It’s not uncommon to see small children at the local shopping centre pretending to be all manner of things – animals, superhero’s, fairy’s and cowboys – just to name a few. It was only last week my little Miss nine and I saw a pint-sized gold fish traversing the aisle of our local shop! Typically, when we see small children delighting in their pretend world, we feel warm and fuzzy inside and smile kindly.
But what of ‘bigger kids’? The kids whose developmental differences means this type of pretend play often begins at a later age than the ‘cuteness’ of toddlerhood, and likely continues well beyond early school years – the 10 year old who delights in twirling down the aisles, spinning around and around as a ballerina; the eight year old who drops down on all fours the local shopping mall, and scampers, roaring in his imaginary jungle, or the 12 year old, who just knows it’s really cool to be superman bounding over each floor tile in single leap?
Do we scold them? Tell them “enough already, grow up” and make all efforts to banish them of what we obnoxiously perceive as social immaturity? Impart our ‘grown-up’ expectations of their ‘physical age group’ upon them? And, if their creativity is mocked by others, should we, as parents, teach our children to respond with compliance? Engage in a debate on teasing and bullying with those doing the mocking?
Though a tween, Miss 9 still delights in pretending to be many things – a horse, a princess, a fairy, a cat and even a car! I so delight in her enjoyment of transforming into all manner of animals and characters and the alternative ways of communicating that different characters provides her.
On the morning we dropped into our local supermarket on the way to school, she desired to be a puppy dog – promptly dropping to her knees, complete with tongue hanging out and wagging her ‘tail’ and bounding down the aisle behind me.
Personally, I’ve always take the approach that every child has a right to be true to their own development. Sure, banishing the behaviour might mean developmental differences can be ‘hidden’, perhaps even temporarily replaced with other ‘age appropriate’ behaviours. But, the child is still the same developmentally different child. You have simply taught them to ‘pretend’ at a different level – in my view, a level much more harmful than say, pretending to be a dog.
But, when some young lads, as young lads sometimes do, began to make fun of her – teasing that was excessive and unkind language, my little puppy’s face began to crumble. I initially figured I had two choices. I could require Miss 9 to get off the ground – but rejected this on the basis it would be sending the message to her that the lads behaviour was more acceptable then hers. Or, I could scold the lads and enter into a debate with them that would likely serve no positive benefit to any of us.
I found myself doing neither. Instead, I dropped to my own knees, wagged my ‘tail’, barked loudly and began strutting, proudly, down the aisle. I accept this as an ‘unusual‘ choice for an adult – which probably accounted for the discomfort and embarrassment I initially felt. But, then the most wonderful thing happened – my ‘little pup’s’ face broke into the broadest, most delightful smile. I waited, as she too held her head high, strutting down the aisle behind me.
I heard laughter from the lads, then exclamations of “WTF”, and then … silence.
It was later in the evening Miss 9 presented me with the most gorgeous picture. In it was a loving mummy dog, a playful puppy and two ‘mean’ boys. When I suggested to her that it would be really cool to know what each character in the picture was thinking, she promptly created ‘thought bubbles’ for her picture. In her thought bubbles I saw a little girl who knows that she is accepted and loved just the way she is. It was then I understood the real magic of our shopping centre adventure
Perhaps the most important thing I learnt from being a dog, is that maybe parenting and connecting with your child isn’t so much about needing to think outside the box – but being willing to extend our own comfort zone, and put ourselves outside of the box with our child?
Other parenting articles you may find helpful:
- Click HERE to read about inflexible / rigid thinking patterns, including when inflexible thinking can ‘look like’ bold face lying’, in the article “The Truth about Lying”
- Click on the article “I Didn’t Have the Words to Tell You” to read an important conversation between a Mom and her Autistic Daughter.