How to Live with an Over-the-Top Kid

The longer I taught, the more I liked parent-teacher conferences. And the conferences I enjoyed most were with parents who probably dreaded conferences most. Makaylyn Tiff’s dad, for example, slumped one October evening in the chair across from me, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. He folded his arms across his chest and fixed his eyes on the table, waiting for me to begin my tirade and already knowing the script.

Makaylyn, he had likely been told every year, used up lots of space in the room. She shifted from ecstatic to incensed in seconds, tapped her pencil incessantly on the desk but seethed if someone across the room chewed gum, and never yielded in an argument.

“I like Makaylyn,” I said, and he jerked his head to look at me.

He sighed.

“She tuckers me out,” he said. “I’ve got no idea how to deal with such a strong-willed child.”

“What if we looked at Makaylyn a different way?” I asked. And I told him about Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, Raising Your Spirited Child.

“She’ll describe Makaylyn so well, you’ll think she’s met Makaylyn,” I said. “But instead giving kids negative labels like strong-willed or difficult, Kurcinka uses positive branding. She’d say Makaylyn was energetic, dramatic, perceptive, and assertive.”

What I like is that Kurcinka does more than switch labels, I told Mr. Tiff.  She also gives tools for how to take the tussle out of meals and bedtimes. She walks you through temper tantrums and homework. She gets practical about how to soothe intensities with water, imagination, solitude, and humor. She advises about which battles to surrender. And she coaches you on how to teach a kid like Makaylyn to notice her own emotional triggers and manage them.

“Kurcinka is no wizard with a wand,” I said, “She’s a guide for the hard work that comes with being a dad to a kid like Makaylyn.”

“I’ll read it,” Mr. Tiff said. “I’m not afraid to work hard. This makes Makaylyn seem cool, gives me some hope.”

I’ve helped Mary Sheedy Kurcinka sell plenty of her books, but I’m glad to do it. She’s eased the way for the parents of my students. And she’s made me a better teacher.

2 Replies to “How to Live with an Over-the-Top Kid”

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