Sunday, August 21, 2011

authenticity for parents : developing your child's persona

At some point, your anachronist teen will undoubtedly say, "I think I'd like to do a [___] persona," at which point you'll happily encourage them to research it and you'll support them (knowing full well they'll probably outgrow it soon).  Until that day, however, you wield a mighty power.  YOU get to decide your child's persona.  And, oh, what an awesome power this is!

Being able to play dress-up with our children can be a fun experience, especially if your child enjoys putting on funny clothes for a day, and it's easy to get carried away with the idea of making miniature versions of the garb you never made for yourself.  After the child turns 3, however, your urges to "experiment" with garb and accessories on your child run the risk of back-firing on you.  The reason is simple- your child has the opportunity to develop a persona, same as you.

Sometimes the child's personality clues you in on their persona.  A young girl that loves how events make her feel like a princess rules out personas, such as Norse or Middle Eastern, that are not "classic" or "romantic" to a young one familiar with the world of the Disney.  She'll be more comfortable and happy in a 14th century context, where she can wear pretty dresses, or 15th century Italian, where she can have her hair braided with ribbons.  Another example? A rowdy boy who's hard on his clothes is well suited to a Viking persona, where you can encourage him to learn about real Vikings and in turn hone his pugnacious tendencies.  Since his garb will be simple rectangular construction, it's easy to make and repair as needed.

Other times, your child's physique will help determine a persona.  My son, Owen, is lean, with a long torso and neck.  Putting him in Viking garb is a crime, since he's built for the long, tight silhouette of the 14th century cotehardie.  In Owen's case, his loving and personable disposition also fits this persona- he's the model of Arthurian chivalry in miniature form.  This doesn't always work, though.  A girl with a tom-boy attitude and natural curves may look better in Middle Eastern, but perhaps the layers aren't her style and make her feel awkward.  This is where your work as the parent in developing your child's persona comes into play.

There's no need to wait until your child makes their own decision on what persona they prefer to encourage them to read about all the cultures they could settle on.  There are hundreds of children's books available that focus on the medieval period.  Not all of them are particularly accurate in their history, but exposing your young child to the basics is a great start.  There are even some movies geared towards children that offer unique perspectives on medieval culture, such as The Secret of Kells or the forthcoming Brave.  Encourage their interest by asking if they liked the clothes or other facets of the culture shown.  If you get a non-committal response, that's a good indication that the interest just isn't there.

Not all children will develop persona's early on, and for those who do, there is, unfortunately, no guarantee that they would stick with it for any length of time anyway.  Your role is to respect your child's opinion and monitor their comfort level, and to help them discover the vast world of possibility with medieval recreation.  This holds true for your teens as well, just include a stern belief that any persona they chose to pursue (and therefore spend [your] money on) is well-researched and not just a trend or ploy to get noticed by their peers.

Remember also that you'll go a long way with this process by practicing what you preach.  Don't enforce a strict persona on your children, but not put the same effort into your own persona.  Children, after all, learn by example!  Also, don't assume that your child wants your persona.  Sure, it may make you feel good to have a miniature version of yourself to parade around at events, but not at the expense of their interest in medieval recreation.  They may have no real interest in your chosen period, and forcing them into it means they miss out on one they may like better.  The more they like the whole dressing up and going to events thing as children, the more likely they are to retain it as a hobby when they are older.

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