My play with our toddler at the moment consists of several repeated imaginative scenarios.
Some options this last week have included;
~ We are visiting the shops (with me as the car or bus driver), we are buying bits and pieces and picking people up on the way.
~ We are going on adventures to the circus where we can jump, swing and sing songs.
~ We are making cakes or cupcakes, baking them, sharing them with people / dolls – and finding them absolutely delicious ofcourse!
Now, no matter how much I try and stay present with the imaginative play, often my mind jumps to what I shall make for dinner, and I miss a crucial piece of information. This then has my 3-year-old toddler looking at me with wide eyes and a look of disdain.
“Oh sorry sorry! I missed that” I say. She informs me again about what is happening, where my doll is meant to go or say and then looks at me again with wide eyes as if saying “Got it?!?”
I just nod my head as if I am responding to a high school teacher who caught me drawing funny pictures instead of listening to a lesson at hand.
So I get it correct this time and do my best to watch on as she moves and mumbles, then bumbles away then back again. I associate it to being in really thick fog whilst driving and trying your best to see the road and stay on track. You sort of know where it is but it’s also hard to see and grasp what’s 15m ahead. You know that feeling – extreme concentration needed!
The scenario of our play sometimes repeats, but in my reflection it changes more than repeating. New people enter the bus, sometimes people we don’t know, we go to different shops and buy different things. Sometimes she is late for circus and I’m meant to start while she waits outside the bedroom. When ‘the class’ has started she makes her entrance with her baby strapped to her – late and proud. Hilarious! It’s ever changing. It’s ever evolving.
Creating inner worlds and managing the external world
So while she creates worlds and bosses me (her external environment) around within her world, I get yelled at (when she’s tired), I get hugged, I get looked at with joy and also frustration (when I tune out for 3 seconds) and I ask myself what is actually happening here?
I recently read this quote by Joesph Chilton Pearce which summed it up beautifully for me “All children want to do is play in worlds they create and project on their external world. If allowed to do that, they are constantly building new neural structures for creating internal worlds and projecting them on their external world. And they build up an enormous self-esteem and feeling of power over the external world through their own capacities.”.
I am constantly trying to remember this! This control over the external world that is part of her play I need to remember is actually wonderful – although hard to digest at times with the looks of disdain from a cute as little 3 year old!
The gift of the safe space to explore
I see this as a far-reaching gift really – a gift for this little spark of beauty. Being able to be present with her play, bossed around within her imaginative internal world and being there to create that safe space of exploration through my simple presence.
That’s all she is really asking for right? For me (or any of us) to be there so she can feel safe to push the boundaries of her internal worlds. To create new ways inside her mind so when she is faced with a similar scenario in her next 80-90 years of life she may already have the solution, or at least the flexibility to find one. These fleeting moments of imaginative play are powerful future-shapers in a world of magic and madness, beauty and mayhem.
May these moments support her to forever thrive.