Friday, June 6, 2008

Our youngest child turns 3 years old next month; so much learned, so much still to learn

Sadie, our third-child surprise, the one we almost named Merlot due to her likely inspiration, will turn three years old next month.

Her birthday is on Bastille Day. There's significance in that. I'm sure of it. I just haven't figured it out yet.

Sadie has two older sisters, ages 6 and 8, neither of which were nearly named after a red wine.

My wife and I learned gobs from our first two. Every developmental stage has its normal traits, like the tantrums of the "terrible twos" and potty training.

On the other hand, each child is different. We identified attention-deficit disorder in our oldest daughter when she was 6 years old. We suspected a degree of anxiety in our middle child when she was 4 years old.

In both cases, we sought professional help. We looked into conventional medical approaches to these problems as well as emerging remedies like neurofeedback, which has been the subject of mainstream medical research in Germany. My wife and I believe that our love for our children must be guided by critical minds that insist on multiple sources of information for anything we consider. While it is impossible to know everything, our approach removes some of the variables in decision-making -- and it has been fruitful. With our intentional involvement at home and the help of a licensed doctor, the oldest daughter can maintain focused attention for much longer, and the middle daughter is less anxious in her daily life.

But there remains the simple fact -- even as we begin our third run through the preschool years -- that we have so much to learn. Researchers say that the human brain develops dramatically during the first five years of life -- so much so, that my wife and I feel the burden of properly navigating Sadie's third and fourth years. How do you do it perfectly? When no one has ever done it perfectly?

Well, there is some good news for us.

Well, first, we've done made it through the preschool years twice already. And if you have done so, you ought to pat yourself on the back.

Second, we know where to look for good information. We have culled the good authors, books and Web sites from the mediocre and the bad.

Third, we know how to love Sadie. We make direct eye contact with her. We hug her and kiss her all the time (probably not difficult for most parents, yet extremely important at this stage of development). We spend time with her, even when it is difficult to peel ourselves away from our computers.

Sadie has been on her own learning curve. We don't let her do whatever she wants -- especially when what she wants to do involves wet toilet paper --never mind her persistence and fits. Surviving these episodes requires a level of patience and endurance that my wife and I do not possess naturally, and I'm sure many American parents feel the same way.

Yet in the end, all the little struggles are worth it. We see the outcomes of our preschool-year efforts in the 8-year-old and the 6-year-old.

I cannot wait for the next year with the little girl we almost named Merlot. I want to help that little brain develop to its full potential.

-Colin Foote Burch

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