Superheroes in Disguise

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”
– Carl Sagan

Each day I am constantly in awe of my 3 year old son and the way in which he makes sense of the world around him. His life is full of wonderment, excitement, discovery and awe. He takes himself to places that, as an adult, I actually struggle to fully comprehend. The way in which he creates his own entertainment in parallel worlds provides me with an entertainment that I find myself reliving moments of the day with my husband when all are asleep……and having such a chuckle in doing so.

Today, he informed me that he was a Superhero. Not just any superhero, but the best Superhero in “the whole wide world”. From that moment on, he was completely committed to his character. I observed his stature physically change shape as he truly convinced himself he was who he believed himself to be. Suddenly, I was no longer there…..unless I served a useful purpose (be it damsel in distress, or evil villain). He transported himself to a world where he was the most powerful, and where mere human strength was inferior to that of his super power abilities.

His ability to truly believe and commit to his character was confirmed to me when I queried what exactly his powers existed of. I was told to ‘watch this’ and then treated to a display of his physical prowess. Samples of which included contorted hand movements, twisting and jumping from side to side (fighting the baddies) and then a demonstration of his amazing running speed through a pre-defined race track in the house. It was only until I pointed out that his super powers may need food and drink that he returned to the here and now and agreed to have a snack. However his powers were demonstrated during the consumption of a cut pear – of which he could eat at lightening speed.

This kind of play is fundamental to the healthy development of any human being. So many children are being deprived of the opportunities to have ‘real’ imaginative play, because ‘reality’ is provided to them in the form of closed toys (in this case it could have been a licensed dress up costume). Closed toys define the play for the child, rather than the child defining the play instead. My son could have slipped into a Spider-Man or Batman outfit and happily ‘played’ these characters. But these are pre-defined. Spider-Man has a clear set of powers that have been created by someone other than my son. By being a ‘Super Hero’ as constructed by my son’s imagination…..there are no boundaries or ‘rules’ on his super powers other than what he sets for himself. And if they don’t work…..he can change them. This is particularly crucial for boys. By him having many opportunities to be in control in appropriate situations such as imaginative play – he will be less likely to seek out opportunities to control in inappropriate situations (such as how he behaves on the next supermarket visit).

So the next time you are informed that you have a little superhero in the house, or that your children have disappeared but in their place is a cat or dog or baby or horse or truck or digger or …….. allow them to ‘remain’ for as long as the play takes. They are going ‘somewhere’ which is exactly what we want for them in their lives ahead. They’re just having a practice run at it in the meantime.