Monthly Archives: July 2010

The mean guys

On my desk at work I have six toy knights with swords and armor that I confiscated from the newly donated playroom castle, after several parents expressed concerns about their children playing with them.

Personally I am drawn to them.  They are just the right size and feel for one’s hands and are easily manuevered into interesting stances.  I find myself setting them up and positioning them as I ponder something or talk on the phone.

I have a very special sweet friend, Aedan (not quite three-years-old) who frequently stops by my desk.  One day he spied these knights and immediately named them the “ mean guys”.  Now whenever he visits, I can definitely count on his spirited request. “Can we play with the mean guys?” For Aedan, one of these particular knights is always the meanest guy.  We engage in a skirmish or two before he needs to move along.

I wasn’t sure how his dad felt about this mean guy play at first but between my friend and me, I know we share a certain excitement as we set up the “mean guys”.   Perhaps because I am actually participating in this adventure with Aedan assures him that we both understand we are only pretending.

I know this short play episode means a lot to Aedan as his dad says he speaks about it at home.  So I feel somewhat responsible for his newly developed outlet and have spent some time considering why this type of play is so appealing to all young children.

Whether it’s Super Heroes, Star Wars, dinosaurs or knights with swords, young children are drawn to the sense of power and adventure they emote.  Our children attempt to answer the questions in their world that swirl about them and make sense out of things they hear and see.  Dramatic play is the prime vehicle for exploring these feelings, both good and bad.

Children respond to and figure out these ideas, however, not through passive or reflective means but actively, instead, through their pretend physical play.

This type of play offers children the sense of control and power they are seeking as they grow. It encourages conversation, sharing and resolving conflict as they learn to be more in charge of  even their wildest impulses, carrying over to ordinary day-to-day interactions. 

As parents we have strong feelings against aggression and want to instill these beliefs and practices in our children from an early age. But children interpret and integrate our values more readily through repetitive hands-on play.   

Children are in wonder about  the things they don’t understand, the fears they have, the insecurities they feel.  It is working through these strong feelings, facing their fears, trying out different roles and having the opportunity to  “defeat”  their monsters that may be  the means by which a child will come to a  more mature and balanced understanding.

I read recently that one of the reasons some children act out with aggressive behavior toward other children and adults is that they have not had enough experience playing out different possibilities in a miniaturized, internal, pretend world, linking both negative and positive actions and consequences.

So when Aedan is fantasizing about skirmishing with the mean guys, he has actually already done some pretty important work.  He has separated himself into a ” not mean” category even as he is relishing his opportunity to understand, experience and enjoy the drama, power and fun of good vs. bad in play.

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Child of the day

I love going into a family’s home where the evidence of children is apparent. 

 Recently I stopped in at a home of a large and bustling young family.  It happened to be at rest time.  The children all had their cozy blankets arranged on the floor relaxing while watching a video – until the doorbell rang, that is.  Then the commotion of answering and welcoming and trying to get their message heard first, erupted.  All of this was totally joyous and heartwarming to me as a picture of energy, happiness and warmth emanated from within. 

But, of course, I’m not that naive to believe that raising a large crew of children – or  a small crew of children – even during rest time, is easy or always harmonious. 

When there are children close in age in the home, all with similar needs and desires to be met, it can be very tricky.  Outbursts, hurt feelings, aggression, temper tantrums are typical behaviors when children are vying for attention and to be noticed. 

One suggestion that might be helpful is to choose and rotate the child of the day– which means that particular child automatically goes to the top of the list for all the I want to’s and me firsts and other child-friendly decisions that  might be experienced along the way. 

 The child of the day might get first choice of the book to be read, the DVD to watch, the park to go to , the place to sit, the snack to have, bringing in the mail, one-on-one time with Mom or Dad.

Once this procedure is in place, that child’s name up on the fridge, the others may well be more accepting in anticipation of their own day coming.  After all, children might realize, there’s no sense in fighting it because it’s simply “not their day”.

Preschools use this tactic often in their daily routine and the other children respect the position of “authority” the child of  the day holds.  It fills the child with a sense of importance, recognition and  responsibility that will continue to grow in significance.

Having a visual means for the children in the family to know when their turn is coming is helpful.  Give the children a small paper plate to decorate as a self-portrait.  With a piece of velcro attached to the back and a large poster board with the days of the week posted on it, the children will independently be able to see how many days until their turn,  as well as reinforcing whose turn is next. 

As adults, we recognize that everything can’t be fair, all the time.  Children, however, thrive on their own interpretation of fairness and this just might be worth a try to see if they respond to this cooperative idea of keeping things fair and square.

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It’s not a box

What is it about a box? 

 We know children from babies on up adore playing with a box.  You’ve all probably witnessed the familiar scene at a birthday party when the child disregards the present inside the box and begins playing with or chewing on the box instead.

 A box can be whatever one wants it to be and that’s what makes it so attractive.  There are no batteries, no instructions, no breakable parts.  A box is child-fueled by both imagination and energy.

This certainly proved true on Thursday at Family Resources Drive-in Movie night.  The hit of the evening for the children (and I believe the adults) was the box – oops I mean the “car” the children selected and personalized from the Motor Town Auto Parts available to them.

When the children arrived, they were given pretend money to purchase their car from Motor Town Used Cars.  The cars were pre-painted and ready for a custom finish.  Licenses and license plates were given out at our DMV and from there the children were free to make their car their own. They did just that, with a little help from the adults and quite a bit of duct tape.

  There were absolutely no two cars alike.

The one thing that all the children shared, however, was pure delight in their vehicles.

Times like this strongly reinforce for me that pretend play doesn’t have to be a dying art, even in the fast-paced, computerized world we find ourselves in.  It is so definitely second nature to our children if only the time and raw materials are offerred to them.  

So keep this in mind on the next rainy day.  Give your child a box and let your child prove to you – it’s not a box any longer.

A fun children’s book on this subject is Not a Box by Antoinette Portis;  also by her is Not a Stick.

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Cherish the humming

This past week I went to a funeral of a beautiful seven-year-old little girl. 

As I listened to the stories shared about Kaliya, I was struck by the realization that so many of the charming memories about Kaliya , the things that made her special and would be forever missed, were  the very things that often made her parents’ lives challenging, calling for great patience. 

 Kaliya was known for her forever habit of humming, of  non-stop motion, of climbing  too high and exploring too far, snooping out cookies and candy wherever they might be, for her drama, her persistance, her larger- than- life spirit.

I couldn’t help but sit there, weep, and think.  So my message today is short. 

 Cherish the uniqueness of your little ones, cherish the fragile, cranky side, the mischieveousness, the rage of a tantrum as well as the delight of a hug, the repetition of a made-up joke, the continual questions, the uncontrolled screeching,an “inherited” stubborness, a determined “no”, the chatter, the wiggling, perhaps even the constant humming.

Take a quiet moment – often – and reflect with gratitude and new appreciation, on the quirks and behaviors, the essence of whoever your child is.

  And be glad.

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