October 9, 2007

Power Play

I love to watch children play. As a play therapist, play is an integral part of my work. I'm always searching for toys to add to my play therapy room, so it's not unusual to find me wandering the toy aisles at Wal-Mart.

On a recent toy shopping excursion, I found myself drawn to the superhero aisle. From the top shelf to the bottom shelf, from Superman to Spiderman, they were all represented. There were superhero action figures, sports balls, board games, battery-powered toys and costumes. In the electronics department were several superhero movies. The clothing department featured children's T-shirts, shoes, pajamas and even underwear containing images of superheroes.

What is it about a superhero that children find so appealing? Perhaps it's the extraordinary power of a superhero or the fact that superheroes triumph over villains. Maybe it's the distinctive costumes they wear. No matter which of those characteristics attract a child's attention, children will imitate superheroes.

Children also will imitate their parents. Realizing your child is watching you and imitating you can lead you to a greater awareness of the behaviors you are modeling. That awareness can lead to intentional behaviors. I wonder what might transpire if a parent intentionally strived to become their child's superhero?

Yes, I know parents are busy, but if Clark Kent finds the time to sneak away from his daily commitments and transform into Superman, surely parents can take 15 minutes out of their day to don a costume, assume extraordinary powers and engage their child in some superhero play.

Imagine the adventures that await you. Together you and your child can invent your own superhero names and create an insignia. The next time your child is facing a challenge, grab your capes (it can be as simple as blankets tied around your necks), put your hands on your hips, jut out your chests and morph into your superhero personas.

Imagine you are soaring above the challenge. Encourage your child to come up with a solution to his problem by using his super powers. By letting him assume the responsibility for making a decision, he will begin to feel powerful. A child who feels powerful will find the courage to face a challenging situation, and his problem will feel less daunting.

I know what some parents are thinking. You're concerned that once your child starts leaping around the house pretending to be a superhero, things will get out of hand, furniture will be broken and maybe a trip to the emergency room will be necessary.

Allow me to lessen your fear. When you're participating in the play, you can direct it and set the rules. If your child becomes overly aggressive, you can stop the play. By engaging your child in superhero play, you will be teaching him the importance of boundaries, cooperative play and of working together to solve problems.

Superhero play also will encourage creativity in your child. Make your own costumes and props. An empty cardboard box could become your fortress or your cave. Write a superhero story with your child in which the two of you are the main characters. Your superhero characters not only could be powerful, they also could possess traits of being kind and helpful.

Illustrate your story using photos of you and your child in your superhero costumes. Go a step further and use a video camera to film a superhero movie starring you and your child. Make some popcorn and invite other family members to movie premiere night.

Children need heroes in their lives. What parent wouldn't want to be their child's superhero? I think it's something certainly worth donning a cape for.

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