In the past ten months, Little Chick’s imaginative play has improved enormously. Initially, his ‘people’ (Happyland toys) were bounced around a play mat with occasional excursions in vehicles and very little dialogue. Now, Little Chick is creating scenarios, albeit very simple ones, and acting them out. When I ask him what he is doing, he replies “pretending”. He is differentiating fiction from reality, in some ways anyway.
Little Chick has created several imaginary friends, and these have recently moved from Miffy the rabbit to Jack with the orange hair. All previous incarnations have been animals or clearly fictitious. Jack seems a more rounded character; there seems more truth in him. Specifically, “Jack pushed me”. This can be announced at any time: having fun in the playroom, driving home from the shops, eating breakfast on the weekend. When we ask where Jack is now, we are told “pretending”. Trying to unpick this, we ask if Jack is real. Sometimes he is, sometimes not. It seems that Little Chick is getting muddled. Elements of fantasy are mixing with reality. I believe this is not unusual behaviour for his age, but I am mindful that truth will be especially important to Little Chick when we progress life story work. I want him to be clear on what is real and what is pretending.
‘Pretending’ has also extended from imaginative play to little white lies or fibbing, like “Mummy did something”. Again, I believe this is typical, but it scares me. When he bellows “don’t touch me” I worry that the neighbours assume I am battering him. In truth, he is across the room from me, furniture dividing us, and I couldn’t touch him if I wanted to. If I ask why he said that he may reply “pretending” or say nothing at all.
I am thrilled that Little Chick is developing confidence and his ‘pretending’ through play is helping his social standing with his peers. I am anxious that the blurred line between reality and make believe could become problematic, for him and for us, as false accusations are made, and genuine memories are confused.
Edit (January 2019): Speaking to nursery, we have learned that Jack is now in Little Chick’s preschool group. There have been some incidents of pushing between them, but nothing worth worrying about. It is just two little boys finding their place. In a way, I am delighted. First, Jack is real (though he doesn’t have orange hair) and Little Chick is starting to tell us about his time at nursery, often a mystery now we only receive one short weekly update. Secondly, he is beginning to navigate relationships, even if he is pushing and shoving his way there. I would much rather he test this out on his peer in a highly supervised environment than he does it with much older, bigger boys and/or in an unsafe setting. Their fighting is only ‘pretending’, but they are learning valuable lessons through play, lessons that only his peers can teach him.