Normally my family is off limits in my blog, but lately I've been fascinated watching my son develop. He's almost three now and last week he went from a happy-go-lucky, internally focused toddler to a child of imagination. Overnight, it seems, he began pretending. It's not that amazing, just pretending to be a cat mostly. With pretend came an overnight fear of things scary. Scary movies are now a concern, where before he would happily watch all the junk I watched, much to my wifes annoyance. Now he tells me something is a bad movie when the action kicks in. He's probably right too. His desire to understand pretend things has also intensified, along with a fascination with numbers, which hold power in his mind, especially time and money.
With imagination came defiance. Telling him "no" was no longer the end of an argument. It was now followed by pouting, crying, or something that I stopped cold when I saw it today, throwing things at people. This started at the same time as the imagination kick, and it was quite a shock to have to think about discipline after three years of obedience. I thought I was off the hook with this kid! I'm no child psychologist, but I think opening up imagination allowed him to envision other outcomes and how he can change them, albeit with few social skills to pull it off (thus frustration). I can't help thinking about the word innocence. I child pre-imagination is certainly in an innocent period. He does what he's told and is fairly self-focused, away from the cares of the world. He has no ambitions, no desire to be what he isn't.
The next stage I'm guessing is something I saw recently on the PBS series Evolution. Empathy is something children don't have until around the age of four. It's best described as being able to understand what others are thinking or feeling. Most animals don't have this and it makes humans special, which was the point of having it in an evolution series. The example given was an experiment involving a puppet and a ball. The psychologist shows the child the hand puppet with the ball as the puppet puts the ball under a little cloth. Then the psychologist, with the child watching, moves the ball from under the cloth into a nearby box. The psychologist then asks the child, when the puppet returns, where will the puppet look for the ball? All children under four say the puppet will look for the ball in the box, where the psychologist just moved it, as they have no way to relate to what the puppet is thinking or feeling. Children older have no problem with this little creative exercise, imagining themselves in the place of the puppet. The five year old in the show seemed to have a little light bulb go off in his head. He had a knowing look that said, "Ah! You want me to use that part of my brain now."
As someone who enjoys fantasy and the imagination, it was really interesting to be able to point to a child and say, "There! That's when it began for him." Of course, part of this train of development is deceit and the loss of innocence, so for every development there's some sadness in losing the child that was there before. Also, like evolution, there's a lot of developmental stuff going on "under the hood" that makes it look like I'm seeing a quick breakthrough, whereas it's really an external sign of a long term development.