Stephen’s Self-Assessment Arcade

Kurcinka: Spirited or Cool?

While specifically addressing the needs of parents, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Raising Your Spirited Child offers devices for understanding both children and adults. In the book, the prototypical spirited child is the one who commits totally to his play, but the one for whom bedtime is a brutal battle; the one who notices the crocuses opening in the garden, but also feels irritated by every seam in her clothes. The book offers parents an opportunity to understand not only their children, but also themselves.

Component Characteristics

Ms. Kurcinka identifies nine subordinate characteristics that cumulatively make a person more cool or more spirited. In her book, she offers ideas for working with children who match the right-hand descriptions of each dimension. She also provides a means to locate both your child and yourself in each of these dimensions.


People who are not intense have emotional reactions that are more balanced, quiet and reserved. It is easier for them to stay on an even keel.

Children who are not intense have reactions that are more mild. They are infrequently outwardly upset. Their reactions are more mild, both when happy and unhappy. They can usually work through problems without becoming frustrated and falling apart.

People who are intense have emotional reactions that are more forceful and energetic. The highs are higher; the lows are lower.

Children who are intense don’t just cry; they wail with a strength that could peel paint. They experience their emotions deeply and fully. They are easily excited and disappointed. They can often become frustrated when things don’t go their way.


People who are not persistent can more easily switch from one task or activity to another. They can more easily put tasks aside before completion.

Children who are not persistent will usually only cry for a few minutes, and then get over it. They are usually more willing to accept “no” for an answer. When they are upset, you can often distract them away from the cause of their unhappiness.

People who are persistent experience difficulty in interrupting a task or activity when they are not ready. They want to finish what they are doing, even if it takes until 3 a.m..

Children who are persistent will often “lock in” to crying; it seems like they could cry for hours. Ignoring them or distracting them does not work. They are almost never willing to accept “no” for an answer; sometimes they won’t take “yes,” either. An idea that comes from within will be retained with an iron grip.

Sensory Sensitivity

People who are not highly sensitive enjoy being surrounded by different sights, sounds and smells — they often prefer to be.

Children who are not highly sensitive can often fall asleep no matter what else is going on in the house. They are not bothered by scratchy clothing or funny smells. They are more willing to eat anything. They don’t seem to notice your stress level.

People who are highly sensitive become overwhelmed when surrounded by a variety of different sights, sounds and smells. The barrage of stimuli floods them. The mall can be a torture chamber.

Children who are highly sensitive usually need the house quiet in order to sleep. They notice every tag and seam in their clothes. They may dislike foods for their taste, their smell or their texture. They seem to perceive everything that’s bothering you, and act it out.


People who are highly focused have no difficulty staying on task. They are not distracted by other sights and sounds, and may not even notice you if you address them directly. They can remember and complete multiple directions easily. People who are highly perceptive notice everything going on in their environment. This flood of stimuli makes it hard for them to stay on task. They often forget the later part of a series of multiple directions; they get highly involved in the first step of the sequence.

Note that the same person can be highly persistent and highly perceptive. This person will usually stay on the task if it’s his/her idea, but be highly distractible if it is “just something I have to do.”

Perceptiveness in this sense should not be confused with the Jungian Perceiving type.


Some people adapt well to change. They may take ignore it, yield gracefully to it or even enjoy it. They easily stop one task and start another. Taken to a new city, they quickly locate the grocery, the cleaners and the hardware store. They are not bothered by surprises, and may  like them. Other people count on familiarity in their life, and find change very trying. They are firm in their routines and find changes in time or place very trying. They find transitions very stressful and do not like surprises.


Some people need regularity in their lives. They like to be on a schedule, and find it draining to be off schedule. They tend to want to eat, sleep and conduct their business according to a daily routine. Other people seem to despise any notion of regularity. They need to be flexible and find routines oppressive. They want to eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired.


Some people, while not slothful or lethargic, have the ability to sit or stand in one place for extended periods of time. They do not find classroom or office situations, where one must sit in one place, physically burdensome. Other people need to be moving around often. They find it physically demanding and tiring to be required to sit still for an extended period of time. If they have to sit, they will be constantly moving, adjusting and fidgeting.

First Reaction

Some people seem to always have a positive first reaction to a new activity or idea. These people are willing to try almost anything once. They jump right in, make their mistakes, and learn by doing. It usually is not difficult to get them to try a new restaurant, a new activity or a new procedure. Other people have a negative first reaction to a new activity or idea. These people need to warm up to almost anything that’s different. If asked without warning to try something new, they usually will refuse. They like to watch for a while before joining in. They need time to consider it and visualize themselves as part of it before they are comfortable. It is often very difficult to get them to try something new and unfamiliar, particularly if you put them on the spot and spring the decision on them.


Some people seem to be more outwardly positive and pleasant. They frequently smile. In relating a story, they tend to focus on what went well or came off successfully. Other people present a more serious appearance to the world. They do not frequently smile. In relating a story, they tend to be analytical and evaluative.

Find Out More: Get the Books

spirited childRaising Your Spirited Child; also available on cassette
spirited child workbookRaising Your Spirited Child Workbook

Last modified Monday, 14-Jul-2014 16:38:17 EDT

All contents not otherwise identified copyright © 2001 Stephen Rojak. All rights reserved.
Back to  arcade