This post is by contributing blogger Kelly Coyle DiNorcia, a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and a humane educator specializing in helping parents raise joyful, compassionate children. Find out more about Kelly's work at her website Beautiful Friendships, and her blog, Ahimsa Mama.
Last week, my husband had an accident. I’ll spare you the bloody details, but I’ll just say it started with my five-year-old slamming a door and ended with my husband having 9 1/2 fingers.
Needless to say, my daughter has been working through some feelings of guilt. She has been drawing pictures that would entertain an art therapist for hours, and she has been playing a lot of “pretend I’m dead” games. She tries to engage her two-year-old brother: “Harry, pretend I was in an accident and you’re the doctor and you try to save me but you can’t, and I’m dead.” That kind of thing. For hours.
I do not like this line of play. I do not like the dead talk, and I feel that death is trivialized by pretending it is temporary. I know, I’ve read the books; they cannot understand the permanence of death at this age, but still. I just do not like it. It makes me uncomfortable.
I’ve tried to squelch the urge to put a stop to it, because I know she is working through some potentially damaging feelings, but it’s hard for me to hear. The struggle I’ve been having reminds me of a question I’ve heard at every single parenting talk I’ve ever given: Should we allow our children to play with toy guns?
In other words, if we allow our children to pretend to play with weapons, are we implying that we approve of the use of weapons to inflict harm on people and animals? I’ve struggled a lot with this question, just like I’m struggling with the playing dead issue now, and I think it comes down our tendency to impose our adult understanding and knowledge on our children’s very different way of seeing the world.
Most children do not understand what real guns are all about any more than they understand the true nature of death. Children use play to work through complicated issues. Let’s face it: most adults do not really understand these things either.
I once gave a talk in Vancouver that was attended by a teacher with a number of refugee children from Africa in her class. She was very uncomfortable with their war play - it was much more realistic than that of the average elementary student, given that these youngsters had experienced real violence and warfare in their countries of origin. Many had lost parents or other family members. She wanted them to know that they were safe in her care and felt that the war play just forced them to relive their experiences.
My perspective? They did feel safe in her classroom, which is why they were comfortable sharing the horrors they had experienced in their young lives. I worry that by taking this away from our children, they will be forced to find other ways to work through their grief, or their understanding of power and violence.
People want quick, sure-fire solutions to tough parenting questions, but the longer I travel on this path of humane parenting the more I am convinced that there are no such things. Just as a humane lifestyle is about critically evaluating our choices, parenting must be about casting a critical eye on our selves, our beliefs, and our trigger points (if you’ll excuse the pun). It’s about examining our reactions and having age-appropriate conversations with our children about real issues. Often, it’s just about letting kids be kids.
Image courtesy of chefranden via Creative Commons.
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