As a parent, you may be startled to learn that your child’s interest in violent fantasies is normal and even healthy. Is violent play a concern for parents? Experts tell you when you can relax and when you should intervene.
When it’s normal.
Pretend violence is almost universally accepted as normal. Violent play is not possible. Violence is an attempt to inflict pain on someone else. Play, on the other hand, is an enjoyable activity by definition. So long as no one is scared or injured while youngsters are having fun, the game is not violent.
The experts all believe that pretend play is an important element of growing up and becoming a person. Themes that pique or frighten children are often dealt with through play because they can’t always express their thoughts. Presume nothing about what a child’s fantasy on weapons and death means to.
Children lack the historical and social background that adults have until they are between the ages of 6 and 9, at which point they begin to understand the permanency of death.
However, the importance of play is amplified when it is based on personal experiences. We can’t have a dialogue if we stop the play. How children deal with difficult situations is via play. As a child, my daughter claimed to be a pirate and shot sharks to stop them from biting and stealing people’s blood.
We’d just returned from the doctor’s office, where we’d had blood drawn, and suddenly this concerned me. She was making meaning of a frightening situation by acting it out. This is how kids learn to control their anxiety and panic.
Regardless of whether you agree with their interest in gunfire and explosions, you shouldn’t be alarmed. Giving children a negative view of fantasy can be the most damaging thing we can possibly do to them.
Violence in games isn’t necessarily a symptom of a disordered mind, just like 5-year-olds who play doctor don’t automatically go to medical school, there is no study that establishes a link between childhood play and adult aggression, much less a cause-and-effect relationship.
Pretending to be aggressive may even be beneficial, according to new research. Those children who engaged in more adversarial play were less likely to engage in aggressive behavior in their regular lives. This group of kids had a greater tendency to share and take turns than others. It’s possible that children use aggressive play as a strategy to process their feelings.
It’s Not Okay When…
It’s important to remember that just because pretend violence is generally healthy doesn’t imply you should disregard it. Being involved in your child’s activities is critical. If you’re curious about what’s on your child’s mind, it’s helpful to pay attention to what she’s interested in, whether it’s a new video game or the latest lockdown drill at school.
You are responsible for ensuring that the play is safe and consenting at all times. Games can lose their enjoyable factor when children’s (super-powerful!) imaginations take over, or when the physical parts, such as chasing and wrestling, become excessively intense.
Keep an open mind as a result of this. Children may get protective or sneaky if you enter their room and interrupt their game. To get them to accept that the game is frightening them, acknowledge the aspects of the game that are amusing before you ask them if they are afraid.
For example, experts begin to worry about violent themes in the case of children who are carrying out a story line that they seem unable or unable to end. You might be able to help your youngster come up with a solution to the story if you were in that scenario. A therapist can help your child work through her feelings if the play is connected with a painful incident or if she has been exposed to real violence.
Additionally, if play is characterized by violence, you should intervene. It’s possible that your youngster struggles with emotional regulation and impulsive control. If you witness your child repeatedly slamming toys into each other without any rhyme or reason, bring it up to your pediatrician’s attention.
If your child shows signs of hostility toward animals or younger children, this may be a sign that he is having problems telling the difference between truth and fiction. Consider whether the violence in a narrative is directed at a specific child if you’re reading it with older kids. Girls in elementary school, particularly those who identify as female, can use pretend play as a means of excluding or even masking bullying.
When It’s Culture
What if your child’s play is filled with images of bursting heads and shredded limbs? An obvious first question is where she gets her information. Her media consumption is most likely to blame, as violence can appear in unexpected places. Observation of violent entertainment has been linked to mildly elevated levels of hostility, according to research.
However, what is more concerning is the tendency of children to become fixated on specific images. Even less vivid forms of screen violence can raise concern in children, who may not be able to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Make sure children under the age of eight are not exposed to excessive amounts of violent content on screens, and use discretion even when dealing with older children.
It is particularly important for parents to be aware of the messages that our society sends to males about violence. For guys, this can make it more difficult for them not to participate in activities that they find too “girly,” or to engage in play based on “girly” ideas.
Instead of outlawing violent content, provide a wide range of alternatives. As a rule of thumb, males should be allowed to play with dolls and dress-up outfits in preschool, as well as nonviolent novels, activities, and movies that they can watch alongside their classmates.
It is hard to protect our children from the talks these events provoke despite our best attempts to protect them from the horrors of terrorism and school shootings.