How do you manifest your “I” when you are three years old?

We start realizing that we have identities first when we are three years old, some of us even earlier. This is the age when suddenly we become aware about our “I”, about the fact that it is autonomous, has its own wishes, longings, dreams, fears and interests. As if with the wave of a magic stick our conscious awakens and starts knocking into our brain: “Hey, I am here!”  How can you cope with all those changes? Can you cope with them at all when you are only three?

When you are that small and have no particular strategies in your arsenal and not much cultural baggage behind your back, the only way you can manifest your “I” is to oppose it to the “I” of the closest people: mother, father, kindergarten teacher. This is what some see it as a “bad” behaviour and blame it on external circumstances.  Unfortunately, some parents miss the moment when self-conscious of their children awakens. Not all are aware about the inner struggle of self-identification that their beloved daughters or sons have to already undergo. A lot of parents would expect something like this to happen only in the age of puberty. There are also those who simply feel puzzled: what happened with our beloved one? Be calm: nothing happened. At least nothing bad. You have a little super-nova born, a star that will light the soul of your child from now on forever.

Good news is that we can help our kids to realize that they have identities. We can encourage them to actively work on their self-conscious, self-perception and by extension, perception of others. Fortunately, the world of magic – myths, theatre and books – provide us with themes to discuss with our small ones.

Today I will talk specifically about the theatre. Theatre requires less effort from a parent but involves a child into the action in the subtlest ways. The more actively the little spectator is involved, the stronger will be the memory. We all learn the best by doing, by participating, by placing ourselves into the story. Interactive theatre is more successful in tackling serious topics playfully.

The main personage of the play “Das kleine Ich bin Ich” staged in Theater Matte in Bern, embarks on a long journey of finding his own identity. On the way he meets creatures that have a very distinctive “I”: a frog, a horse, a fish, a hippo, a parrot and a dog. All of them have something similar with the main hero but still look different. It is amazing how strangers fascinate the protagonist: he has no fear, no anxiety, only curiosity. Are our children not exactly like this? They are eager to accept different others, seek common grounds with total strangers and try to connect. Kids do it so openheartedly because they are not familiar yet with the prejudices and misconceptions of our culture. Of course, unless the parents or other significant adults teach them differently.

Acknowledging the others and trying to connect with them is one thing but acknowledging yourself is something different. It requires even more effort from your consciousness. The hero of “Das kleine Ich bin Ich” instantly gets upset that he is not like others. If I am not totally like you, who am I then? Looking at the parrot, the personage suddenly realizes absurdity of his wish to be like anybody else. Towards the end of the story, he finally understands that it is fine…to be yourself! The play has an existential ending. The main hero asks publics: “Do you see me?” If you see me, then you acknowledge me, so it is allowed to be yourself! Just the way you are.

The actors end their play by distributing postcards to the young audience. The postcards are nothing but an empty piece of paper where everybody can draw a picture of the Self. By so doing theatre Matte encourages its spectators to take an active position and make an attempt to re-think not only the whole story shown on the stage but also your own unique identity. Who are you? What makes you different from the others? Do you have points in common with total strangers? How do you accept them? Do you let your identity exist? Perhaps, it is important to ask right questions rather than have ready-made answers.

“Das kleine Ich bin Ich” appears at the first glance to be just another funny play for kids where main hero meets different animals. In fact, it disguises a very serious discourse about awakening of self-consciousness, acceptance of others and manifestation of the self. The more and the earlier we talk with our children about such themes, the higher are the chances that we will raise conscious and culture-aware human beings.

Next two plays “Das kleine Ich bin Ich” can be seen in Theater Matte on the 25th of November at 11.00 and 14.00. Those are the last performances in 2018. In spring 2019, the play is planned to be shown once again.

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Über Anna Butan

Anna speaks French, German, English and Russian. She obtained a Master Degree at the University of Bern (Cultural Studies) and a Bachelor at the Lomonosov Moscow State University (Philology). Anna has big interest in such themes as: identity, cultural hybridity, music, and raising children in multicultural context. She is convinced that our children can teach us a lot. They are not born with stereotypes but they risk to acquire them later under external circumstances. Our task as parents is to help them grow as conscious and culture-aware humans.

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