It’s not uncommon to see small children at the local shopping center, pretending to be all manner of things – animals, superhero’s, fairy’s and cowboys, just to name a few. It was only last week Cadence and I saw a pint-sized gold fish traversing the aisle of our local shop!
But what of ‘bigger kids’? The kids whose developmental differences means this type of pretend play begins at a later age than the ‘cuteness’ of toddlerhood, and likely continues well beyond pre or 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 to all fours in the local shopping mall, bounding down the aisle as an excited puppy dog; 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 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?
Cadence likes to pretend to be to be many things – a horse, a princess, a fairy. On the morning we dropped into our local shops 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 ‘replaced’ with other ‘more appropriate’ social 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 then some young lads, as young lads sometimes do, began to make fun of her – teasing that was excessive and unkind language – and, my little puppy’s face crumbled. I figured I had two choices. I could require Cadence 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 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 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, that I saw and understood the real beauty of our shopping center ‘adventure’. Cadence 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.
Perhaps the most important thing I learn’t 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 your own comfort zone, and put ourselves outside of the box, with our child?