Respect a child’s imagination
“I don’t like pad thai. I want to go to Colorado,” said my almost 2-year-old daughter as we packed her into the S.U.V., I mean airplane, and went up, up, up. When we arrived at The King and I restaurant, Dylan asked, “Is that Colorado?” pointing to the peeling concrete at the strip mall in front of us. “Yes,” answered my husband and I with a giggle.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an imagination like that again? We could go to the mall and pretend it was Europe, or better yet, blast off in the grocery cart into space. The possibilities are endless, and the outcome of such play will be rewarding if you can respect your child’s imagination and foster its development when appropriate.
“The richest source of humor, empathy, and compassion is the child’s imagination and all of the rich experiences that her fantasies provide for her,” says T. Berry Brazelton in his book “Touchpoints.”
Pretend play allows toddlers to make sense of the world as much as escape it. They can go different places, take on different personalities, and be in control of their environment. They can overcome fears, and learn the difference between right and wrong.
However, the imagination can be fragile territory. Brazelton recommends respecting a child’s privacy when it comes to pretend play and imaginary friends, which are very common among toddlers, especially first-born children. Younger siblings rarely get a chance to develop imaginary friends because the oldest often makes fun of them, he says.
Parents, some of whom become jealous of their children’s imaginary friends, can do the same, by asking too many questions about a child’s fantasy and thereby “grounding it in reality.” So it is best to stay on the sidelines unless you are invited to play along.
“Imagination is a very important sign of complex thinking,” Brazelton says. A parent’s intrusion “diminishes his ability to find out about the world on his own.”
For Dylan, it was clear once inside the restaurant that the sticky rice did not fool her. But aboard daddy’s airplane car on the way home, we let our imaginations take us to the Rockies. “We’ll go to Colorado soon,” she said, when we landed in our driveway. “Yes we will,” I responded.
Kids First is a department of the city of Aspen funded by the affordable housing/day care tax. Kids First provides information and funding for early childhood programs. For information, contact Amy or Shirley at 920-5363 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Kids First column appears weekly in The Aspen Times.
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