Frankie is now 16 months old, and it’s time she started learning a lesson or two. Having an imagination is all well and good, but I see play time as an opportunity to replicate real life situations and their real world consequences.
Because let’s face it, there is no benefit in wrapping your child up in cotton wool. There is no real life situation in which that will be of any benefit, unless you are going to a precipitation-bearing-weather-themed dress up party as a cumulus cloud. Life is not all fun and games and the world is not as warm and nurturing a place as some wish it was. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. I mean, I’ve never seen a dog eat another dog, but someone, at some point, must’ve seen a dog eating another dog to coin that phrase. The dog being eaten was probably raised by ‘progressive’ dog parents who didn’t keep score during games of ‘fetch’.
Toddlers love to mimic adults. And this provides the perfect opportunity to replicate scenes they will one day encounter themselves. Some experts call it ‘pretending’, whereas I prefer to look at it as an ‘intense simulation’.
For example, we recently bought Frankie a tea set. She very quickly picked up on the process of pouring and sipping the tea, and before no time we were having a full blown tea party.
Then, disaster struck.
Frankie poured a cup of tea for Mum, and was then bringing the freshly boiled teapot over to me. As she went to pour me a cup, she dropped the teapot. On to my foot.
Now, some ‘parents’ out there, if you can call them that, might simply say ‘Oops-a-daisy!’ and pick the pot back up again. But is that really how someone would react? If you’d just had a ceramic pot full of scalding hot water dropped on your foot, would you just say ‘Uh oh spagghetti-o’s!’ like it was nothing? This was the perfect opportunity to engage in an intense simulation.
“OH MY GOD IT BURNS!” I yelled. “I HAVE BEEN MAIMED. I MAY NEVER WALK AGAIN.”
I screamed. She screamed. There were tears.
Then, for the rest of the day, I proceeded to walk with a limp as a constant reminder of the pain and suffering her fumbling fingers caused. I plan to continue this ruse for the remainder of her upbringing. My foot will never be the same, and on cold and stormy nights it will play up, and I will sit in a dark room staring out the window, watching the droplets of rain teeming down the glass, each one representing an opportunity that I missed due to not having the full use of my foot. If she tries to talk to me, I will grumble “Leave me be, goddamn it…” and pour another glass of Scotch.
You must always be on the lookout for these opportunities to prepare your child for the outside world. Another example is the application of sunscreen. Frankie likes to put her palm on the pump of the sunscreen bottle and then rub her hands on her body, mimicking what Mummy and Daddy do before we go outside.
Now, on the surface, this might seem like good practice. Except that she always misses a few spots. And does not reapply. So as ‘cute’ as it might sound, in a country like Australia it simply isn’t good enough. So, to simulate what would happen if we weren’t there to make up for her ineptitude, I colour in all the parts of her body she didn’t apply sunscreen to with permanent red marker.
Sometimes, you have to show how actions can have a domino effect, causing your life to spiral out of control. Like when Frankie spends a significant amount of time pretending to talk on her toy phone. There are many instances in which people don’t read the terms and conditions of their phone plan and end up racking up a massive bill. Then when they can’t afford the bill, their phone is disconnected. And then the debt gets sold to a debt collector. And then the Repo Dad comes and repossesses all their toys and puts them up for auction.
These are just a few examples of the fun and creative ways that you can interact with your child, and teach them a few valuable lessons along the way. At the end of the day, it will ensure they become the jaded, cynical adult they’re guaranteed to be, but just a couple of decades earlier than the other kids, aka ‘the competition’, ensuring they stay well ahead of the game.