The imagination of young children is fascinating to me. As a dad, I get to see some of the inner-workings of my children’s minds and the fantastic worlds they create inside their imaginations. What is most interesting to me is how real and substantive these worlds are to them. They can be so inside their imaginary lands that they express themselves as if these fantasy happenings are normal and matter of fact for the real world. They live in this world within another world, and it seems normative to them. Inside these imaginary lands, you can also see the motivations that drive children. My son is the hero, the Jedi-Knight who saves the universe with his double edged lightsaber. My daughter is a mommy, or a doctor who helps and loves people…and sometimes she is a warrior princess who slashes the bad guys with her golden sword and saves the day.
The motives my kids usually end up displaying are ones of heroic deeds in order to help others. Desiring to be ones who help, not ones who harm. This is a fun and encouraging thing for a dad to see and hear. I try to utilize these heart-felt desires in ways around the house. One way is to talk about how we can love mommy by cleaning the house. I often say, let’s clean the house because mommy loves a clean house. We can be her hero by slaying the evil monster of a dirty house. When there is a narrative to the chores, my kids usually respond with vigor and express a passionate desire to slay the monsters of a dirty house. It gives them purpose to the work they do and enjoyment of slaying villains with their dad.
Sometimes, the joy of imagination takes on weird narratives. For example, not too long ago, my daughter picked up a can cozy and has been using it as a “wrist brace.” When asked one day what she was doing and why she was doing it, she responded: “Well Daddy, this is for my broken arm and my doctor gave it to me and said I needed to wear it for the rest of my life.” She said this with joy as if the doctor had given her some special bracelet that would be amazing to have on for life. She even wore it to bed last night to make sure she followed the doctors orders. This coming from the same daughter who found a purple plunger when she was two and it became her favorite toy for months…
The most joyous display of my kids imagination comes in our night-time stories. Some nights I tell a story about “Nelsonlandia” where I’m king, my wife is queen, my son is a Jedi-Knight Prince and my daughter is the princess. The great part is…they help me build the story, I don’t develop it on my own. I let them choose the bad guy, the planet names and the reason for the quest. They jump right in and together we tell a story.
As parents, we can join in the joy of our kids imagination. We can build something together and train our kids early on that imagination is good. We can then cultivate our imaginations as a team. I know many parents who ignore or sometimes shun the imagination of their kids. I’d encourage us parents to not do that, but to join in the fray. My wife and I have received a lot of fun and a TON of laughs as we’ve engaged our kids imaginations and journeyed with them to wild, weird, wacky and amazing worlds. May you do the same!