Many parents, teachers and child-care providers are troubled with aggressive play. Is it as bad as we think it is? Should it be tolerated? Do we promote it? How do we get rid of it?
Why do preschoolers play this way sometimes? Three-, 4- and 5-year-olds typically are not in control of their own lives. Adults make most of the decisions, and older siblings and playmates make up most of the rules. Teachers and child-care providers work with larger groups of children and must have some control over planned activities and schedules. Preschoolers may feel a bit lost in this world of older decision makers.
War play, gun play, superhero and violent play help 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds feel more in control, especially of things they fear: noises, animals, toileting, bedtime, monsters and ghosts, bed wetting, people who look different than them, getting lost, going to child care, losing a parent, death, injury and parents divorcing.
These types of play make it possible for preschoolers to do some sorting by making distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, power and powerlessness, good guys and bad guys, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
The glamour, power and wit of superheroes and good guys are attractive to young children who feel they have few of these qualities. As parents and teachers of preschoolers, how do we combat these foes? Do we necessarily want to?
State the rules, such as, "Use your body and words without hurting others, yourself or property." Enforce these limits without hurting others with your words or actions. Adults are children's role models.
Take opportunities to talk about how the evil villain might have otherwise solved his problem. Watch a favorite superhero show together or read fairy tales and work with the children to create your own peaceful endings.
Help the children rotate roles so that everyone can be the "good person" and the "bad person" equally.
Set up safety measures to allow children to leave the game, call time out or rotate roles whenever they wish.
Provide props for fire fighting and capturing wild animals to "doctor up" and "make well." These alternatives give children power over fearful situations without violence. Also, the "evil" is not a person.
Monitor TV and video viewing. Children need lots of time for creative play. This means less television and more interaction in a supportive learning environment filled with many options and caring adults.
Limit the amount of time children are allowed for aggressive play.
Stop hurtful language and actions. Work with the children to decide what to do instead next time.
Give children power daily by letting them make choices and take responsibility. Treat them respectfully and support their feelings as they learn to deal with their power and all the influences to which they're exposed.
This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your county home economist for more parenting information and other home economics programs.
NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin, or disability; and are an equal opportunity employer.
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