Projection. You probably learned about it in your Psychology 101 class. In case you have never heard of it, it is one of the classic defense mechanisms Freud conceived and wrote about. Projection is one of the most primitive defenses that people use (Freudians would say that paranoid delusions are a manifestation of projections). It’s also one of the most difficult to deal with in children.
I took my son to the store a few days ago to buy his sisters some Christmas presents from him. It should be a surprise to no one that this was a difficult task for a 4-year-old boy, who immediately focused on what he wanted for Christmas, not what his sisters wanted. To his credit, he was able to refocus with a little encouragement. Sort of.
Although his task was to find something for his sisters, it was genuinely entertaining during the next 10 minutes to hear the litany of things he said his sisters would want: a set of Hot Wheel cars, light sabers, toy guns, and a bucket of army men.
My son was projecting his desires onto his sisters. He knew that it wasn’t acceptable for him to say, “I want this and that”; he had already learned that I would not approve of this. At the same time, he simply could not shut off his desire for boy-friendly toys. So his mind created a compromise: he imagined that his sisters wanted these things. In this way, it became acceptable for him to desire them, without appearing or perceiving himself as being selfish. Voila!
We witness kids projecting all the time. See if you can notice in the coming weeks how your children use projection in their relationships with you and others. Remember, it is quite normal. Younger children are not developmentally able to put themselves in others’ shoes, but they are more than able to presume that others think and feel just as they do. It is our job as parents to help guide them away from projecting their feelings and take ownership of them by expressing them in a safe way.
2 thoughts on “I Think the Mrs. Wants a Football for Christmas…”
My ASD child does this all the time. I thought it was because she has a hard time taking another person’s perspective. She often tells us that her brother or sister want something when we know it is what she wants. Projection seems to be something that could happen (albeit in a more sophisticated manner) at any age, but at what age to children normally learn to look at things from someone else’s perspective?
Children begin to develop the ability to consider another person’s perspective early on in life, but it requires a great deal of training over many years. The development isn’t like riding a bike, however–where one day you are unable and the next you are. Rather, this skill develops a bit at a time. That being said, the skill is normally adequately developed by early adolescence.
Parents can ask children, “What do you think I think about this?” and similar questions that push the child to look outward while using their critical thinking skills.