Where does the flashing happen in the carnival

For kindergarten children, for example, an old vehicle first-aid kit is ideal: "Here you go. To play!" Then it often only takes a few minutes, and the children are doctors and seriously injured, childlike empress (golden rescue blanket) or cow (inflated rubber glove), snowflake (gauze bandages), fire chief with a hose (gauze bandages) or mummy (gauze bandages) - in the eye sockets red flashing bike lights.

Children are disguise professionals - all year round and of course again at Mardi Gras. What happens there? Where does it come from? What makes it so attractive?

Dressing up is a pretty clever answer to a pretty nasty insult: as humans we are born with an almost infinite supply of possibilities, we could be and will be almost anything - but are then condemned to live more or less exactly one identity. The answer of disguise: I don't care! I just pretend I'm someone else.

Children can try their hand at role play

The driving force behind this is curiosity. "Children learn most and best through imitation," explains therapist Eva Orinsky. In the game you can try out obvious roles (father-mother-child), unrealistic (cow, Trump) and clichés (princess, cowboy). "Disguised as a princess, I might feel special for the first time, something I don't manage to do in everyday life between my two siblings and my overburdened parents," says Orinsky. "If I have to be a good boy, I can finally shoot around wildly as a cowboy. I feel my suppressed strength and aggression and experience myself powerless instead of, as is often the case, powerless and subordinate to the demands of my anxious parents." At the age of around two to five years, the time of magical thinking, when the lines between fantasy and reality blur, the desire to dress up is greatest and the game is most unrestrained: How does it feel to be someone completely different? How do the others react to me then? Dressing up is perhaps the most glaring form of embodiment.

Eva Orinsky even uses this as her own form of therapy, the so-called IFS therapy, Internal Family System. This means working with inner parts. Children who are branded by the adult world ("You are so aggressive / lazy / know-it-all"), Orinsky says, is immensely relieved to be faced with this inner figure cabinet: "There is probably a part of me that gets angry quickly over-cautious or exhausted. "

The longing for being different, for recovery from the eternal self, has always been given to people. With the Saturnalia, for example, the ancient Romans introduced a kind of precursor to carnival: differences in class were eliminated, toga and tunic were swapped, and the slaves were suddenly served.

The frame is very important. The Saturnalia had a fixed period, for the children it is the protected area of ​​play. The guard rails of what is considered to be tolerable behavior are being re-laid in this context. And if someone goes overboard, they can get out at any time with an exit code without losing face: "It was just a game!" In the past maybe: "Are they Saturnalia!"

Does the fantasy game make our children social cracks?

At the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau University of Education, the Swiss psychologist Sonja Perren researches the fantasy play of kindergarten children. She has drawn up a long list of questions with quality criteria for the fantasy game: Will there be object substitution (banana for telephone), fantasy transformation (telephoning entirely without a telephone)? How long do the children hold up a role? How many sequences do you play? How variable? Is the game related to other children? An intermediate result: children who are good at the "as if game", as Perren calls it, are better able to take on other perspectives and express the feelings of others. You have better relationships with the other children. They are more popular.

Does the jack-of-all-trades fantasy game make our children social cracks? That has not yet been settled, says Perren. "It is unclear what is cause and what is effect." Are they initially more socially competent children and do they develop into better role-players as a result? Or is it actually the other way around, so that with every fantasy game the children can better assess the feelings of others and find more friends? There's a lot to be said for it, says Perren.

So is the humpback whale costume the new early musical education? The perfect prima ballerina outfit a good service to the child's social development? Wait a minute, says Perren, it's never about perfection. "If I actually put on the exact clothes I want to portray - is that still dressing up at all? The art of pretending to be a game consists precisely in defining imperfect disguises according to your own imagination."

Imitation is the crucial learning method in human development. To make it easier for children to have fun and have access to their own fantasy game means to show them how. Dressing up, applying make-up, swapping roles - after all, it's carnival time. "You can behave differently than usual. It's fun - adults and children," says Perren. With one difference: while adults see the carnival as an exemption from social rules (going through, drinking, kissing), the little Robin Hoods and fairies also sound out the other end of the flagpole when they dress up: "You can", says Perren, " behave better than usual in a strange role. "