Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Should I Pay Attention?

Many times when I invite parents to attend the Brain Development Seminar, I get responses such as: “My child is doing fine, I don’t have any reason to take a class like that,” or “That sounds like an interesting topic, but my children don’t need any extra help.” “Gosh, my baby isn’t even born yet, why would I need to learn that kind of stuff.” It is to this line of thought that I address my post today. Initially, I had a difficult time understanding how someone would miss the relevance of brain development as a vital topic for everyone. Then I thought back to my way of thinking BEFORE my youngest child was born and I had an emergency need to learn about brain development—when I had ONLY seven children. (I know, not too many people say “only” and “seven” followed by the word “children”. LOL!) When I had ONLY seven children, they were all “wonder buckets”. They succeeded fairly easily in school overall—some were the very top of their class but we’d had a brush with “ADD” issues with one child. Still, everyone was very intelligent, very athletic and adept in social interaction. They had lots of friends, made good grades, succeeded on sports teams. It was tempting to think I knew the mothering game better than most because I had seven great kids to prove it—-and I fell to that temptation, sorry to say.

Then Dawson was born. I truly believe he was sent to our family to show us what we didn’t know (which was plenty). After I took my first seminar in brain development (it was five 12-hour days and I had to fly over 1300 miles to get there), I began to see what I had been missing.

#1–My children weren’t doing as well as I thought they were. As I learned what normal brain development really looked like, I learned some of the “personality quirks” or “this just isn’t his/her strength” or “he/she can do it sometimes, just doesn’t apply it all the time” or “they’re just bored so they’re not performing” were REALLY areas where I could help them do better with orderly, organized stimulation for their brain. I also saw some things I’d labeled as normal “phases” of challenge were really a sign that I needed to pay attention.

#2–Even if my child is doing well, there is no reason to withhold the chance for them to do even better. One of my daughters taught herself to read and is now graduating with a GPA over 4.0. But there were some areas I could have helped her in. I wish I would have known how fantastic it is for young children to learn foreign languages. It grows the brain in the language processing centers in a fantastic way. Exposure as a young child lays down neuronal pathways that can benefit them for the rest of their life. Wish I’d known. Another daughter is an excellent student—an especially good writer. She has a singing voice that is phenomenal and she is able to relate to people very well because she is good at reading social cues. However, she is not as good as physical skills as she would have liked. Learning to drive was another big challenge for her (AND for the white-knuckled parents in the passenger seat!!!). Once I understood brain development, I learned that these challenges rooted back to her cerebellum and spatial awareness. I learned that she cried when, as an infant, we tossed her in the air and put her in the swings because she needed MORE vestibular stimulation, NOT less. We could have helped grow those pathways with a very simple and FUN program. Wish I’d known. This list could go on for a long time because I have two or three “Wish I’d Known” items for every single child. Cutting to the chase, though, my kids were doing well, but I could have helped them do better. I could have helped them broaden their horizons and taken away some of the limits on their choices. It would have been fairly simple—Wish I’d Known!

#3–You never know when a challenge may arise. My third daughter (sixth child)was born as one of the brightest, most motivated, go-getter-type of children I’d ever seen. She was determined to keep up with her older siblings from the moment she got home from the hospital–and surprisingly, she usually did just that. It wasn’t until she was in Kindergarten that signs of dyslexia could no longer be ignored. Her Kindergarten teacher said she was the smartest little girl she’d ever known, who couldn’t read. This came totally out of the blue for us. Emotionally, it was catastrophic for my daughter because she shared a room with her older sister who taught herself to read before age 4. Her older sister stayed almost every night reading wonderful and exciting books. Daughter #3 wanted so much to have this same love of reading and tried with every ounce of might she had. The good news was that her parents already knew how to approach the brain, how to pinpoint the root cause of the issues, and who to turn to for advice on continued stimulation for her brain. We could have been in a crisis situation, but had confidence because we already had the information.

#4—Understanding how the brain works, helped me begin to understand other adults and even myself. There are some adults that have trouble making decisions, causing stress in certain situations. Once I learned how this related to having uniform hemispheric dominance, I began to be more understanding. I also began to present choices in less confusing ways and even presenting fewer choices. There are other times when I feel especially irritable and emotional. After I learned about the limbic system (emotion is housed mainly in this area of the brain) and that it is 80%+ water, I did a better job keeping myself hydrated and reaped more calm for me and the family. After I learned about the amygdala and the role of smells in emotional processing, I was more careful about having constant air freshener smells in my home.
I look at people so much differently now. I am much more respectful of their intelligence and abilities. I am much more compassionate for their struggles.

#5—I learned about my own health. Some of the most terrible diseases that affect us in our golden years originate in the brain. Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, etc. I learned about ways to develop “brain reserve” as a way to help avoid the terrible tragedies families endure when these diseases strike. Understanding my own role in the health of my brain was very empowering. This is not just rolling the dice. I can be pro-active and make simple changes to invest in a healthy future.

#6–Fill in the blank As I attended classes with dozens of other parents, I saw each of them gleaning knowledge for their own lives. Because their lives and their situations are different than mine, they were focusing on different pieces of this information that was especially applicable for them. As I now teach classes, I see this same process happening. One person really relates to emotional development, while the other sees a real opportunity for how physical development changes the brain. As they hear the information, they filter it through their unique place in the world at this time. Without exception parents remark that they have been looking for or wondering about a solution to a particular problem and now they have a new perspective. Now they have a solution. So will you.

These are a few things I hope you will consider when opportunities arise to learn about how brains grow and develop. There is a LOT of information coming out every day. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to sift through and understand every word of it. But don’t avoid learning more about one of the most important pieces of equipment you and your children are blessed to have—the brain. I’m here to help if you’ll let me.