This post chronicles my son’s development over the years, particularly his changing obsessions with toys and characters.
This post is written for parents with little boys – I’d like to offer you a glimpse of what you might encounter the next few years raising your son.
This post is about the many phases of boys and their toys, and what weekly emails from parenting websites like Baby Center never warned you.
Vehicles of every kind
At two, my firstborn was crazy about construction vehicles. As soon as he started talking, he started learning the different names of the huge trucks he saw on the roads – excavator! concrete mixer! dump truck! he would try to say.
And so very quickly he got himself a whole load of these toy vehicles to play with.
A few months later, he started liking trains. He became fascinated with someone called Thomas and all his (goddamn expensive) creepy round-faced friends. He got an entire collection of die cast trains for Christmas that year.
When he turned three, his obsession with cars started, which very incidentally, also got his father (the bigger boy) extremely excited. They started amassing Tomica die casts and building tracks of all kinds, which very quickly consumed them to the point of obsession. They would sit together to watch cars move from Point A to B after building those massive car tracks that take up half the space in the living room for hours on end.
I never understood the point of it, but apparently, it was like being in car heaven for these boys.
After the car phase, Ben’s curiosity with tools began, in part because he started watching a series called Handy Manny on Disney Junior and in part due to observing his father work with tools to build the stuff we bought from IKEA.
And just like that, I suddenly had a handy little man at home overnight, “working” with hammers, screwdrivers and spanners. It was a very noisy phase indeed as he went knocking around the house all day and night.
Building blocks and Lego
When tools became passé for him, he spent hours creating things from his imagination with his Lego blocks.
He made all sorts of stuff – stuff we can never make out, stuff which existed only in his mind, and a whole range of playthings from dragons to zoos to carnival grounds. Whenever he came to us to show us what he’s made, we’d say, “Wow, that’s amazing! What’s that?” but it never deterred him from making more and fuelling our own imagination too.
Dinosaurs, wild cats and animals of all kinds
Between playing Lego and sometimes revisiting earlier obsessions like his toy cars and tools, Ben started getting curious about animals, particularly those prehistoric giants that have gone extinct a long time ago.
That was when we threw him a dinosaur party. That was when I also had a challenging time learning all those five-syllable names of dinosaurs talking dinos with him all day long (oh yes, the pterodactyl flies! oh wow the acrocanthosaurus ate these! watch out, here comes the nedoceratops!). I’m telling you, the dino phase was the one most tiring ever! I’m actually secretly hoping Nat skips that cos’ I ain’t wanna name another dinosaur ever in my life.
At four, Ben moved from dinosaurs to animals – farm animals, zoo animals, safari animals. There was this time he was particularly interested in big wild cats. Ask him now and this boy can tell you the difference between a leopard, cheetah and puma. Ask him now and he can also tell you also why the tiger and the lion are both kings in their own respect. He knows where these cats live, what they eat and their different characteristics. Because of his interest in animals, he’s pored over many encyclopaedic books all by himself at home and at the library just to learn more about them.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Kababoom!
Ah yes, weapons. How can I forget? Sword, shield, bow and arrow, oh yes, and GUNS. So my four-year-old, together with his sister and baby brother now, are so into them. In the beginning, I was one determined mother who swore that I would never allow my kids to play with toy weapons. Not even water guns in the pool. Everyone has an informal causation theory that playing with guns leads to aggression and violence, and I am one big believer of this theory. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for the kids, their father thinks otherwise. “No link!” he says. “This is what boys play!”
And that was how I lost the battle against weapons.
Actually, what made me not insist any longer was this piece of research I found online:
According to Michael Thompson, PhD, child psychologist and author of It’s a Boy! Your Son’s Development From Birth to Age 18, children learn how to control impulses, delay gratification, think symbolically, and view things from another’s perspective through imaginary games. Play also allows children to act out their fears and aspirations. “As a little boy, you’re not very powerful,” Thompson says. “With a gun, you feel powerful and heroic.” According to Thompson, it’s really about dominance and heroism, winning and losing, and who gets to be the good guy in the end. Of course, when there’s hurt and aggression involved, that must be stopped by the adult.
So the kids started playing with Nerf guns with their father (I shared here about Fatherkao making dinosaur target boards to play with the kids, and it was great for hand-eye coordination!), “smiting” one another with swords and learning how to defend themselves with shields and playing with bows made of plastic and arrows that had suction cups.
Ben also started watching the animation series Mike the Knight and was immersed in a world of bravery and chivalry, and dreamt of knighthood day and night for months.
More than meets the eye
Three months shy of his fifth birthday, some creatures that can change their bodies at will have started to dominate his world. Intelligent robots, called Transformers that could think and feel, are now his favourite playthings, and he’s experiencing a fascination with these species of “living robotic beings” with a curiosity and obsession I’ve never seen. He’s fired me with questions after questions about these beings after watching the movie, and finally took out his Transformer toys which he never really could figure out or understand in the past that were given to him as gifts. He now talks to them and about them all the time, and functions in a world of Transformer-speak that has a huge invisible sign warning everyone else to keep out.
As I mentioned, this post is about boys and their many toys. Although I write from my experience with one boy, I’m sure what I’ve shared isn’t just specific to Ben alone.
Comparatively speaking, the little girl doesn’t seem to have obsessions of these varieties. She’s ok with stuffed toys, dolls, girly things and masak-masak play like cooking, cleaning and other domesticated things but has never dwelled on it every single day liking just one particular thing for months! I’ve not ever stereotyped toys for my boys, not at least before they were three. Ben plays with dolls and engages in play activities like cooking and cleaning occasionally with Becks and Nat, but it’s interesting how his preferences and interests have geared towards things with masculine attributes all on its own, and turned into phases of obsessions which are going to be so unique to him to remember his childhood by.
And it’s incredibly amazing how God wired boys. From what I understand, these boys remain, umm, boys, for a long time even in adulthood with bigger, better toys. Quite apparently, the one person that influences Ben’s interests in toys is himself one big boy looking to relive his childhood too. You should see the look on both their faces whenever they are in a toy store. (Right, Fatherkao?)
I know more exciting times lie ahead as my little boy turns 5, then 6, then 7, and I am thinking the Justice League of Superheroes, war soldiers, and more Transformers already!