My Son is Obsessed with Thomas...and That's OK

6:15 AM

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Anyone who has ever been to our house or who know Eamon knows one things: he is obsessed with trains, especially Thomas the Tank Engine. There are literally hundreds of the wooden, metal, and now "mini" trains in strategic areas of the home along with their corresponding tracks, buildings, and other accessories and other items he likes to fabricate into his own little Island of Sodor. What began as a 20-minute nightly routine on Sprout TV has grown into a life of its own - and guess what? I am totally fine with that.

During the last part of my pregnancy with Eamon we decided to hook up the TV for cable again. I was home on bed rest and prior to this we had gone years without television. When E was about six months old we began putting the Sprout TV station on around dinner time. Their nighttime line up included a few things he liked, but life came to a halt when they started playing Thomas and Friends. As soon as the song came on he became a different child. I introduced it to him because as a kid, I, too, absolutely adored Thomas, but we didn't have the cartoon like it is now. Instead, we had this charming little show called Shining Time Station, which featured a magical miniature Mr. Conductor (played by both Ringo Starr and George Carlin at different points) who told children the narrated tales of Thomas and his railway friends on the Island of Sodor. I obsessed over the show until it no longer aired on PBS. I wasn't really obsessed with trains, but I did like Ringo Starr and though the little British tales were quite sweet. Having it back on the TV gave Eamon and I an instant connection and since then, we spend time every day watching the shows (both old and new), playing with his tracks, and collecting all of the little character trains.

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Buying Dozens of Thomas Minis with his Birthday Money

In his four years there is absolutely no other toy nor show nor activity that has drawn Eamon's interested like these fictional trains. In fact, this is not abnormal. It seems that Thomas and Friends is, and has always been like a special family to kids - especially those with spectrum disorders and sensory troubles. There have been a number of studies on why this is: the bright colors, the soothing narratives, and the concept of straight lines are all things children with ASD are drawn to. Regardless of what it is that draws him in, I know that it is probably one of the only things that has helped little E communicate so well, understand emotion, and develop an interest in building and all things wheeled and mechanical. He quite frankly was the only two year old running around saying he was "cross" at another child, which often spurred a line of questions on where he learned such "adult" and "interesting" words. And not only that, I know that he is learning important life lessons as well, and as a parent, I fully support the positive influence the program has on children and the viable lessons it helps to teach - in particular, to be caring and responsible.

20150814_181404Supervising Little E  Being "Really Useful" by "Mopping" the Kitchen Floor (One of his chores, even if it is only with water!)

Always be really useful...

As with any good children's programming, the show is engineered (see what I did there?) to foster positive relationships, promote a sense of community, efficiency, and resolve conflicts. Unfortunately, a lot of people like to call Thomas nazi-esq propaganda: if you're not "really useful," you'll be sent away for "scrap." Although I can understand the comparison being the pseudo-punk driven parent I can be at times, it seems a little drastic. I ask this: What is so wrong with teaching children to be productive members of society? In my opinion: absolutely nothing. In fact, I think promotion of the concept and less bashing from entitlists would help make society a better place IMO, but I digress.

As the comparison tends to be made by the same population who at one point and time idolized Carl Marx, I find the chastising of the concepts to be a little off and misunderstood. Being "useful" simply means being responsible, hard working, always trying to help out, and striving to do the absolutely best that you can regardless of the situation. A "really useful engine" get the job done, helps out his friends, and is polite; and "really useful engines" receive rewards. But, of course, blogospherians like to chastise the show calling it "sexist", "hierarchical," "fascist" and "imperialistic . Eamon understands that for him, being "useful" means to do his chores (the few there are), to do his best with everything he does, and to be respectful to other people. But instead of trying to cut apart children's programming and turn it into a comparison of Animal Farm sending poor Boxer to the glue factory, you would think the concepts of hard work ethic and respecting someone of authority would resonate with today's culture...again, I digress...


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Be a good friend...

Of course the cheeky little engines get into all kinds of quarrels, have their little fits, play tricks on one another (just like kids do) and battle each other for the admiration and rewards from the Fat Controller (Sir Toppam Hatt) (also, just like kids...and adults...do), but in the end there are lessons learned and one of the biggest is to always be a good friend!

Eamon was watching an episode the other day where James the red engine is too focused on being the best and doesn't stop to help out one of his friends who was in a bind. When he meets up with Salty (the good old "salt" from the docks with a story for every occasion) quickly reminds his that "No job is more important than helping another engine." James quickly learns he is wrong and corrects his err by helping a stranded diesel engine who ran out of fuel get where he needs to be.

Be a good friend, be kind to others, and help when you are needed, can't really see the harm in that one, either.

20151223_110002The "I got caught snooping and found a Christmas present I wasn't supposed to have yet" face. 

Rules, Boundaries and Consequences

Whether we like to agree with it or not, the world has rules. Growing up, our parents make the rules. We have rules at school. We have rules in sports matches. And after that you have rules in the workplace. You have laws. You have religious commandments. And for each set of rules you have applicable consequences. Does this suck sometimes, absolutely, but it is how the world functions. We all have responsibilities and boundaries we have to adhere to. I mean, who wants to pay taxes? But we all know if we don't, we'll end up in it big time.For children (especially those with special needs) the concept of boundaries are difficult to explain and sometimes difficult to enforce. Having a program that appeals to them on their level that helps to further explain why we have rules in a way that they are not physically experiencing the consequences themselves is beneficial and helps to create an analogy that children will understand: Do you remember what happened when Sir Toppam Hatt told Thomas not to ride too fast on the ice and he derailed and needed to be fixed? If you go fast on the ice, you can fall and get hurt as well.

Rules and consequence explained. There is no such thing as a life without rules and consequences - try as you might. 

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A masterful track creation: Little E Playing with one of his Favorite Christmas Presents

Of course I, as pretty much every blogger/basher who criticizes children's programming, have little formal psycho-social experience in the matter (although before I dropped out of college I was studying criminal justice and psychology and working in a legal-based profession half of my life has given me enough insight into the whys of dysfunction and criminal behavior, so I'd say I have a leg up on pseudo-anarchist millennial). However, I hardly believe that this staple of Brit/American child culture is going to teach children to engage in the violent and deviant behavior so many other so-called child programs like to glamorize or turn them into a nazi-sympathizer like my counterparts (whom I could point out that most are not even parents themselves) try to indicate. And even though the hyper-commercialism of his devotion can cost me a few hundred dollars a year, it gives us something wholesome to do together as a family, teaches values, cause and effect, and who knows, might inspire him to become an engineer himself (or even run his own railway!).

And in the end, who are we to tell our children what is "allowed" to make them happy (as long as it's nothing illegal,
of course :) ), especially when it is educational and informative? Sounds like a different form of mind control to me...




This blog was also published at MomBloggersClub and BlogLovin'.
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