We are lucky in that the two little kids who live next door, "Sarah," age six and "Michael," age three, love to visit my husband and me most Saturday afternoons and we love to have them.
We have the most fun when all four of us play together. This is when "Sarah" makes up and directs complicated family or princess scenarios.
Yesterday, it happened that my husband was away most of the afternoon. "Sarah" and "Michael" decided they wanted to make our master bath "The Doctor's Office." I pulled the Dr. Kit off a shelf in my closet and Sarah said she'd be the doctor. I was the Mom and Michael was my "baby." He immediately started crawling around and asked to sit in my lap.
I told "Doctor Sarah" that my "son" had a high fever and threw up twice this morning. Soon "Michael" received "medicine", two "shots", and a bandaid on his arm. I received strict instructions to bring him back twice more as he was "very sick."
"Sarah" is six and in kindergarten. She lives in a good home with parents who take excellent care of her and each other.
Contrast her experience with the shelter kids I work with. Their mother was often injured, extremely anxious, or depressed. Their father figure may have treated them well in some ways, but he also exposed them to violence, outrageous demands on and cruelty toward their mother.
The younger shelter children, aged 3-10, enjoy using my doctor kit. Their use of it, however, is very different from "Sarah's." Most immediately start taking care of me. They listen to my heart, take my temperature and blood pressure. Put bandaids on my hands and arms or clothing. They are acting out a parental role: taking care of and worrying about "Mom."
In two or three weeks, they typically stop taking care of me and begin to take care of each other and themselves. They listen to another child's heart or their own. They check "boo boos" and bandage them carefully. Even better, they next ask me to put a bandaid on their "injury."
Some don't stay long enough or show interest in completing this important progression: from taking care of "Mom", to showing concern for themselves and others in the same situation. And finally, showing more dependence on adults, as a young child should.
They ask for help or protection and we give it to them. We are just doing our job. And from their progress, we can see that their mom is doing hers.
And that's everything.