So you suddenly caught your child playing the role of a bad guy from a cartoon or of a villain in a recent movie and you are worried. What to do?
Children's understanding of violence and fantasy
First, you need to understand that young children (under 8 years) hardly understand the complexities of violent behaviour the way adults do.
- Young children do not necessarily associate violent behaviour with concepts like pain and suffering. They focus more on the activity and excitement of behaviour rather than on its effects.
- Young children see things in black and white - good guys and bad guys. They think good people are good all the time and bad people are bad all the time.
- Young children do not know how to distinguish between reality and imagination. [Parents - This is not a bad thing. Imagination fosters creativity and has its advantages. If children transcend to reality too quickly, they may become too cynical and you can expect a lot more questioning from them about everything!]
Why do children indulge in this type of role play?
Children are often in an environment where they are learning what is acceptable and what is not. They are being told what is good behaviour and what is not. When they see someone who is able to do a lot of exciting things (whether good or bad), they feel like that character has no restraints on them and decide to emulate them. This makes them feel like they are in charge atleast in their minds.
Sometimes, by pretending to be a different character, they give themselves an excuse to indulge in activities (like wielding a play sword or pretending to kick someone) which they may not do otherwise.
What should I tell my child?
It takes time to make a child act differently. A simple scolding may only put the behaviour aside temporarily. It may still manifest itself later or in other places like friends' houses and school. Here are some tips on what you can do to educate the child and how you can address such a situation.
- Teach them empathy for the people who suffer. Talk about the suffering and pain caused by the act of violence.
- Talk to children about the difference between imagination and why it is good and why it is different from reality.
- Teach children that good people are not good all the time and neither are bad people bad all the time.
- Encourage children to look for other options to solve issues. For example, if your child wants to play a fighter, ask them what the fighter would do if he did not have his superblaster magic sword with him? Would he have to use words?
- You can also get involved in the situation as a character and lead the way by showing how to use words.
- Use examples from other cartoons or movies or books they have seen/read about how other characters have resolved their differences with words rather than by fighting.
- Control television viewing that glorifies violence
- Set some simple rules for your child. Maybe they can choose to be a violent character but they must use only words to get things done.
- Let your children make some of the simpler decisions in their life so they feel they are in control.
Above all, don't panic. Children are just that - children. They may have a passing fancy with a character. Observe them for some time before stepping in to correct the situation.