Fantasy vs. Reality
Most adults have a pretty good grip on the difference between fantasy and reality. We can easily separate and make sense of stories that are made up and embellished from those which are factual and based on reality. We are so comfortable with our sense of fantasy and reality that we may not realize this ability to distinguish the two has not always been present, in fact, it is not fully developed until about school age.
For a preschool aged child, the world can be a scary and confusing place without a clear sense of fantasy vs. reality especially during holidays. Elaborate and strange characters, completely out of the norm are suddenly welcomed into our inner family circle, quite confusing to a child who has been taught to keep distance from strangers. The thought of a human sized rabbit entering their home can be more of a cause for nightmares than sweet dreams for many children, understandably. We have all witnessed this scene before: lineups to see Santa 20 minutes long, and once reaching the front, a terrified child clinging to her parents’ leg, is desperate to escape the fear of this unnatural meeting. Despite it all, we parents forge on to wear down our child’s innate response to avoid experiencing the holiday mascots, without little consultation with the question “why are we doing this?” If we did ask ourselves, we might have to challenge and discredit our own childhood memories, memories we have grown to cherish in our adult perspective.
Some clear lines can be drawn connecting childhood admiration for holiday mascots and grooming young consumers to feed our never satiated economy, but that aside, we really should ask, “how are we doing this?” The intention of creating fantastical experiences for children certainly must come from a place of playful, spirited fun, in which to engage a sense of wonder and delight not fear and sadness. Age, previous experience/understanding, physiological condition and adult response have a lot to do with how a child will perceive holiday character encounters. For children whose interest in fantasy and magic is already piqued, the possibility of seeing or meeting a fantasy character is exiting and positive, and the imaginative play and creative thinking processes opened up have much to offer a child who is developing their critical thinking.
The child who is in a place of fear and sadness is not experiencing these benefits, and although well intended, parents may be further imposing feelings of anxiety and shame by trying to minimize their feelings and coax them into something they do not want to do. But, by being aware of our own childhood experiences and the needs of our children, we can best construct our unique and personalized family rituals and traditions for years of fond memory building.
Rhonda Teramura, ECE and Mom of Three