Friday, May 4, 2012

Role Playing

In my ten years as a teacher, I learned a lot of very difficult, very cruel lessons. One of the most important was that words are powerful, actions are powerful, and casual and off-handed comments and actions can have a lasting (and negative) impact. For the most part, the things we plan to do, and the things we do intentionally, tend to move the overwhelming majority of your classes forwards, in a positive manner. (At least, I like to think it's positive. I can't imagine anyone getting into teaching these days with the intent of displaying negative energy.) It's the thoughtless little things, the thoughtless little mannerisms, that cause all of the damage.

As a parent, The Wife and I struggle to live by that lesson as much as we can. We both understand that we are our kids' whole world right now. Our attitudes, our behaviors, our interactions all indelibly shape their lives and their thoughts. We project our ideals, our visions, our issues, our prejudices, our frustrations onto our children. I am aware of that responsibility, and there are days when the burden of it weighs me down significantly.

The Boy has started expanding his imagination recently. He's begun role playing - attempting to be other people, whether it's a teacher, or Steve from Blue's Clues, or Olivia from the Olivia cartoon. That role playing is a necessary part of his emotional development; children use that role playing to start imagining what it's like to be other people. This can, hopefully, develop into a certain amount of empathy; if you can imagine that your behavior will hurt someone or make them sad, then you can avoid those behaviors. This being The Boy, it means that he carries it to an extreme.

At issue is his bossiness combined with the role playing. He doesn't comprehend that other people might not want to play in his games when he wants to play them. Sometimes, people like to play super heroes or Olivia or Blue's Clues. Other times, they don't. He got into a fight with his friend at school a couple of days ago, because the friend didn't want to play Olivia any more. Considering that he's finally found a friend of the same general age (within a month) and maturity level, we (as his parents) would prefer he not blow the friendship based on forcing the kid to play games he doesn't want to play.

The other issue is that it irritates the crap out of his brother(s) and his mother. Little Bear doesn't necessarily want to be called Ian (Olivia's brother) all of the time, and The Wife doesn't necessarily want The Baby to be called William (Olivia's baby brother). It doesn't bother me very much, but I'm not around the kids more than a couple of hours a day.

This morning, The Boy decided that he was going to play Blue's Clues. He wore a long sleeved, striped green shirt like Steve, and he started calling Little Bear by the name of Joe, who is Steve's brother in the show. This irritated The Wife, who told him that the game is over, that Little Bear didn't necessarily want to play that game anymore. She and I spoke about it at that point, just kind of getting at the underlying philosophy (do we take a break from Blue's Clues for the same reason? We'd keep the television off for a few days, but that might send Grandma into cardiac arrest) and trying to figure out what the best response should be.

The sign that we might not have handled it correctly? He sulked for the rest of the morning and yelled at Little Bear, who wanted to play superheroes in the car, "I don't want to play that game. It's not the right time to play that." Basically, he echoed back The Wife's words back at us. He was obviously ticked off and upset about being censured.

Ultimately, we do need to strike a balance. The Boy needs to expand his imagination and do all of the role playing that he needs to do, in order to create that understanding of other people vs the self. Also, he needs to understand that other people want to play their games, also, and they don't necessarily get fixated quite like he does.

I really understand this. When I get something that strikes my interest, I'm all in. I went through 7 seasons of Buffy in about three months. I went through the first two seasons of Lost - that's 48 episodes of 45 minutes - in a week. I spent 171 hours on Final Fantasy XII. I read the entire 500 issue run of Daredevil in about a week and a half. He gets his obsessive behavior and concentration from me, without a doubt. In many ways, this is a good thing - I tend to work faster and better than most people because of that need to get things done. In many other ways, it isn't a good - other people just don't understand it, and people of normal obsessions don't necessarily want to be around it.

How do we get around this? I don't know. It's definitely a work in progress. I have a feeling that the majority of the role playing will be with me, because of the annoyance factor. I'm just not around it all day, and playing that game for a few hours at night isn't a big deal. Making the game of Olivia or Super Heroes or Blue's Clue to be a "Daddy Thing" is not the worst fate in the world. I'm used to being "Joker Daddy" or "Lex Luthor" or whatever. I think we will be limiting his television time to Grandma and for nap time (Night Kitchen or Wild Things at bedtime might be an exception; we'll talk about it).

Wouldn't it be nice if the boys could avoid a couple of the interpersonal issues that The Wife and I possess? If they were able to avoid some of awkwardness, if they could avoid some of the difficulty we've had in finding friends, then hopefully their quality of life would be a step better than ours

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

1 comment:

Sam said...

Ah, the dream of every parent - change a few little quirks you had yourself growing up to make it a bit easier/better for your kids. But then again, if you didn't have to fight your way out of childhood, adulthood wouldn't be nearly so fun. If The Boy's focus methods mimic your own, would your dad be able to provide some insight? Since you had brothers yourself, your parents may have seen a very similar scene. He might not have answers, but might give you a springboard for finding new ways to approach things.
Good luck!