Friday, February 12, 2010

Time for role play

When toddlers start acting like grown-ups, they need to know when their behaviour is not appropriate

Some friends of mine were discussing how it can come as a shock to see a young child role-playing adult behaviour.
For example, last year my daughter and I were shopping in the fruit and vegetable section of Woolworths. I gave her a bean to nibble on, but instead of eating it, she placed it between her little fingers and pretended she was smoking.
I was absolutely horrified and gobsmacked, and so were the people around me who gave me dirty looks of shame and shook their heads.
I told her immediately to stop and then asked her where she had learnt to do such a thing.
Of course, it came from her peers in kindy (one of the cons of childcare, I suppose) but it proves that children are very vulnerable to ideas, and by the time they are three and older, role-playing is a very important part of learning.
The staff at her childcare dismissed the behaviour as “nothing to worry about”, but it certainly bothered me, and I have discouraged her from not only inappropriate role-playing, but also saying swear words (something else picked up from childcare or too much television).
But what is inappropriate to me, may seem completely harmless to another parent.

There are whole host of adult behaviours that children mimic and we actively encourage, including playing “mummy and daddy”, going shopping, being a doctor, driving a car or making a cup of tea.
But where do we draw a line and say “that’s not appropriate”?
Is it OK for a child to pretend to breastfeed their baby doll? Or what if the child pretends to have sex, or some other sort of sexual behaviour?
As part of play, children expand their understanding of themselves, of others and the world around them by role-playing.
This helps them with communicating with peers and adults, and helps them understand relationships.
Imaginative play stimulates the senses, creates opportunities for exploration and creative thinking, and helps your child grow both intellectually and emotionally.
The first signs of pretend play start at 12 to 18 months where your child might pretend to use a telephone or feed their doll.
Once they turn three or four, pretend play becomes far more interactive with other children, though they will continue to enjoy solitary pretend play activities.
These preschool and early school years are when children imerse themselves into a world of fantasy.
Parents can encourage them by playing with them using props and toys, cardboard boxes or dress-up clothes.
If you are invited to participate with your child, follow their lead and join into their world. Let them take charge of the action otherwise the benefits of this imaginative play may be lost.
This sort of play enhances a child’s self-confidence, self-awareness and self-control.
While we can switch off the television more often, we cannot control what our children are exposed to in the playground, so it’s up to parents to be the best role models.
I believe that if a child starts to display inappropriate role-playing, particularly sexual behaviour, then it should be brought to everyone’s attention.
First try and find out how your child came to be exposed to these behaviours, and then take steps to discourage them further, but do not punish them.
Simply tell them that every game has rules, and that they are breaking the rules by acting out behaviour that is not acceptable.
If it’s from another child in the playground, I would expect their teacher to discuss their behaviour with the child’s parents.
It is a fact that children who are abused, often role play the abuse with other children, so this sort of behaviour should never be ignored.
It is the responsible of the care giver to make sure steps are taken to protect the child and make a report to the relevant authority.
As for breastfeeding, I think it is perfectly delightful to see a little girl pretending to feed her baby without using a bottle.
We know very well the benefits of breastfeeding babies, and if we teach our daughters that it is a normal and wonderful thing to do, then we are not teaching them that breasts are purely a sexual object, but that they have a real and useful purpose.


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