-year-old? He has grown up into a responsible, talented, determined adult, of whom I am very proud. I must have done some things right.
This book is available through the Maricopa County Library System. www.mcldaz.org.