One of my former students who is now teaching was talking about a little boy in her class. He announced to her today that he was no longer his former self. Instead, he was Ironman. And he stayed Ironman all day.
If you've worked with or lived with young children, you recognize this stage of development. Imagination is at its peak and children often assume different roles. In fact, that's the point of dramatic play--to try out different roles and see what it would be like to be a mommy, a baby, a daddy, a police officer, a firefighter, a librarian (okay, so not a lot of kids pick that one, but I'm sure somebody has). One year when I was teaching, we had set up our dramatic play center as a house, complete with a bed. The children proceeded to conduct a funeral, where one child had died (and had some lovely plastic carnations placed in her hands) as everyone else stood around and said nice things about her.
Dramatic play serves multiple purposes. Not only does it allow children to try on roles, it also allows them to work through situations that they don't yet understand. Events such as funerals can be confusing and even frightening to young children, but by reenacting the event, they gain control over what is going on and build their confidence, lessening their fear. After the horrific events of 9/11, teachers across the nation saw a huge increase in this type of behavior. Paintings done by young children often contained fiery colors or large burning buildings. In my own classroom, some of my children built very tall towers and crashed them down with "planes" (other blocks). They repeated these play themes for days and even weeks, until the fear was lessened and they felt some control over their world again.
Every year that I've taught, I've had at least one child who has come in at some point in the year announcing that he or she has changed his/her name. I've met some interesting characters, including Batman, Robin Hood, Ironman, Diamond, and Thomas the Train. In my early years of teaching, and in an effort of encouraging creativity, I would try to actively play along. Our children wore name tags at school, and I actually created a new one for "Diamond" when she asked me to. Diamond came to school for several weeks before she returned to her former self. As I got older (and probably a bit more pragmatic) I would have times that many of my students would announce they had new names, and so I would tell them it was nice to hear that, but my old brain had trouble keeping up, so if I called them by their other name, I appreciated them understanding. Usually they would grin at me and say, "okay." After all, it's always fun to think you're way smarter than your teacher. That doesn't stop for your whole life either, by the way, but that's another post.
Anyway, back to the beginning of this post...it got me thinking, if you could be anybody today, who would YOU be? Why should children have the corner on getting to pretend and change who they are? Can't we all do that to some extent? Some people do it as their careers--actors, police officers, even teachers at times--but we all have the ability to explore role play. So what if you're SuperFamily tonight and all fly to the dinner table? Just avoid the kryptonite. Be Batman with your kid and go build something in your basement. When I was a little girl, I would pretend I was Wonder Woman and put on my bathing suit, red galoshes, and a cape and go play with my friends. Not that I'm recommending anyone go scare their neighbors, but why not try something on that's a little different? Promise, your kids will love it--and you might too.