Children have years much like trucks have gears

By Judy Lyden, Scripps Howard News Service
Growing up means something we could call ďyear shifting.Ē Sometimes itís confusing. Identifying all the emotional gears necessary to get kids over the long haul of growing up ó up its steep roads and safely across its cliffhangers ó takes a lot of work.
Yes, children have years much like trucks have gears, and the parent-driver needs to shift his own gears and allow children to make their own changes every year so that they understand the complexities of the growing-up trip and eventually get on the road all by themselves.
In the first-year gear, infancy is marvelously helpless. Children need the full attention of the loving parent-driver. Itís a slow go and a magnificent teaching exercise for parents who learn in a few short hours that all their time, talents and treasures are earmarked for the child.
But infant care is not the only kind of child care. As the year begins to go by, the speed of growing up increases. The second year is different; itís the power-year gear. The child, no longer arm-bound, is learning rapidly. He still needs hovering, but a lot of his play is independent, and heís discovering things all by himself. Itís time for parents to let him take the wheel a little every day.
The preschool years launch a child into a separateness that many families find frustrating because the child is now grabbing for the wheel. Parents are sometimes really reluctant to let him be in control at all. And 4-year-olds are moving away from infancy as fast as they can go; itís time to help them go and to teach them how to go.
When the parent wonít give the child the wheel, the child, along with his growth, stalls out. The stalled child loses his momentum and vapor-locks. He begins to need help to do just about everything: play, listen and interact with others. He cries incessantly, can never find anything to do all by himself, and routine daily activities such as eating become trials. He needs to go back to second gear in the second year and learn to take that wheel.
Leaving one behavior behind means taking on new behaviors that also have meaning and purpose. Leaving infant language behind and teaching a toddler to talk is a marvelous experience.
The stages and ages and years and gears of childhood are all exciting and rewarding. Children need teaching parents forever. Itís not a timed thing; itís a matter of getting in gear.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)