Kids and Their Fantasies
by Ken Potts
Posted: December 15, 2019
Enjoy them, but with a dose of reality…
Once upon a time there were three little pigs.
The day came for them to leave their parents' home and build houses of their own.
The first little pig, being both somewhat impatient and lazy, decided to build his house of straw. He approached a nearby farmer in search of building material. "Please, sir, may I have a load of straw?" he inquired.
"Holy [expletive deleted]," the farmer shouted, "a talking pig!" Whereupon he grabbed the pig, threw him into a cage, and made millions of dollars exhibiting him at county fairs across the land. (Thanks to reader Mary Swinford of Door County, and apologies to Rocky and Bullwinkle, for this "fractured fairy tale.")
Well, so much for fairy tales. You know, part of what makes this joke funny is that it so quickly switches from fairy tale fantasy to reality. I mean, let's face it, confronted with a talking pig, we really would try to find some way to make a buck off it.
Now, there comes a time when our children need to switch from fantasy to reality, too. And it's part of parents' job to help them make that switch.
We would probably encourage, for example, our 4-year-old to look for a dollar from the Tooth Fairy under the pillow. We'd expect, though, that our 14-year-old would look to her allowance -- not under her pillow -- as the way to get that dollar. And we'd certainly insist that our 24-year-old go out and earn that dollar. That's just common sense.
Of course, children's orientation to reality needs to be age-appropriate, gradual and gentle (in other words, not at all like the three little pigs joke).
Going back to our Tooth Fairy example, there's nothing wrong with insisting to a 3-year-old "sure, the Tooth Fairy brought you that dollar. I think I even heard her wings fluttering outside my window last night!"
Now, to a 6-year-old, we might say something like, "well, I don't know, but a lot of people believe it's true." And an even older child could probably handle a simple "what do you think?" (Chances are he has figured it out anyway and just needs us to confirm his suspicions.)
I'm not suggesting we discard fantasy altogether, that we force children to banish fantasy from their lives, but simply that we help them enjoy it as fantasy.
In fact, believing in fantasies -- whether they be fairy tales, Easter Bunnies, elves, Santa Claus, or Tooth Fairies -- is a wonderful and important part of childhood.
Fantasy enlivens our world, sparks our imagination, encourages creativity, nurtures our sense of mystery and makes the complex understandable.
One caveat. Those of us who claim a faith perspective on reality also face the challenge of differentiating fantasy from faith. Our kids will inevitably wonder -- and hopefully ask -- why, for instance, Santa Claus is fantasy and God, we claim, is fact.
I believe the best we offer our children at this point is our own inner faith experience and the certainty (and at times uncertainty) that is part of that faith. A humbly confessed "I know it in my heart" may be the simplest and most profound answer we can give.
I hope we will always appreciate fantasy as part of our lives, no matter how old we are. Part of growing up, though, is to learn to enjoy fantasy, but not live it.
Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois.• E-mail the author (gro.gnilesnuoceracaramas@sttopk*) • Author's website (personal or primary**)
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