Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crocodiles, make believe and figuring out morality in childhood...

My girls have a bizarre obsession with crocodiles. Everyday, the subject comes up in conversations, games, drawings. Especially funny is the make believe scenarios that they come up with. Usually they involve Rachel being the mean crocodile that wants to eat Esther, the beautiful princess.

Esther is always, in these games, a beautiful damsel in distress, full of grace and gentleness. Rachel is always the 'bad guy'. In fact, she enjoys it. What toddler wouldn't love roaring, stomping and pouncing? Her character generally starts with the name 'mean'. 'Mean rabbit, mean frog, mean crocodile...

I have to admit, that I was somewhat bothered at first that she found so much delight in being the baddy. As any overly worrisome, hormonal-after-having-new-baby mother might me.

I carefully observed however, that she was always happy for the mean creature to be defeated and for good to triumph. It would not do at all for the mean creature to win.
Both of the girls seemed to agree, in what was good, bad etc.

Next, I began to worry about some of the gruesome aspects of the play.. the mean creature falling into fires, falling of a cliff and dying, the prince killing the mean creature and then celebrating his glorious victory. Or the crocodiles head being cut off and them rejoicing.

It dawned on me that it was not unhealthy, but simply a natural expression of what any moral human being should feel - joy and relief that they are free from evil and persecution. That all is now right in the world.

It's phenomenal that even a small child desires justice and seeks to bring balance between good and evil in their simple play. For we are made in the image of God whose very nature is justice. Throughout the Bible we see God fighting the immoral and unjust whom harm the innocent and weak.

We cannot forget the importance of play and make believe in developing a child's sense of morality. Imaginative play is how children wrestle with the world around them and find out where they fit into it all.

We sit in coffee houses, courts, committees and debate what is right or wrong. Children have a hero and an bad guy. There is no gray, only black and white.

Most certainly it is important that we monitor our children's play with simple directions, challenging them to be just yet merciful, to demonstrates God's mercy, grace and love as they learn. To daily talk with them about their choices. To gently address areas of concern.

As GK Chesterton famously said:

"Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

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