Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When your toddler is an animal

I wouldn’t call myself an expert parent by any means, but I have certainly found a friend in Google and plenty of parenting blogs. If the internet tells me my child’s strange behavior is “a normal expression of creativity” or “something he’ll grow out of” then I believe it. But I have definitely learned to set boundaries on my toddler’s creative side thanks to a certain cat I can’t get rid of.

With growing regularity, my 4-year-old son, Maxwell, can be found walking around our house on all fours as his alter ego: Peaches the cat. This deeply disturbed my husband at first (especially one night when Peaches licked my husband’s leg and purred) but I asked a few mom friends and I read a few online articles, and decided everything was fine; he was just having creative play time, which in my day was called playing pretend.

So, for months now, we’ve let Peaches move on in. It seems to come in waves, but when Peaches wants to play fetch (yes, I know that’s more of a puppy thing, but try explaining that to Max) then we oblige. And when Peaches occasionally wants to drink water from a bowl on the floor, we do that too.

Sure, sure, he’s a creative genius – as long as he doesn’t have some weird feline obsession, I thought. But then Peaches took it a bit too far.

Last week, I was doing laundry when I noticed I hadn’t seen Max in a while. I walked into our living room just in time to look through our French doors and see my son, buck naked and on all fours in our back yard, um, answering the call of nature. His reasoning? “Peaches needed to pee like a cat.”

After a bath and a thorough scrubbing of a shockingly muddy private area, Max, Peaches and mommy had a talk.

Playing pretend is great, I told Max – and Peaches is the best cat in the world – but little boys use the bathroom in the potty. So when bathroom time comes, we have to put a pause on our pretend game.

As it turns out, I did my online parenting network proud because as I perused later, I found most parents say the same thing: pretending to be an animal, even for an extended amount of time, is okay as long as the parent can tell the child when they need to be a little boy or a little girl again.

I’m only a week out from my pantless Peaches debacle, but it’s working so far. At dinner time, we tell Max he has to be a little boy and eat and then he can be a cat again. After all, cats can’t use spoons and forks!

My favorite article on the power of pretend, is on the Smithsonian website. In it, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley says pretend play “relates to what philosophers call ‘counterfactual’ thinking, like Einstein wondering what would happen if a train went at the speed of light.”

It’s very important to their development – even if it makes you adopt a pretend cat for a few months!

Aleshia Howe is a Communications Specialist for the Texas Health Harris Methodist Foundation and Texas Health Presbyterian Foundation, and Mom to an imaginative 4-year-old.


  1. Love it!!! My daughter (also age 4) pretended to be a dog and took a dump in the living room....*SIGH*.

  2. Oh no! I should be thankful my son didn't do that!! Maybe you should get her into acting - sounds like she takes her pretend roles seriously! :)