At age 10, my youngest is coming closer to the end of his stuffed animal days. But you wouldn’t know it looking at his bed:
Each one of those guys has a name and a history, each has a unique voice – some of them have French accents! (Because, of course, they come from France or French-speaking Canada. Why else?)
Over the years they have helped my son through lots of tough situations, everything from being left out of big-boy activities to those times when no human is available to play. It’s funny to walk into the boy’s room and see a board game set up – like Risk – and three or four stuffed animals each in control of their own part of the board, each taking turns.
Right around the time that Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, just after the Sochi Olympics, he my son happened to watch Red Dawn, the movie about the USSR invading the US. We do talk current events in our home, as well as history, but I think because we had just been so invested in the Olympics, this movie resonated a little bit more strongly with him than it might have otherwise. Still, we didn’t realize the true impact until late that night, when he asked if I would come and “speak to the animals – they are scared that Putin is going to invade the US.”
When I went to speak to them, I found them all set up in a circle up in my boy’s bed; they had been having a conversation among themselves about “their” concern that Putin was going to invade the US. I told them that Putin was not going to invade the US, answered “their” questions, and just tried to be a good listener, all the while knowing that it was really my son’s fears and questions that were coming through via the stuffed animals.
I’ve come to think of the stuffed animals like puppets, each making up a part of my son’s world and through which he can express fears and show empathy. Since he was small, this child has had an incredible ability to see events from another’s point of view, to see how someone else might feel differently than he does in a given situation. This is a rare quality, and definitely one to be supported – his sense of caring pervades all his friendships, and kids are really drawn to that. I believe it’s the stuffed animals that have helped give him this perspective.
As he grows out of them, and moves on to the things that tweens and teens do and love, I know he’ll take that empathy with him.