When WonderBoy was a toddler, there was a lot of discussion about “appropriate” play. To this day, hearing or reading the word “appropriate” causes a visceral reaction in me that takes me back to those early days, six years ago. I understood the reaction but didn’t have something to relate it to until I read this post online on the Diary of a Mom page on Facebook.
He didn’t play with toys in the same ways that his brothers or his peers did. And often his play was not using what many would consider toys at all. And we celebrated it, once we realized how much the concept of “appropriate” play was a problem.
I actually had a hard time finding photos of him playing at all, mostly because a lot of what he did was sit and look at books. But when he was younger a lot of his play involved lining up rows of toys of the same type: cars, rubber ducks, plastic animals, stuffed animals. Then his play evolved somewhat, and he would grab a stuffed animal of a particular type while watching a nature documentary. For example, if one segment of the show was about hawks, he would grab his hawk puppet. If it was about bats, he’d grab a stuffy bat, and so forth. His play continues to evolve and it makes absolute sense to me, and to anyone who spends any actual time with him.
How can we begin to shift the narrative around how children play and end the use of the word “appropriate” when talking about how kids do things? How anyone does things? Furthermore, when a child who is drawn to toys/books/shows which are geared for a “younger” audience, what can we do to stop criticizing and start appreciating?
I have already figured out the answers within my own home, but that’s not really enough any more.
I challenge you, all of you, to stop using the word “appropriate” when talking or even thinking about someone’s interests, regardless of their age. Apply a different lens to the situation when you view it, apply a lens of understanding and appreciation.
Sit down, stop pathologizing, and play along. You might just learn something.