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Toddler Processing: What are the rhinos doing?

Posted on Jan 18, 2014 in Motherhood

Dylan’s getting stuck on things lately….characters in movies, certain pages in books.  He’ll ask me about them over and over and over again.  I think his little brain has taken in something new and isn’t sure what to do with it.

Asking lots of questions is a normal part of development and not something that concerns me, but I’m reminded of when I worked in counseling.  I saw kids who were having emotional trouble for a variety of reasons, and in a few cases, kids would want to play the same pretend scenes over and over again – either from real life experiences or movies/video games that were beyond their maturity level. It was fairly obvious to me these kids were “stuck” on content they weren’t ready to handle intellectually or emotionally.  It’s quite amazing how through Nondirective Play Therapy kids find a way to process things and move on.

For Dylan, the broken record trips with scenes where people are angry or loud (like Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins), or any mention of things being scary (eyes in the forest in Mercer Mayer’s Just Me and My Dad).


A few nights ago watched the Disney version of Robin Hood for the first time, and since then he has asked me about 35 times in completely random contexts “What are the Rhinos doing, Mommy? What are the Rhinos doing?”  The fight scene in the movie was clearly something new to him.  Angry rhinos wielding axes, Robin Hood running for his life, honestly I wasn’t even watching the movie all that closely since I never anticipated having to go through a full oral analysis with him later.  He knows the answers (chasing Robin Hood, running fast, doing their job, protecting the king) and will say it if I ask him back, but he continues to ask over and over.


Hopefully we’ll come to terms with the rhinos soon.  I try to give him as much information as I can without introducing ideas I don’t want him to think about yet (i.e. fighting, outlaws, telling him things are scary that he didn’t used to think were scary – if he even knows what scary means at this point).  It’s remarkable to think what an innocent blank slate these kids are.  It makes me wonder if I even want to let them watch any more movies, Disney or not.  Oh that I could protect them forever from everything scary and sad.

Any thoughts from my fellow parents?



  1. We’ve gone over the “good guys and bad guys” scenario with Abby from early on. Teaching her that some people make bad choices and can choose to make good choices. Using this movie reference I would tell Abby that the rhinos are not making a good choice, but pose the question to her of “what should the rhinos be doing?” Then she’ll either make up her own story or ask for suggestions. Using similar language that you use when teaching them right from wrong helps even in imaginary worlds. Even Robin Hood makes bad choices by stealing, but he’s seen as a good guy for giving it to others… Abby would say “Maybe next time he should ask.”

    It’s better he learns about the icky stuff from you than from other kids… Who knows what they’ll say. Haha

    • Amanda, Good thoughts! You’re totally right about preferring him to learn stuff with us rather than with other kids…I hadn’t even thought of that part yet. Sigh. This parenting thing is tricky!

  2. This post is interesting. One thing I wonder about is how to bring up the idea of death with Clara. I have pointed out bugs that have died, but that is about it. She talks about me being in my hundreds when she is in her sixties, and I just don’t have the heart to say anything except, “Wow, I would be really old.” My strategy is and continues to be avoidance. I wish we could protect them from life’s more painful realities!

    • yikes, that’s a hard one, too. I haven’t even thought about it yet, but good point. I guess it’s probably along the same lines of explaining life BEFORE they existed…

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