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January 25, 2013

The ABC's of Imaginative Play {You} U - Z

This is the final post in my series The ABC's of Imaginative Play.  Today the emphasis is on YOU, the parent.

Previous posts in the series:

U is for understand.  This is one I struggle with the most, yet I know how important it is, so I continue to push it to be a priority.  I've mentioned that J-Bug (3) easily gets lost in his own world.  This can be frustrating when I need him to be productive or listen to what I'm saying.  I have to remind myself to back off a bit and remember that while in that moment his fantasy isn't important to me, it is to him.  Just because I'm busy and in a hurry doesn't mean what's going on in his head doesn't matter.  Yes he has to get dressed when he needs to get dressed, and yes he needs to pick up his toys after playing.  However, I find that when I am understanding and play along with the story he tells he is much more accommodating and likely to do what I'm asking.

This could be a tricky one, and I'm sure I'm losing some people here.  No I'm not suggesting that children run the show.  What I'm trying to say is that by meeting him on his level where he can understand I am more likely to get results while keeping both his and my level of frustration down. His imagination is so vivid that it is hard to get him to just turn it off even when chores need to be done or we need to get out the door and on the road.  Instead of forcing him to snap back to reality I try to play along and have his character do what I'm asking.

One of his most common requests is that I call him baby kitty cat.  If I say, "J-Bug it's time to get dressed," he will look at me and meow.  If instead I say, "Baby kitty cat go get dressed," he will meow and crawl to his clothes.  Win-win, right?

Another simple request he makes often is to ask me to pet, hold or hug his "friends" AKA stuffed animals.  I'm not going to lie.  When I've got three pots on the stove, bread in the oven, and a table to set the last thing I care about is holding a stuffed animal.  I learned that if I hold one of his friends for even five seconds he is usually appeased.  Then I explain that his friend can watch me cook from the counter.  

Isn't that a better solution than simply telling him no?

V is for voices.  I was not given the ability to make sound effects.  I try to make simple sounds like car noises, and my kids raise their eyebrows.  Somehow all four of my boys inherited my husband's gene in that area, and I am very happy for them.  It blesses me to hear them make noises while they imitate cars racing, a Lego city being destroyed, or animals chasing each other.

One night recently J-Bug was again a baby kitty cat.  JZ (5) was tickling us and trying to wrestle.  J-Bug told me I was the mommy kitty cat and that I needed to protect him.  I don't think I've ever heard my kids laugh harder than the moment JZ attacked us, and I held J-Bug protectively and yelled, "Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow MEOW!" to JZ as if I was an upset mother cat looking after my kitten.  I used a lot of inflection in my voice, and they were roaring with laughter and asked me to do it again and again.

Something so simple brought them, actually all of us, so much joy.

W is for weapons.  This is one of those topics that is completely personal and up to each individual family.  I am going to share my two cents on the matter, but know that I am not looking to persuade anyone or convince people that my view is right.  My view is what works for our family.

I have four boys.  They love action.  The love wrestling.  There always seems to be a "bad guy" involved in their play.  I don't even know where they learned the term bad guy.  I am very careful to only allow certain TV shows and video games in our house, at least while they are awake.  

Before I was even married  my mom and my four year old nephew were at the grocery store.  He lived with my parents at the time, and my parents had a no weapon policy.  Like us, they were very careful about what TV shows were on while he was around.  He picked up a banana in the store and pretended to shoot it like a gun.  A complete stranger walked by my mom, shrugged, and said, "He can't help it.  It's just in us."

I don't want to nurture violence in my house.  That is the last thing I desire.  However, I don't think the answer is to completely ban weapons and war type play.  They are going to do it anyway, so I'd rather set guidelines.  We have Nerf guns, swords, light sabers and other miscellaneous weapons in our house.  We strictly enforce the following rules:
  • Only engage in this type of play with someone who wants to play along.  No swinging a sword at someone who isn't in the mood.
  • Baby brothers (18 month old twins) are not targets.  Once they are old enough to join in they can choose to play or not.
  • We don't use the word kill.  They can say, "I'm going to get you," but they may not under any circumstance say, "I'm going to kill you."  This goes for "kill him, her, etc."
  • Even when playing with an eager participant never aim at the face.  This is a basic safety precaution.  We don't need eye injuries.  Many families have a no aiming a gun at anyone policy.  I get and respect that.  In our case, it's really fun to have Nerf wars, so we choose not to implement that policy.
  • If you're going to play, realize that you might get hurt.  They are not allowed to agree to wrestle or play with light sabers then run to me every five minutes crying.  In our house if you want to rough house you might get hurt.  You have the choice to not participate.

Like I said, I'm not out to convince anyone.  Not everyone will agree, and I understand that.  Before having kids I never thought I would be okay with toy weapons.  I still stand firm on my no violent video games rule, and that one will be long term.  I don't see any reason why children, young or teen, need to play graphic shooting games.  There is a benefit to role playing and dressing up, and Nerf wars set the scene for family bonding and connecting.  I can't see any value whatsoever in sitting in front of a screen shooting people and seeing gory scenes.  Again that is my opinion.

X is for x-ample.  (I mean, how many words start with X?)  You are your child's best example.  Many of the points I've made in this series start with your example.  Q is for quiet time, turning off electronics.  This applies to us moms, too.  I have moments when I'm guilty of being attached to my phone or computer.  How can I expect my kids to not be drawn to their Leapsters if I'm setting the example that this is what is entertaining and important?

In P is for play space I discussed the importance of organized and inviting play areas.  I need to work on keeping my own living areas more organized.  I usually focus on the children's areas first and leave mine until I'm too tired to care.  What example am I setting for my boys?  I am working hard to raise young men who will one day have homes of their own.  I don't want the example they see to be one of chaos, clutter or laziness.

L is for learn, and we can teach our little ones that we are never too old or too proud to learn something new.  I want my children to have a love for learning, and I believe the example starts with my husband and me.  He owns countless books on mechanics and computers and remodeling, and when he can't fix something he immediately turns to those resources to learn.  I love that about him.  I love that he is teaching our boys that even with all of his experience and knowledge he still has more to learn.

Y is for you.  Well, this isn't too different from letter X.  We are nearing the end of the series, and the last few letters are a bit tricky.  ;)

The biggest suggestion I can make is to be present with your children.  I said above that I need to set the example for my kids of keeping my own living areas tidier.  On the flip side of that, I know my children want nothing more than for me to be playing by their sides.  Putting them as my priority and being willing to make a fool of myself to engage in their play is more important than anything else I accomplish in my day.  They will only be young for so long, and one day they won't want me around as much.

Z is for zzzz.  It is important to note that a child with a vivid imagination might also have vivid dreams.  A few thoughts on bedtime battles:

  • Listen to your child.  I'm tired at the end of the day, and I'm sure you are as well.  Still, take time to hear what your little one is saying before bed.  Don't immediately assume she is just trying to stay up a few extra minutes.
  • Acknowledge his fears as real, and be careful not to belittle his concerns.  Saying, "There's no such thing as ghosts!" does nothing to ease his fears.  Instead offer comfort, "I know you're concerned about monsters, but the windows and doors are closed tight.  There is no way anything can get in."  
JZ went through a phase where he was terrified there were bugs in his bed.  My guess is that he had a nightmare one night, because he was really jittery.  We made a "bug spray" comprised of water, lavender essential oil, and a drop of green food coloring.  He sprayed anytime he was worried.  (One morning his room reeked of lavender  and I discovered the bottle had been completely empty.  Thankfully it didn't stain.  The following evening I filled his bottle only about a quarter full of "bug spray".)
  • Avoid screen time before bed.  This might not be an issue for all children, but be aware of it to see if it triggers fears or overstimulates your child.
  • Choose bedtime stories carefully.  Again, this might not be a problem for all children, but if your little one hits a rough patch be aware of what you are doing before bed that could be contributing to the night issues.
  • Give an extra snuggle or two.  My husband is the best at this.  Our older two boys always ask us to lay down with them before bed.  I'm usually eager to get on with my own chores and downtime.  He is very gracious to spend a few minutes with each boy cuddling as they drift to sleep.  Since he has night time covered I have made an effort at nap time.  I see the difference even five minutes makes with J-Bug.  If I spare just a few moments to cuddle with him he settles into his nap much easier than when I'm too hurried.

Here is the list of blogs posting about Literacy in the ABC series:
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