I look with joy and curiosity at a little four year old who struts in his red and blue Superman outfit that covers his skin head to toe or stands proudly in his ranger togs that include a cap, shirt, trousers and even polished leather boots! He’s not even getting ready for Halloween. He just loves dressing up and being in the spotlight with all the adults admiring him. He dresses himself and waits patiently while his busy mother turns away from her present occupation to be surprised by his next dress-up adventure. What’s this all about?
I mentioned admiration which I think is key. He really feels the part of the hero. When he’s dressed up in the costume, he’s no longer just some little guy for he’s become the character he portrays. Of course he knows the difference between pretend and real, but that doesn’t preclude the adulation he seeks. He feels powerful and strong and capable of great feats in contrast to the little guy he actually is whose relatively powerless to the older kids and adults.
With this empowerment, he seeks positive attention that makes him feel special and grand. He struts and poses and grins unabashedly for the camera. He wants to be remembered and revered. The characters he portrays surpass in his mind all the actual talents he possesses such as a great vocabulary, engaging charm, friendly attitude, and love of learning. The super hero he invents has even more to be in awe of in his estimation.
This is a healthy narcissistic age of life. We think too often of narcissism as an unhealthy focus on the self. But at four years old, it’s a great thing. It doesn’t mean he can’t think of others and even be empathic. In fact the heroic choices he chooses and pretends to be are people who help and rescue others. His choices of winsome warriors are kind and warm and gentle as well as strong and powerful.
So let’s cheer on this adventurous young soul who independently dresses himself, imagines adventures of saving others from distress, and captures our hearts with his delightful grin when he gets our attention. Isn’t it just grand to be so little and feel so big when your aim is to get others to smile at your positive exploits as you come to understand the world through your imagination.
How sensational to feel so positively about yourself at four years old and believe others enjoy you and find you loveable!
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with a new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are found.
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