Children and Make Believe
My son grew up and produced a son of his own; last night my grandson had dinner at a restaurant along with me, his aunt, and his wicked step-grandmother. He got bored, so we provided him with paper and crayons. He drew some lines on the paper and then told us that the picture he had drawn was funny.
So far as I could tell (his aunt disagrees), there was no picture, just random lines. My guess was that, like his father thirty some years earlier, he was engaged in make believe. You did things with a crayon and paper and you pretended they were a picture. Aside from bringing back old memories, it also raised a question about sensible child rearing policies. Should I have told him that yes, it was a funny picture? Or should I have said, as I did, that I didn't see anything funny there?
My guess is that my policy was the correct one. Children have to learn to realize that there is a real world out there, hard and sometimes sharp edged; make believe ultimately doesn't provide a way of dealing with that world. Adults who play along—not in the sense of participating in a game that both sides realize is a game (I do lots of that, which may be part of why my grandson thinks I'm silly) but in the sense of treating make believe as if it were real—are making it harder for them to learn that. Which may explain why some people never do.
It is much the same issue that my son discussed a while back on his blog, in the context of playing games with children—indeed with the same child. Do you deliberately lose the game to him or do you treat him as you expect adults to treat each other, with due allowance for the fact that he knows much less than you do about many things, including games? Do you encourage a child to play games with you by letting him win or by adjusting the rules, creating suitable handicaps to make it an even game—and then playing for real?
When I was growing up, we had a ping-pong table in the basement and I spent a good deal of time playing my father. We used a sliding handicap. I started with some number of points. Every time I lost my starting score went up by one point for the next game, every time I won it went down. Gradually, over the years, it crept down to zero.