by Jill Shugart, M.A., M.F.T. for ParentsConnect
Getty"Every time my boys play together, there is 'pretend' violence involved. I don't let them have toy weapons, but that doesn't seem to stop the behavior. "
As disturbing as this kind of play can be for parents and teachers, it is actually normal and of value to children. Children live in a world in which they do not have much control. They struggle with feeling powerless, with having to regulate their own impulses, with having to figure out what is acceptable and what is not and with having to gain control of the things they experience.
Because of this, children are drawn to issues related to good and evil, right and wrong or the good guys vs. the bad guys. Pretend violent play becomes the vehicle, particularly for boys, for dramatizing these issues, and for helping them make sense of the world and their place in it. "If the bad guys come to a bad end, then all's right with the world. If I can use my weapon to kill the bad guys, then I can feel strong, safe and in control."
That being said, I totally support your position of not supplying your boys with toy weapons. These toys leave no room for the imagination. There is only one way to play with them. Whereas, other, more open-ended toys-such as blocks, dinosaurs or action figures-lend themselves to a variety of creative, free play activities that the child controls.
Banning violent play never seems to work. The best plan is to set some boundaries and parameters:
- Encourage your kids to expand the play in some creative manner: building a castle out of blocks for the knights, a fort for the soldiers or a vehicle for the superheroes.
- Get a large supply of action figures and set them up on a table or on the floor with a variety of blocks and building toys. Kids can spend hours with these, acting out the same exact themes, but in a safer and more controlled manner.
- Establish some safety rules for violent pretend play, e.g., only outside or in their bedrooms, and they cannot hurt each other's bodies. Remind them that pretend fighting can often turn into real fighting, and that they risk getting hurt. And if someone gets hurt, the game is over.
Okay, spill it: Do you let your kids have toy weapons? Let us know below!
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