When I say, "OK. It is time to clean up this mess." My 3 year-old daughter, Sunshine’s, comment is, "But, I didn't make this mess, Bubba did. Bubba isn't an imaginary friend. I can see Bubba...Bubba is a bear. “ How should I handle this? I have said things like "Well, let's just clean the mess up for Bubba" or "Did you help Bubba make the mess?" or "maybe Bubba should help us clean up the mess too"...
Let’s start with a little background. Young children don’t lie. Okay, they don’t always tell the truth; but it is not a technical lie. They so badly want something to be true that, in their mind, it is true. This can happen since they don’t have a grip on reality yet.
Sunshine would like to have Bubba be responsible for the mess because she really, really doesn’t want to clean it up. I don’t know what kind of mess we are talking about, but I do know that if a job is overwhelming, it is stressful. I know that is true for me! Are the messes so overwhelming that Sunshine has been forced to go to extremes i.e. taking absence from reality?? Just a thought. Perhaps Sunshine has created Bubba for absolutely no reason at all.
Here is a practical solution. When my (school) children have a major clean up, first, I help condense the mess. Just drawing it all together makes it appear more manageable. You could try making a game out of it. For example: “ Red is my favorite color. I’ll pick up the red blocks. What is your favorite color?” or “Let’s count the books as we put them on the shelf.”
A way to handle Bubba: I wouldn’t validate Sunshine’s claim by even alluding that you think Bubba is responsible. You could help her sort out fantasy from reality by saying "It sure is a lot of work to clean up this mess. I bet you wish you didn't have to clean it up. Wouldn't it be nice if bear could do it? But he can't, so we have to clean up our own mess.” If Sunshine protests that the bear did it, ignore the protest and continue, like a broken record. Sunshine made the mess and Sunshine has to clean it up. Do this in a kind and loving manner, but don’t back down.
Understanding the psychology of this situation: This why the Montessori method advocates reality play rather than fantasy play - so that the child learns through time to differentiate between what is real and what is made up. Pretending to play house, for instance, is still based in reality. Even barking like a dog and imitating a dog is based in reality. Bears making a mess is fantasy. Young children are just learning about their world and their place in it. It is our job to teach them the difference between reality and fantasy – not to feed into it. It must be so confusing for them to see an abundance of fantasy, and to not even understand what fantasy is. But don’t get me started on videos and movies!
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