Parenthood – Overwhelming or Awesome?

What do you think is the best stage of parenthood?

There are many different stages of parenting that we go through with our children.  Some parents find certain stages overwhelming, and some find them awesome. What I hear from many parents when I ask this question is that the stage they are in right now is overwhelming, but when they reflect on their children’s earlier stages of development, they talk about them with awe and longing.

For example, the newborn stage can be completely overwhelming, especially for a first time parent.  I can remember when my first child was born the feeling of exhaustion and defeat as I stared at this tiny human in my arms that I could not console.  She cried at length with impatience until I finally figured out what she needed. I can’t even imagine caring for multiples or a child with special needs!  The responsibility of caring for an infant and the sleep deprivation can take a toll on all of us.  Overwhelming.

But when I reflect about the infant years, I miss holding that tiny little precious baby.  I loved laying her across my chest as we both slept on the couch for an afternoon nap. I loved watching her grow and develop right before our eyes.  I was in shock that we could create such an incredibly perfect little person.  Awesome.

Or how about the Toddler Stage?  Sometimes called the “Terrible Twos” and sometimes referred to as the “Terrific Twos”, this stage presents brand new challenges and incredible moments. I remember the tantrums.  Oh, there were some good ones and many of them occurred in public.  Toddlers trying to assert their developing independence can result in some great battles.  Perhaps at this stage you have a toddler and a baby.  You have even more demands and, if possible, are even more tired.  Now let’s throw in toilet training! Overwhelming.

But don’t you remember how cute they are when they are two?  Their chubby cheeks, sweet little voices, the way they run at full force to you for a hug, and the intoxicating smell of a freshly bathed toddler that you wrap up in a towel in your arms all the while praying they stay little forever? Awesome.

gracetoddler - Copy

 

How do you feel about the preschool stage?  The whining, the incessant questioning, the over-active imaginations that lead to nightmares, or even more fun for the sleep deprived parent – bedwetting. Overwhelming.

Ah, but they never cease to amaze us with how fast they are learning and developing.  Seems like they just started walking and talking and now they are learning how to read? I love the preschooler’s capability for imaginary play. A box becomes a tractor or a stick a magic wand.  Creativity and imagination flourish at this stage.  Awesome.

The next stage can be categorized as school age.  This is from around age 6 -12 years of age.  School age children are active and have needs we haven’t had to deal with yet.  Homework, for one, is a new challenge.  Friendships and fitting in may be other new challenges for some.  Or you may have a child in sports.  If you have more than one child in sports you find yourself driving them around every night of the week to their favourite after school activity.  Overwhelming.

But we can celebrate now!  We survived the sleep-deprived infant years, tantrum toddler years, whiny preschool years.  Our child is hopefully pretty self-sufficient at this stage and have passed the toilet training.  We made it.  And those after-school activities can be kind of addictive.  I love to watch my son play hockey.  I’m a full-fledged “Hockey Mom” now. I love how he counts down the hours and minutes until his next game, and gives his best effort every time he hits the ice because he has found something he loves. Awesome.

So whatever stage you are in right now, I hope it is awesome.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, hang in there. If it is not awesome at this moment in time, you will look back on it someday and realize it was.

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Re-thinking Gun Play

gunplay

My four year old is really into gun play at the moment.  For many adults, our first reaction is one of distaste or concern.  “Guns are bad!  Guns kill people!  What a horrible thing to want to play!”  But my son’s recent fascination with guns, shooting, police officers and cowboys, has me re-thinking the argument that children should be banned from gun play.

During my two decades of experience in the childcare field I have seen many children, (mostly but not always boys), playing with toy or pretend guns.  As educators we would “ban” them from the pretend play with guns without any real discussion.  But when children have a real need to play, and to figure out the world they live in, they will find a way to do so.

You can take away the gun from the boy, but a minute later he may be constructing one out of lego, popsicle sticks, or using his finger to point and shoot.  

After researching the topic, I do not believe that banning gun play is the answer.  I do believe we need to look deeper into the reasons why they are choosing this type of play, and as adults we need to guide and educate them.   Children have a right to play and explore different themes and to make sense of the world around them.  As adults, we need to guide them along their journey, allowing them to safely explore these themes within reason.

First of all, we need to remember that they are just playing.  Gun play can be likened to super-hero play as the lure is the power and control it gives to the children involved.  Dr. Michael Brody, from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explains that, “While an older child can equate guns with danger, young children grasp reality far differently.  Even the idea of death doesn’t mean the same thing, much less what a gun can do.  It’s not until about 8 or 9 years old that they develop the ability of concrete thinking.”  For young children, the gun is a symbol of power and control in a world where they have very little control.  It is not really about killing people.

In the article “Bang, bang! Gun play and why children need it” by Diane Rich, she states, “Children’s play themes involve big and serious issues which commonly include death, loss, loneliness, abandonment and being cared for or nursed.  Weapon play certainly provides opportunities for these themes to be explored and also involves the common dominant theme in children’s play – namely power, and being in control or controlled by others.”  When I think about my son, the youngest of three children in our busy family, it makes sense to me that he yearns to be big and powerful and in control of others.  He is testing it out, exploring that kind of role.  It doesn’t necessarily mean he will turn out to be a serial killer.  My husband, also the youngest of three siblings, played with guns and toy soldiers when he was the same age.  He reassures me that he has turned out okay and does not have violent tendencies as a result of his childhood gun play.  Heather Shumaker answers an important question for parents in the article, “Why Gun Play is Still OK”.  “Will weapon play lead to violent character traits?  The simple answer is no.  Violent people typically display warning signs that include cruelty to animals, extreme isolation and rejection and a feeling of being persecuted and misunderstood.  Pretend weapon play for kids brings the opposite.  It’s social, cooperative and part of developing morality.  Kids recognize weapons hold power, and they explore power and fears in their play.  Instead of picking on play themes, our real job is to help kids cope with emotion and conflict.”

Education helps put guns in a more realistic context.  When our school age group at the public school were engaged in pretend play about camping and hunting, the gun-play surfaced.  Instead of stifling their play, our educator started discussions with the children to find out what they know about guns and what they want to learn.  When they played with their “guns” they made sure to only “shoot” willing participants.  They talked about gun safety as they played.  They spent a long time at the creative table constructing their rifles from blocks and tape.  They talked about hunting and police officers.  Our educator then invited a local police officer to talk to the group and answer their questions.  The children had many questions as the officer patiently talked to them.  Not long after, the pretend play  took on the form of community helpers as our educator helped guide their interests and allowed them the opportunity to expand their learning.  Think of all the lost learning if our educator had just told them to stop playing with guns.  My son also had the chance to talk to a police officer at a recent bike rodeo playgroup.  He was able to ask him about his gun and if he shoots it and I listened carefully as he answered him patiently, respectfully, and with age-appropriate responses.  What a great learning opportunity.

As a parent, I am trying not to panic now when my son runs around shooting things with his toy gun.  I realize his need for some sense of power in his life.  I want him to play the “good guy”, the heroic police officer, or the superhero.  I will talk with him about what interests him and answer his questions to the best of my ability.  I will monitor his play and allow him the freedom to express himself safely through pretend play.  Most likely, in a few weeks he will be interested in something else.

If you are worried about your child’s gun play, please also see the link below for six things parents can do to ensure that a child’s interest in toy guns doesn’t get out of hand.

http://www.pbs.org/parents/raisingboys/aggression05.html

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