Goblins, ghosts, monsters and thieves... a child's imagination can be a scary place. I mean, who would even want to live in such a world where every closet has a ghost, every bed has an alligator under it and every bush hides a robber? This is the land in your child's active and expanding imagination!
As a parent, you always want to shield your child from these demons, and rightly so. Scary emotions are hard to process and can lead to nightmares or scenes in public places. However, could it be that by protecting our child from this side of his imagination we are in fact limiting his problem solving and emotional processing?
Think about something that scares you. Bugs? Strangers? An audience of people? That white van with no windows that just pulled up next to you? Eek! As an adult, how do you handle these situations, when you expect them and know it's going to happen? You've likely practiced several times and prepared yourself for it. You practice your speech before a meeting. You walk yourself through the steps to solve it and then follow through.
Now think about the times these scary situations have surprised you. How did you handle those? Probably by remembering other times you've been through something similar. You tapped into your past experiences and used this information to problem solve your way to safety.
Our children do not have these emotional experiences we do. For them, the world is a constant bombardment of new feelings and new ideas on how to process them. What better way to explore this new world than through experiments and play?
By giving our children dynamic characters in their play experiences, we are expanding their emotional awareness. Barbie is not only her beautiful, ambitious self but then we can create her to be a thief; stealing her friend's Malibu Dream Car for a joy ride! How does this change what's going on? How will her friend handle this? What consequences, if any, should be had?
Your child will likely welcome becoming the "bad guy" in play. It's one of the few chances in life we can play on the other side without true consequences. And there is nothing wrong with that. Let me repeat: there is nothing wrong with that. Your son is not corrupted, your daughter is still an angel. When you jump into the world of evil, you're exploring and problem solving how to handle when evil arises in daily life.
And good does not always need to "win". That evil crab may run over the house, evade police capture, and make it to a safety atop a tall mountain... that's problem solving! Look at how many steps your child was able to create, sequence and play out in order for that end goal. Problem solving cannot occur in the absence of a problem, no matter what side of the problem you are on.
This week, play devil's advocate with your child. Tempt their inner robber, torture artist and kidnapper. Give them the support to guide these emotions and solve these problems. By experiencing and exploring through the safety of play, you will see them later expand this confidence in applied situations on the playground and classroom. During ply, remember there is no right, wrong, good or bad; only problems to solve and emotions to process. See where the journey will take you, in that stolen Malibu Dream Car with a kidnapped teddy bear riding shotgun.