Is it a man? Is it a bird? No! Mums ~ It's a Superhero!
Whoosh! And our small, caped crusading Superman (sorry, mixing him up with Batman... NANA!!!) just flew past with tea-towel outstretched and wrapped about him, on his way to save the world, defeat the bad guys, and rescue a dog from an exploding volcano.
Did I hear that tiny loveliness singing about frozen fractals at the top of her voice? Girls aren't supposed to like Science. Oh! She's only three and not only does she know all the words to a song with libretto and chord changes so complex, it could have been written by Rogers and Hammerstein, she can pronounce words that are definitely not in the school curriculum and will not be for years to come. Hmmph! So much for limiting vocabulary to simple phonics ~'fractals' owes its root to Latin.
"...our sweet little girls are no longer playing Cinderella waiting for the handsome Prince to rescue them..."
Doesn't she look sweet dressed in Elsa garb? She had to wait ages for that dress; Disney shops across the nation sold out. The sale of Elsa paraphernalia was great for the economy, as mums practically trampled each other to buy the last remaining little bits of blue tulle. They simply couldn't face having to say no, as Elsa mania swept the country covering it in imaginary ice. Please, God! No more tears and tantrums. Three-year-olds everywhere are only just beginning to get over the terrible two's, and already, they simply cannot go to the birthday party if they are not wearing that dress. Even mums who had never sewn before invested in machines and bought patterns in the desperate attempt to replicate the high street version. More tears and tantrums "But I don't want that one, Mummy. I want the same as Elsa's."
Poor mummies. But, Aw! Wasn't it all worth it? However. All is not quite as it appears. If you managed to earwig the content of their play, you might have noticed that our sweet little girls are no longer playing Cinderella waiting for the handsome Prince to rescue them, they are changing into Fienderella with awesome freeze-powers that could exacerbate Climate Change and turn the whole world to ice.
"By channelling their energies into these fictional figures, they can conquer bad guys, rule the world, and be kings or queens of their own universes."
Surely, children have always loved superheroes, so what explains this new wave of obsession?
According to Naeema Jiwani, a child development psychologist at the Human Relations Institute, Dubai, "By channelling their energies into these fictional figures, they can conquer bad guys, rule the world, and be kings or queens of their own universes." Apparently (and I go along with this) it really is all about power. That might seem obvious, but what lies behind such a need for little ones to feel powerful?
Let's think about it for a wee moment. Firstly, little ones are just that: Little. And every split second of the day, they are struggling to learn something new. Everything is growing. Everything is a challenge: Reaching the door handle, using the toilet, learning to read, write, count, identify colours, eat properly, sit still, concentrate, brush teeth, wash, get ready for school. Phew! Exhausting. Grown-ups: those all-seeing, super-powerful beings/gods who can already do all those things and have already made it to big guy status, control all those moments in a small person's life (in the nicest possible way, of course!)
No wonder children need to be in control and live vicariously through their favourite superhero who simply cannot be told off for putting finger marks all over newly cleaned windows or knocking something off the table as s/he flies past.
"Children learn to 'think outside the box', as they have to invent imaginative scenarios to avert impending disaster!"
Playing superhero helps children understand concepts such as right and wrong, good and bad. Parents can harness such natural childhood passion and have those all-important conversations with their little guys. This is great child-centred learning.
In my past work as a Gestalt/Jungian psychotherapist, (I am now a children's books author and pour my knowledge and creativity into that delightful pursuit), I encouraged others to act out their sub-personalities. Children do this naturally when they role-play. The idea of superhuman strength is completely believable to children as, in the world of superheroes, anything is possible. Children learn to 'think outside the box', as they have to invent imaginative scenarios to avert impending disaster! Playing superhero helps children to learn helpfulness and kindness as it emphasises those traits inherent in them. These days, I love to imbue my children's book characters with traits that our budding superheroes will identify with and emulate.
Lastly, as children have very limited control over just about every area of their lives, being a superhero is empowering. If, through play, children become superheroes, they can connect to an inner sense of self, strength, and control. All this helps build self-confidence and helps our little superheroes to overcome a potential sense of powerlessness. How liberating to try on different personas and experiment with who you might like to be!
With love from Dr Niamh