There’s no greater mirror into your parenting style than hearing it parroted back through the playful games of your children. Our oldest two girls (yes, I have to say that now that we have three!) love to play house and they take turns being mommy and baby (and assigning me to be either “nana,” “grandpa” or “the dog,” and assigning my husband to be “brother” or sometimes just “boy”). Usually playing house looks pretty similar to any other game they play, with the added label of “mommy” and “baby” being yelled at the top of their lungs. But every once in a while there’s a golden nugget of truth mixed in.
Last weekend, I happened to overhear a particularly special game of house wherein my older daughter attempted to discipline her sister currently posing as the pretend baby by giving a warning and then counting to three before a supposed time-out would ensue. I had to remind my well-meaning eldest that even though they were playing, they should stick to the fun and let me do the mommying. A few hours later, as they continued their game, she came out of her room with her bottom lip quivering and announced that she tried to give her little sister consequences because she wasn’t listening and playing “the right way.” Not surprisingly, the consequences she tried to give didn’t go over so well.
As I’ve continued to listen to their games of house, I’ve heard them parroting phrases we say in everyday parenting, everything from telling each other to chew at the dinner table, to elaborate explanations of why the other should follow directions, to an exaggerated bedtime routine that mimics most of our frustration at their stalling techniques and few of our loving phrases and snuggles.
In this time of transition, with a new baby at home and everything that goes along with it, I’ve been trying to stay in tune with each childs’ emotional needs. The baby, of course, is easy to decipher because she needs everything. Our middle daughter is caught between being a baby and becoming a big girl. She swings between the two worlds, unsure of where she belongs and where she wants to be. And then there’s our oldest, verbal and mature, completely aware that she is a big girl and trying desperately to not wish she were still a baby. While she can’t verbalize those feelings in a direct conversation, the truth seems to come out in play and gives a window into her emotions. Who knew a game of make believe could offer such accurate insights in reality?
Kids really do say the darndest things and I’m learning that if we listen, really stop and listen, to what they’re saying out loud and “in between the lines,” we can tend to the needs they, and we, didn’t know they had.