Why your wild child is destined for success

Go big or go home. That’s life with a high-spirited and defiant child. Amanda Cassidy can relate.


I have a little bundle of curiosity, excitement, and smiles.  He is just six years old. He is kind but cheeky, gentle but plucky, brave and heart-stoppingly daring.  My little wild child destroys the house but captures our hearts a million times every day.

It is an exhausting whirlwind of bravado and emotion, defiance and tenacity and he was like this since the moment he was born. I admire his perseverance, his focus and his refusal to conform. I love his joie de vivre, his loyalty and sense of mischief - but in this life of ours, there isn’t always room for such freedom of spirit.

Related: The pressure to be a good parent 

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Dr Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, the author of several parenting books on the topic, says there can often be misconceptions that highly spirited children are simply just ‘brats’. “Spirited children are intense, perceptive and sensitive. They are “typical children” who happen to be more susceptible to the input from their environments. Often spirited children will be more successful because of these differences from other children. They are turbo-charged, and parents need tools to notch down the intensity a little bit."

And this is where we have to earn our parenting crust. As well as my mini tornado, I also have two very placid and obliging children - proof that having a difficult child is more nature than nurture. I'm now relying on my parenting skills to help my son channel some of his exuberance and stubborn behaviour.

A study carried out by the University of Texas has found that children who frequently broke the rules and defied their parents were the ones who went on to be high achievers and earn the most in their careers.

The study was published in the Development Psychology journal and followed 700 children aged 12 to 52 years. It looked at how behaviour in late childhood could predict participants' success later in life and whether or not stubbornness was a factor in achieving throughout adult careers. At the start, the children’s behaviour was examined (rule-breaking, impatience, defiance, stubbornness) They were also evaluated on their non-cognitive personality traits (entitlement and education). 40 years later, the same people were looked at again.

So in a nutshell, if your bolshy child is the type who insists on a bigger slice of cake, they will probably also be the one looking for a bigger bonus in work when they are older.

Of course, nothing is as simplistic as all of this, but let us bone-tired mums have a light at the end of the tunnel when we are in protracted negotiations over bedtime.

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Not sure if your stubborn child fits the mould? Here is a very scientific checklist for your convenience.

1. You’ve never had to baby proof the house until this one came along. Now it is best to bolt all of the things to all of the walls.  Lock your fridge and invest in bounce proof flooring.

2. Your wild child will climb anything. These exceptionally cute monkeys can mostly be found swinging on dangerous things or scaling heights with disturbing ease. Is an everyday helmet too much?

3. They don’t give up, ever. As frustrating as it is to try to manage the unmanageable, remember that determination is a positive quality. So is putting every ounce of energy into reaching a goal. Remind yourself that you could be raising a future leader. (This is also a handy one for the parent-teacher meeting).

4. Your defiant child goes big or goes home. On the downside, they can blow their tiny little tops over the smallest of things. On the upside…they commit extra tightly to those bedtime snuggles.

5. You learn to ignore the judgement you feel oozing out of other parents. No, I don’t feed him sugar for breakfast. Yes, I’ve tried Kung Fu. No, he won’t fall out of that tree. Yes, he has convinced me to get him a puppy.

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6. Your life is one giant sticker reward chart. You find yourself negotiating on negotiations despite promising yourself you wouldn’t negotiate. Man, they are good!

7. You convince yourself that you should have been a better parent, a more patient listener, less shouty, more understanding…. the list goes on. Ultimately, you are doing the best you can, and love goes a long way with your little warrior.

8. Your child doesn’t enter a room, they explode into it. If only you could bottle that confidence and sell it back to them when they are teens.

9. They can argue for hours with a passion, energy and enthusiasm that eventually wears you out. These persistent limit-pushers are much less likely to succumb to peer pressure because they march to their own beat. They’ll do what they want, even if that means doing it alone. This leads to a high level of independence and eventually responsibility. Your little hot-head won’t need others to solve their problems for them.

It is tough to parent a stubborn child in the turbulent world of primary school and playgroups with rules and expectations, but rest assured your child will eventually turn into a confident adult, certain of their own abilities. And best of all, they are more likely to stand up for what they believe in. Now, more than ever, the world needs people like that.

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Hang in there, your child will do great things in life. Here’s to the defiant child and all those raising them.

Image via Unsplash.com

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