Sunday, April 4, 2010

Defending the Easter Bunny

Hase kurz nach der Eiablage

I was having an imaginary conversation with my imaginary daughter this morning while walking the dog -- typically, an excellent time for imaginary conversations. She was about seven and informed me, rather solemnly, that she'd realized the Easter Bunny was make-believe. I asked her how she felt about that and she replied, "A little sad." I understood very well, having felt similarly when I was her age, and told her so.

She said she still liked hunting for eggs, especially since her brother was too young to know "the truth." At this point, I decided to take a leap of faith and try to put into words a seven-year-old could grasp, why I thought the Easter Bunny was important. "Believing in him teaches us how to see the magic and wonder that are all around us, not just on Easter morning, but every morning."

I've had friends who were persons of faith and had serious difficulty allowing their children to embrace such mythic characters as the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause (oops, sorry Santa -- I meant "Claus"). They were concerned that the religious significance of Easter and Christmas might be overshadowed by a preoccupation with more secular figures. For the longest time, I really didn't have a good way of responding to them, but perhaps I do now.

Developmentally, children have a limited capacity for understanding symbolic representation. It isn't until around age 13 that sufficient neural connections have been established in the brain to permit abstract thinking. Until then, children depend a great deal on imagination to enrich their experience of life. "That's fine, but I don't want to lie to my children; I want them grounded in reality," one might say.

It's not a lie to relate to children in ways that make sense to them. As a matter of fact, it's unreasonable to do otherwise; they aren't little adults, no matter how precocious some may appear. They grow up fast and before we know it, they're telling us things we'd prefer not to know. In the meantime, when we allow ourselves to become simple enough to play with our children, to let the Easter Bunny live in their imagination (and ours, if need be), we help them grow in their capacity to view life with hope and anticipation. It's one of the best things we can do for them.


(Creative Commons image via Wikipedia)

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