Podcast: Raising Spicy Kids! with Mary Van Geffen
Mary Van Geffen is an international coaching expert for parents of “spicy ones.” She helps people who are highly competent in life but overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting to lean into the discipline of staying calm. She helps them cultivate warmth and tenderness, all while trying to wrangle the fiery future of their tiny future CEOs.
On today’s Brave Writer podcast, we discuss what it means to have or be a spicy child, and how parents can best react to these spirited young ones.
What is a spicy one?
Spicy can mean a number of things — besides the obvious food connotation.
It can be used to describe a child’s temperament when they express themselves in big and dramatic ways.
- These kids aren’t afraid to take up space;
- they’re constantly moving;
- they hurt others unintentionally;
- they feel things intensely;
- they go from zero to ten instantly;
- they’re louder than is appropriate;
- and they have a zest for life.
They can also use powerful language that can wound or delight. They’re often very aware of other people’s feelings but can also exhibit a lack of perception of others’ feelings. They powerfully negotiate, all the way up until they lose hope and they melt down.
They’re comfortable setting boundaries with adults and staying true to themselves. They’re also highly sensitive and observant. They can’t be consoled physically. They’re also incredibly sweet, caring, and loving. In other words: They’re a lot.
Whether or not a child is spicy is determined by the parent — it’s not diagnosable. It can be impacted specifically by the relationship between parent and child and what the parent is bringing to the table. Many children whose parents say are spicy are also neurodivergent — up to 50% in a poll of Mary’s Instagram followers. And of children with some neurodivergent diagnosis, 80% of parents found the experience to be spicy. So while it doesn’t have to be a diagnosis, that really does make things spicy, doesn’t it?
What does it look like to be a good parent to a spicy child?
Prizing connection over control. It’s not about fixing the situation or motivating our kids. It can just be about connecting with them.
But what do you do when you absolutely need compliance? When what a child is doing is unsafe or you’re on a time schedule? You practice “connect before you direct.”
Spicy kids aren’t immediately won over by your words — you have to get them to buy into your vision and have their own leadership autonomy in that vision. They want to be the CEO, so rather than demoting them, let’s promote them and let their ideas have space.
Some of these kids aren’t misbehaving, they’re just in their own minds. Rather than choosing to ignore your directions, they may not have heard it at all. To get their full attention you have to give your full attention — no multitasking. Bring your body close to theirs, slow them down, and bring them along with your directions.
If there’s one overarching principle to come away with, it’s that you’re doing things right if you are focused on connection over control.
- Mary’s website: maryvangeffen.com
- Mary’s Instagram: @maryvangeffen
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