She Says… Pretending: You’re Doing It Wrong

Remember when I was all excited that Owen’s little mind had opened up into the world of pretend play? It’s hilarious and amazing to watch, yes, but there is a dark side. Here’s what I’ve learned about “pretend play” with Owen: He’s totally into it, until you don’t do it right. Then he flies into a surprisingly emotional fit of frustrated rage. Sometimes he can be talked off the ledge. Other times, it’s Game Over.

First let me say that this type of outburst is not generally part of Owen’s easygoing personality. That said, it’s a perfectly normal 2 year old response to a situation he can’t put into words fast enough. And let’s also just put out there that I have a very strong hunch I know where he gets that fiery side of his personality (while Benjamin and I are both very calm, cool and collected most of the time, we both have our triggers that make us react like 2 year olds once in awhile!). So I’m not terribly worried about this latest development… but I’m not gonna lie. It is quite exhausting.

Case in point: Owen, Benjamin and I were playing yesterday. Owen’s new “thing” is to direct us all where to sit and fills us in on a pretend situation. This day he said, “Mommy, you sit right dere and I sit right here and Daddy sits up here and we’ll take da train!”. Cute. So Benjamin and I hop onto the couch in our spots ready to ride the train. But Owen shouts, “NO! Put your legs like ‘dis, Mommy”, showing me how to sit with my legs out straight. Except there wasn’t enough room on the couch for me to sit like that with him sitting in front of me. So I opted to sit cross-legged (which Owen calls “criss cross applesauce”, which I think is hilarious). This caused a mayjuh tearfest and Owen jumped off the couch and ran to the corner to pout. (Personally I was quite proud that he opted to do that to calm himself down. rather than to hit me, like he would have a few months ago!). No matter what I said, I couldn’t convince him that I could not physically sit the way he wanted me to with all three of us on the couch.

Benjamin and I had to stifle our giggles and did our best to take his emotional outburst seriously. Eventually we decided to just play another game, but it’s not the first time this type of “you’re doing it wrong” frustration has halted a pretend play session entirely.

Sigh. It’s tough being 2, huh?

On another note, in doing my best to comply with Owen’s pretend play wishes, I am wary of creating a total bossypants kid who expects everyone to bend to his every whim. It’s a tough balance between following his very specific directions to build his imagination, and teaching lessons like “not everyone is going to want to play exactly like you want to play”. Any thoughts on how to strike this delicate balance? Do you even bother teaching the flip-side at this age, or do you figure he will learn that lesson at school and while playing with friends?

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10 responses to “She Says… Pretending: You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. A girl I go to Crossfit with is a middle school teacher and used the term “criss cross applesauce” the other day (apparently Indian style is a big no-no these days!) and I about died of laughter. I also felt about a bajillion years old for not knowing that was the “new” term.

  2. We went through this too. My 3-year-old still gets mad if I try to improvise instead of doing EXACTLY what he has in mind, but in general the bossypants phase has been pretty short-lived in our house. And I noticed that my kids really only bossed adults around – not so much other kids. So I didn’t worry about it, except for the occasional intervention if they were getting rude or too demanding.

  3. Uh oh. Perhaps Benjamin will recall that the primary source of his childhood injuries was that it often became necessary for me to hit him because he wasn’t doing it right when we were pretending.

  4. I was just going to post something similar to what Auntie Lisa just wrote! Don’t worry; this to shall pass.

  5. Yeah, I’m with the “pass” crowd. Incidents like the one you describe are good opportunities to provide a little resistance, because you have to anyway. But, mostly, it seemed like the Very Precise Bossypants phase passed pretty quickly. Miss A still gives very specific instructions about how I’m doing it wrong on a regular basis, but responds well (at this point) to ‘oh I was trying to do this’ or ‘oh, I thought that’ and then sometimes we go her way and sometimes mine and it’s all good. But, I don’t think we *did* anything to get here, except let her get a little older.

  6. Eli is super bossypants with us, too, when he pretends. He is slowly getting better about letting us make our own decisions… as long as we explain why we are making our own decisions. Three times. His teacher assures me that he pretends very well with his friends at school :)

  7. @Gina, I thought it was just a preschooler term! That is hilarious. Benjamin and I had a good laugh when we realized why “Indian style” is off limits now.

    @Julie, I’m SO glad to hear you say this. And you know, you’re right. I haven’t seen Owen ever boss other kids around; only adults. That I can live with… for now :)

    @Lisa/Grammy, Hahahahaha. At least I know where he gets it!!! And Lisa, you turned out ok, so I won’t worry. At least not yet.

    @Iphy, Love this. So good to hear!

    @Casey, I’m seeing a pattern here. This too shall pass, but he’ll likely still want me to explain, explain and explain again. I can live with that!

  8. I think the Honest Toddler puts it pretty well! lol : http://thehonesttoddler.com/games/

  9. I was also going to add that my 3-year-old went through a “you’re doing it wrong” phase in regards to my hairstyle. He only liked (actually still only likes) it if it’s long and loose. NO ponytail – for a whole year, a ponytail would bring tears and “Mommy, I don’t LIKE you like that!” every single time. Even if I just pulled my hair back with my hands for a second. He’s pretty much over that now (he’s almost 4), but if he sees me putting my hair up, he’ll still make it clear that he Doesn’t Like Me Like That. It’s fascinating to me to see how different the priorities of toddlers are from ours!

  10. @Angie, HILARIOUS. Love Honest Toddler.

    @Julie, Ha! Oh no! That’s too funny. Where do they even get this stuff?!

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