She orders him around unmercifully while he looks at her with utter adoration in his eyes. If ordering does not work, she brings out the secret weapon…the smile, the cheeky glance from beneath her eyelashes. Very seldom does she resort to tears. But, at almost two years old, my granddaughter has all the fabled feminine wiles and knows just how to use them on her father. It is to my son’s credit that he manages to maintain discipline and say ‘no’ when he must, in spite of her entreaties and blandishments. It is one of the earliest lessons she will learn…we do not always get what we want, but will undoubtedly get what is needed, like it or not.
Watching her play with friends, you can already see the dynamics of adulthood begin to form in her interactions with others. You can see the first shoots of her own strength of character and begin to see how she will face the world when she is older. You can discern, too, the lessons she is being taught as she plays, learning the basis of the rules by which society is bound in order to live together in any kind of harmony.
It is through play that a child first learns about sharing, generosity and patience…and about letting go. Determination, the necessity to keep on trying till you get things right and how to read the intentions of others are also learned early. At not-quite-two, Hollie is old enough to understand games of ‘let’s pretend’ and serves you tea in empty cups. She sings, dances and laughs… but she is not yet old enough to understand being teased; her language and social skills have not yet reached far enough to allow her to tell the difference. That too will come as she continues to learn. The subtleties of expression and tone will slowly unfold, page by page, until understanding people becomes second nature and she will know the difference between the gentle teasing of affection and the barbs of self-interest.
Or so I hope… she is a gregarious young lady and grows secure in the love that surrounds her. That will not prevent her from meeting those whose motives are not so gentle. The teasing and the games will not always spring from love…there will be barbs, unkindness and jealousies. Especially if she has siblings. But that too is part of the learning process and, when learned early, allows a child to grow with enough discernment to tell the difference and sufficient tools to deal with whatever social situations may throw at them.
Play seems to be something we just know how to do as youngsters. We may have to learn the various games, but the spirit of play is innate. You have only to watch young animals to realise that there must be an evolutionary benefit to play or it would have been discarded with other redundant behaviours. With our growing understanding of the mind we can understand how empathy, cooperation and compassion many be rooted in early games.
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