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As a follow up to the last post, I was asked an interesting and related question: “Why does Olivia always ask you to be the monster”.
I know why, so I thought I’d share it.
Don’t forget (or should that be: Remember) that children can choose to represent their fears and worries in lots of different ways. It might be the “bad guy” or a teddy, or an imaginary friend or even a real friend with fictitious behaviour (ever had your kid make up tales about how so-and-so did this or that?).
What games do your children like to play with you and is there a role they like you to play more often? Leave a comment and let us know.
One of my daughter’s favourite games is to play “monsters” where she and I will hide from the monsters.
What is so special about this game?
Well nothing I suppose, in so far as every game a child plays is “special”, but I have chosen to talk about this game as I decided to try and influence the game at the weekend.
Childrens’ emotions are expressed in other ways
Children can’t express the emotions they feel as well as adults (and that’s not to say that adults are particularly good at it either) and they don’t have the life experiences and knowledge of how to deal with them that age brings.
How they learn to deal with these emotions is through playing with them.
By building scenarios and fantasy play, they can experiment and learn about the emotion and how they can deal with it.
In order to play with an emotion, they have to find a way to externalise the emotion so that they can then interract and experiment with it.
In this example, my daughter is experimenting with fear and she has externalised it into an object or objects called monsters
As you can see, she is experimenting with an approach of running away and hiding from the monsters (things that scare her), and I am attempting to introduce into the play a different strategy for dealing with the scary monsters:
…Being just as scary and dangerous as the monsters
Boys and Girls
Of course boys tend to deal with monsters in a more physical and confrontational way than girls, so while I am trying to encourage a more physical and aggressive way of dealing with things that scare my daughter, parents of boys may want to think about ways of introducing more caring or thoughtful approaches to dealing with monsters. That’s not to say that I shan’t be playing sneaky ways of getting the monsters with Olivia too…
…Maybe we’ll surprise them and cover them in goo! Or make them look silly…
…Or maybe we’ll team up and I’ll chase them while she lays a trap that will capture them so that she can then take them to (a fantasy) school and teach them how to be nice… (notice how that then allows the play to move on in to another area altogether – which I shall talk about another time)
Do share any ideas you have for dealing with monsters or if you notice the themes in your kids’ play and how you could introduce new ways of interacting with the emotions attached to them.
Follow up question
I was asked a question about monsters and why I’m always chosen to be the monster. Checkout my answer here
I’m a big fan of taking what people say and do literally. I believe what we’re thinking and feeling inside finds its way out through any and everything we do.
As far as children are concerned this goes really quite a long way and there’s loads I could talk about on this front, but what I wanted to focus on specifically this time is a picture Olivia drew for me at the weekend of her and me.
As you can see, the clear themes of control and separation/connection in the picture mirror what’s happening in her life very closely.
Should I or can I do anything about it? Olivia doesn’t think so, but that’s not to say that I can play empowerment and connection games with her to at least try…
We all get frustrated on telling our kids not to do something the first thing they do (or continue to do) is to go and do it!
Storytelling is a great way of helping you with this particular challenge. This particular post is about one aspect of creating a story: The use of language.
Not just any old language, but specifically positive language.
It turns out this is because in order not to do something, our brains have to process the idea of doing it before not doing it.
Don’t scratch your nose in a minute
I bet you thought about scratching your nose. Or if you haven’t you may realise you’ve done it in a minute after you’ve stopped thinking about not doing it.
As adults, we’re (mostly – and I think we all know at least one adult who will always do the opposite of what they’re told to do) able to process that very swiftly and get on with the job of not doing it.
Children on the other hand, aren’t so lucky. Their natural desire to learn and explore (which should totally be encouraged btw) simply filters out the “do not” bit and they quite obediently go and explore whatever it is you’ve asked them not to.
There is a simple trick to getting this right:
Don’t say “don’t do abc”. Do say “do do xyz” instead
Instead of telling them “Don’t climb on the furniture” try saying “Let’s stay on the floor”
Instead of “Don’t run into the road” try “Wait for me at the curb”
Instead of “Don’t throw stones” try “can you find any red ones?”
You saw how complicated it is to explain how this works, so just imagine all the extra processing that a brain needs in order to not do something and why children find it so easy to (apparently) misbehave…
Build this positive language into the stories that you tell your children and you’ll be able to deliver very strong lessons and achieve fantastic results from surprisingly short stores.
Understanding why children play games and what each game means to each child was a real turning point for me in how I engage in my daughter’s play. Today’s video is about one game in particular: hide and seek and how the deeper meaning of the game allows her to deal with the real life situation that she doesn’t live full time with me and how I can use that understanding to make sure she knows and understands just how important her visits are and help her deal with the feelings she has about it.
Oh, and please forgive the beard. I was experimenting (again) with facial hair, but I’ve decided that it really isn’t me and it will be coming off asap.
Painting with my daughter gave me a great example of how, as a parent, my best intentions are not always what she needs.
In this case it was the idea that I had that she might like to paint a house on a blank piece of paper. I was thinking to myself that I wouldn’t try and influence or force her to draw any particular kind of house, instead I would let her draw whatever kind of house she liked. Maybe it’d be a rabbit’s house or her granny’s house or maybe something completely different.
What actually happened was quite a surprise and a fantastic learning opportunity for me.
Of course you could argue that “a house” is perhaps a too open question for a child… Maybe asking what Mr Rabbit’s house looks like would have been better (it isn’t – I’ve tried it). Looking at the reams of drawings and paper that are nothing but different coloured swirls where she’s just gone round and round and round where I’ve not had a hand in helping her direct her imagination, I can’t help but compare them to how much more enjoyment she gets and the (relatively) well shaped art work that she and I have done together where I’ve helped her with an outline of what to do (I’ll add a photo of my favourite piece soon).
It seems that while I might like to think that by keeping out and letting her explore the world in her own way would be good, it actually turns out that a bit of gentle guidance is essential. No wonder our kids (nearly) always turn out like their parents…
There’s a load of stuff on the internet about reward and punishment and in this video I discuss one such technique. I like it and I use it because it works on our more animal level and the wonderful ability of humans to hope.