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"bad guys" and other violent play

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
I have an active almost-four-year-old son, who seems to really be interested right now in playing out things to do with monsters, scary things, wondering about weapons, etc. I'm interested in hearing others thoughts on these things I'm thinking though. I'm determined to raise a gentle, pacifist, non-violent kid even though we live in a crazy world.

My bottom line is NO TV, extremely limited video, since almost all of them either have someone calling someone dumb or pushing or some little thing that he picks up on, and NO toy weapons: guns, swords, knives, etc., and not ok to turn a stick into a sword. Also pretty careful about books we read, although things crop up that raise questions (this is good) in good books too.

He really wanted a toy castle and we to one when he promised us that he would get rid of the weapons, although he tried hard to think of non-violent uses for some of them (chopping wood, cutting cheese!) Everytime we read, he chooses the story in Oliver Pig about scaring away the "monster" which is really a clock. Our favorite book, Mole Music, which is about music changing the world, does have a war about to happen, which the music stops. He has seen toy guns in the store and at other kids houses, but seems to accept that they are not toys that we play with, since they hurt people. Friends talk about "bad guys." Plus, since we took him to 2 peace marches, he has the idea that our president is wanting to have a war and we are trying to get him to talk about his problems instead.

I welcome all of this dialogue with him, but I guess I'm wondering if kids have some need/desire to work through issues of "good and evil" for want of a better term, and how we can do this without sacrificing our commitment to peace.
post #2 of 46
I do think they need to work through the good/evil thing, and your son is at the age when they do that. Personally, I think that if you limit all play that revolves around good guys/bad guys you are doing him a disservice.
post #3 of 46
my son has 5 or 6 swords,`he is obsessed with them, but it is from watching the wiggles, of all things. he is obsessed with captain feathersword.:

i won't let him play with guns that look real, or are heavy like real guns. he & my nephews have sheriff guns that they use to shoot the bad guys. which are stuffed animals or books!

i really intended to forbid all guns, but my sisters & i all played with guns, & i think he really needs the physical play; he feels good after getting rid of the bad guys.

i dunno. if he didn't have them i/m sure he'd use his fingers, can't take THOSE away!!

post #4 of 46
I think it is a necessary issue for kids to work through, and right around 4 seems to be a big age for it. It gets wrapped up in power and control, which are also big 4 yr old issues.

I also think it's important to differentiate play from reality. Playing that people hurt other people is different from hurting other people. Play is how children explore the depth and bredth of these issues, how they explore their fears and explore the issues of power (as well as lots of other things). Resticting the content of play, IMO, is counter-productive. Since your son knows that war is possible, he *needs* to be able to play out his fears about that war.

post #5 of 46
Hmm luckily thus far I haven't had to deal with that yet, My older son is four years old and does not watch *any* violent television, doesn't go to preschool, he loves playing with his thing is trucks, cars, and building type toys. I have really been careful as to what he's exposed to, However, once he starts kindegarten next year and meets friends his age who have that stuff and bring it to class etc. I'm sure he'll ask............
oh and also I would never let him play with toys guns or anything like it..... personally i think it promotes violence and the like.

post #6 of 46
DS is 3 1/2 and is interested in the same type of play. I can only assume he picked it up from the older boys we know...and maybe books we've read at the library (you know those ones you don't know anything about and start reading then need to make up a hasty ending because it's going somewhere you don't like?! yikes!). But I also agree that this is in our dna, something we need to work out, power/control, being in charge...all very exciting to a 3-4 year old, I imagine.

So, I'm increasingly ok with the bad guy/good guy concept, mostly bad guys are carted off to jail (which is just horrible that ds even knows what that is! Introduced to the word by a little friend with an older brother....)

But our big hang up has to do with death and playing: anyone else have this issue? 'If you eat that you will die!' he says really excitedly. I think it is the forbidden, the idea that death is sacred and therefor taboo ( what we really want to impart is that life is sacred and should be lived fully).

any ideas, suggestions?
post #7 of 46
My 2.5 year old has learned this kind of play from the big boys at his child care. It's fine with me- but I don't have any weapon-like toys at home. He still manages to contorn his arm to represent a rifle quite nicely! As long as he's directing the aggression at make-believe evil characters and not real life members of the family, it's okay with me.
post #8 of 46
I don't keep my son in the dark as far as things on tv, bad guys and what-nots, because he'll pick it up at day care anyway. So I just try my best to tell him its ok to just "play" but that he must not hurt anyone. He's 3 1/2 now, and seems to be doing fine with the just playing thing....
My thought is that sooner or later he'll come across something bad, and I'd rather he understood that he can play games and such, but that it is not nice to be mean or hurt other people.
I think he is too young to understand the difference between reality and cartoons, but those cartoons were around when I was a kid, and I don't run around hitting people or shooting them.
My son seems to better understand that its NOT NICE TO HURT THE CATS..... for some reason he knows that its BAD to be mean to them, his parents however become fair game every now and then, and we have to REMIND him that it hurts or whatever.

He came home the other day saying something about being dead forever I have no idea where that came from!!! Its awfull to hear that from a 3 1/2 year old, but its the world we live in, and we have to deal with it.

post #9 of 46
Thread Starter 
Wow, great to get so many replies. I think you are all moms of sons, if I read correctly. . . doesn't that make you wonder? I liked being able to think about what you all had written.

Maybe a part of this that is making it so hard for me is being upset that our president is about to start WW III, and feeling sad that I'm raising my kids (have two baby daughters as well) in such a violent society. Sure, those cartoons were around when we were kids, and I think that is part of why we are so violent. You and I aren't running around shooting and hitting people, but plenty of others our age are! I just want my kids to grow up knowing that violence is not the answer, even in response to violence, and to work to make the world a safer place.

My problem with "bad guys" is that using a term like that makes it possible for us to start thinking in an us/them scenario, and the next thing you know, it is ok to kill someone, as long as they are "the enemy" and it also leads kids to think that humans can be all "bad", not a mixture of good and bad traits or behaviors. It seems like we go from it being ok to shoot make believe bad guys when we are three, to it being ok to shoot someone who looks different from us when we are in a war. (OK, if you haven't guessed by now, I am totally anti-war) Personally, the word "bad" is so loaded anyways that I try to avoid it altogether in favor of more discriptive terms (unkind, thoughtless, unwise, etc.) but we do say "guys who do bad things" to stress that actions can be negative, but people aren't.

I do see that there is the need to confront scary things, and people who are mean, and frightening dogs (and monsters and dragons!) and that play is the safest way to do this. I know people say that this can be cathartic, but I wonder if instead of "getting it out", it is practicing how you will respond. I want him to practice either outwitting the "bad guys" or talking it out diplomatically. It is SO hard to find books/stories where the hero does this (I'm looking for The Fifth Sacred Thing for three-year-olds). There must be ways to play this out without playing at hurting other people. Ideas?

Yes, I am the queen of spontaneous faked endings for books I didn't read ahead of time!

The death thing must be a three-year old thing too. I am amazed at the questions about death that have come up. I think that if we are to embrace and live life fully, it means that we can't be afraid of death. Life is sacred, BECAUSE of the existence of death, and the fragility of it, and I think that pondering about death helps us grasp this, I just wasn't prepared at all for my three-year old to start pondering yet. I try to teach my kids that we have spirits that will leave our bodies when we die and that our spirits can be together in some way after our bodies die, and the quickly go on to reassure them that we won't die for a long long time. . . and keep my fingers crossed.

So, if I make him give the swords up that his little toy knights came with and make them talk nicely to each other, should I also tell him that castles basically existed because one guy was really really greedy and made everyone work for him and give him everything they made?

Arrrrgg. . . parenting is such a tough job!
post #10 of 46
I grew up with two brothers and am surrounded by small boys so I am also of the persuasion that this is a hot topic for boys.

My only comment is that I think it is fabulous to be anti-war; if the whole world was that way we would be in a hell of a lot better shape. However, I do see a distinction between the utilizing of scenerios etc with "bad guys" and acting or learning violence.

It seems that kids instinctively search out the distinction between good vs evil and it is interesting to see what they come up with for "evil actions" and "good actions." This seems like a valuable lesson and maybe your son will be even more peace loving if he acts out scenerios where bad actions are involved, ie this also leads into a great discussion on what the rest of the people (or toys) feel, react, etc. Unfortunately a lot of bad guys in various forms exist today and throughout history. This may be a perfect way to bring up discussion or comments about bad guys who do use violence in many scary ways. I know you mentioned you are limiting using the word bad in relation to people but sometimes it is a helpful term because it can accurately describe persons who have chosen a life of personal, unending violence not only as a solution to a problem but as a personal catharsis or vendetta, here I think bad guys is a most accurate term. (not of course that I would recommend a discussion on Stalin!)

I also think that kids in general feel a lack of power and this type of play helps them feel a sense of control, but this is mere conjecture and opinion.
On a somewhat practical note perhaps you could set up a scenerio for him, ie castle knight who is raising a family in a peaceful setting and really focus on their life etc. and later this knight is confronted by a knight who destroys everything etc. This scenerio may demonstrate the value of peace etc. and how precious it is and in a subtle manner show how violence disrupts that peace and even if he uses violence to solve the problem now you have set the stage for more sophisticated choices, negotiation etc.

Sorry for the ramble
post #11 of 46
I agree that it's important to see people as multi-dimensional, not just "good" and "bad". I'm just not sure if a 3 yr old is developmentally capable of going there yet. Pretend guys *can* be all good or all bad - that's what makes fantasy so great. Real life is more confusing, and maybe that's why young children (and not so young children) need to retreat to that black and white world sometimes.

I think it's good to make the dintinction between real life and fantasy, to allow a pretend character to be all bad but to gently point out that the boy who pushes you at a playground may have had a sad day and didn't know how to talk about it, or maybe do one ever taight him how to say "excuse me", or whatever. It *is* important to not allow real people to be labeled as "bad".

As Rain has gotten older, her play has become more in-depth and her characters have become more multi-faceted - often the character doing "bad" things turns out to be sad or hurt inside, which reflects our conversations about real people. But she's ten now...

I also think "bad" characters help children manage and conquer their fears - if one can completely control someone or something who scares you in play, you feel stronger and you feel more powerful, and more able to deal with that person or thing in reall life. Feeling powerful is a good thing, it means children feel that they can make a difference in their worlds. Play is basically symbolic - Rain did some pretty horrible things to the pedophile who lived across the street in play when she was 6, and then she was able to walk ou the door with her head high even if he stood in the doorway and watched us.


post #12 of 46

Re: "bad guys" and other violent play

Originally posted by Theo's Mama

I welcome all of this dialogue with him, but I guess I'm wondering if kids have some need/desire to work through issues of "good and evil" for want of a better term, and how we can do this without sacrificing our commitment to peace.
Yes. I have agonized over this for a long time. When my youngest son was a baby, I thought, we'll have no violent TV or play so he won't be interested in that stuff. Wrong! Now he's 4 years old. I tried everything to re-direct his interests but...just made him more determined. We went from forbidding gun play, sword play, etc. to allowing him to do what he wants with his toys (we wont buy violent toys), he makes his own swords and guns. Today he was talking about the "thing" he saw at Zany Brainy (it was a light saber from Star Wars) and said he needed it. I was adamant at first that he wouldn't be getting one. He then said that we could change the name to Light Saver, it would protect us from the bad monsters. He was getting upset, lips quivering. Then he said "Every time I ask you for war toys you always say no, then it just makes me more of a war boy. I just want it to protect me from the monsters". That really got to me. I told him he was right. And we would consider getting the light saver next time we're toy shopping. I do believe that forbidding this entirely, just makes it more desirable. There is something in them that needs to work through this. If nothing else, I think of the opportunity to discuss these things. I'm not too worried about him, he's a sensitive soul. Today he saw me crying and was instantly by my side, crying with me. When I asked him later what he thought when he saw me crying he said it made him "sad, as fast as a rocket".
post #13 of 46
As my mother learned with my little brother, these things seem to be innate! My parents had five girls, and then a boy, and none of us girls were ever into swords, bad guys, etc. We did not watch any TV at all at our house, toy weapons were not allowed, my brother did not attend daycare or preschool, and didn't really have any playmates outside the family before he started school. By 18 months, we started noticing that he played a little differently than his older sisters did -- his favorite game was setting up the driveway of his toy garage at the edge of the table so that his cars would go flying off, at which point he would shout "crash!" at the top of his lungs. By age 2, he developed the world's biggest fascination with swords, sharks, and bad guys -- we had no idea where he picked these up! He would head outside to the backyard every single day, pick up a stick to be his "tord" and spend the rest of the afternoon fighting sharks and bad guys. By 3 or 4, he would point his fingers and go, "bang, bang" even though we again had no idea where he had come across the idea of a gun. My mom did eventually relax her "no weapons" rule, and lets him have toys that have weapons, but no toy guns his size for him to play with. My brother is now 10 years old, and loves playing with his pirate ship, his police station, and his Lego fortress, but he's a very gentle, loving little guy, and we have no worries about any violent tendencies
post #14 of 46
Thread Starter 

I think it is interesting how your son was able to tell you that forbidding things made it more important to him. I think it does, and worry about that, but of course at the same time, there are still plenty of things I'm willing to forbid. . . I also like how he was able to tell you a more positive use for the light sword, and to kind of let you know that he wouldn't use it to hurt people. I don't even know how kids find out about monsters. There's a book about Amanda Pig and she thinks the clock looks like a monster and they scare it, and I have to read that story again and again and again.

I just keep wondering did the little Dalai Lama play swords? Little Ghandi? Is this just so ingrained in our culture? Did John Lennon let little Sean play war games?

Glad I've got two daughters, but I'm sure they will bring their own set of challenges!!
post #15 of 46
Theo's Mama,
Finding out how little control I have over what my kids see was one of the defining moments of parenting. My sons watch no violent TV, they don't have friends who are into that sort of thing and of course we are not. But, my 1st son saw his 1st gun (toy) at an Ikea store. It was in the hands of an older boy, he was "shooting" everyone. : It's been a series of events like that. I was extremely frustrated b/c I was told that Zany Brainy didn't carry violent toys as a matter of policy. I felt like it would be a safe place to shop with my boys. Well, apparently their idea of violent and mine are entirely different. They have "Rescue Heros" with machine guns, the light sabers from Star Wars, etc. I asked the manager what happened to the no violent toys policy. She said "Oh, yes we don't sell those here". I showed her the ones w/guns and she was suprised! Her response was "Well, this store is going out of business soon anyway". So, I will stick to catalogue and internet shopping. Places like EcoBaby, Magic Cabin etc. (even though they all sell toy swords). It's safer for now. But, as I said, there is so much I don't have control over. When these things come up I just roll my eyes and remind myself that it's yet another opportunity to talk with my kids about what I value.
post #16 of 46
Hi everyone,

I have one son (8 y.o.) and one daughter (6 y.o.). It has also been our experience that our boy has been interested in guns, violent, good and evil-type play. This was especially true at 4 years old. We did not ever limit his imaginative play. However, I would try to "redirect" his play into something more peaceful at that age. This made him really angry, and allowed me to see that I was violating him.

He knew that by trying to manipulate his ideas, I was not accepting of him and his ideas. I was telling him that his creativity was unacceptable. So, I stopped trying to manipulate his play, and he happily acted out shooting, good/evil, bad guys, death and destruction.

We've always had very open, candid conversations about violence, sex, war, etc. My husband and I have watched documentaries on the Civil War and documentaries on World War II with our son, and have honestly (tyring to be careful to not be manipulative - I have a tendency to do that! ;-) ) discussed our views with him. Now that war is brewing, again, we are discussing our ideas about it with him. He is truly appalled at the idea of our country going to war. He's appalled at the idea of war in general.

He is a very wise person, who blows me away with the depth of his understanding and insight into human nature. I'm seeing, now, that all my fears of him becoming violent because of (what I interpreted as) violent play at a younger age were completely unfounded.

He got some army toys from an uncle at Christmas this year. He played with them by making the soldiers do silly things like stand on their heads and shoot into the ground - slapstick kind of stuff.

post #17 of 46
Thread Starter 
I know what you mean, openskyheart, about them feeling violated when you try to massage their play into the direction you want, and that is so hard for me to resist. I keep thinking, "I'm the parent, I have to help him grow the right direction." I'm relieved to hear that your son found his own way through this kind of stuff. That helps me take a step (tiny) back.

Omegamama, I think it's amazing what other people see as non-violent toys. Someone gave my son that rescue set for Xmas, and I had to weed through it to pull out the little guns. Later, he goes, "Hey, where did those little pointy things go?" Like you, I remind myself often that this is my opportunity to teach some values.

My son has this great toy collection of toys for "both genders", construction, carwash, airport, dollhouse, cleaning supplies, babies and kitchen. At this point in time, though, the mop is stabbing at pretend sharks, the toy frogs are hitting each other at the playground, the kitchen keeps catching on fire, the construction people are bashing down buildings (and the babies seem to be sleeping undisturbed!)

I really really believed that all this aggression in boys was taught by our expectations and society and media exposure, but I have had to reassess that view, after protecting him pretty darn well and still having this crop up. Not that I don't think he can grow up nurturing (luckily, he has a fantastic role model in his dad), just that it looks like more work than I thought!

I suppose it is not unrelated that we have three-month old twin babies and this has been a real ordeal for him. I'm sure some of this has to do with working out his grief/anger at not being the center of our universe (alone) anymore. I'm still just baffled where some of this comes from. I guess I should feel lucky that he's finding ways of working it out through play, instead of taking it out on the babies/friends/us, as he has in the past.

Its a wild ride!
post #18 of 46
OK, I am here with an oppposing viewpoint.
My ds is 6. He *never* engaged in violent play. He never turned anything into a gun, and only once or tiwce carried arounf a "sword" He is actually extremely frightened by violent play. So much so, that we have had to say no to violent play for our other kids. My 4 yo ds will occasionally want too do guns or tanks. As a matter of fct, it had really never occured to him until he watched Liberty's Kids. I have simply told him that we dont play shooting games and he needs to find something else to do. He accepted this with no problems. We currently have two nephews staying with us. They are 2 and 3. They have watched a lot of Power Rangers and Transformers and they havea lot of Transformer toys. I have simply told them that Monsters and Shooting games are not allowed in our house bc they scare Alex and Derek. The oldest has a Transformer that he brought. I showed it to my ds and he was very afraid of it. I told dn that it was very scary to Alex and Derek, and I would not allow him to play with something that will scare them. I gave him the option of going into my boys room and playing with it by himself in there, or playing with something else in the living room with the other kids. He has not had a problem with this arrangement. SOme nights he asks to bring the transformer to bed. Since they slep in seperate rooms, that is okay by nme. But, he actually spends most of his time reading and only plays with his transformer every now and then. They are not showing any signs of misplaced aggression or anger.

So, I do not see any problme with redirectiong them to another game and not allowing violent games. We never make a big deal about it, we just put it all very matter of factly.
post #19 of 46
Thread Starter 
Hi boysrus,

I don't think it is really an opposing point of view, since it is where I am coming from. My son just seems to have a need to get out some aggression right now and that kind of play seems powerful to him, which I am grappling with. . .I want to redirect him and have it be no big deal, but it keeps cropping up for him for some reason.
post #20 of 46
I went through a period of wanting to make an issue out of gun and sword play. We don't have TV in our house, and carefully screen movies ahead of time. What helped me get over my negative reaction to that sort of play was reading "In Mrs. Tully's Room" by Vivian Paley. It is about children's stories.

Here is a story my 3 year old dd dictated to me. She started it, we acted it out, she created some more.....

Panther and the Girl and the Fire and the Dragon
by Ananda Burke

One day, there was a girl who made a fire, and she put a dragon to sleep there. And she went around the house to see if there were any panthers there, and if there were she would shoot them. When she finds one, it eats her up before she gets to shoot the panther and kill it. But she flashes at it and she gets away before it eats her up, and she hides under a blanket, and the panther beats her heart. Ant then she poked out her head and jumps out and shoots the panther. Before the girl could shoot him, he spranged up and she runs away, and there were big footprints and little footprints. "I'm sorry panther. I'm sorry I tried to shoot you." "I'm sorry too. I forgive you." And then they're all friends. Isn't that nice?

The End

OK, so we're reading "Little House in the Big Woods" which is where the panther shooting is coming from..... Flashes: this is a device she made up, to flash at the panther and startle it, I guess. Beats her heart: she's scared and her heart is beating fast

We have also had stories about a "mean guy" (which is her name for "bad guys" since we try to avoid labelling people as good and bad : ) a mean guy menacing some fairies. He captured them and threw them in the ocean. Immediately, she decided she didn't like that and changed the ocean to a hot spring. She loves to go to hot springs. Other friends joined them, and they had a great time....

I think it is important to let them play this stuff out without giving it a bunch of negative energy. We can't shelter them from their dark feelings, nor should we if we want them to feel good about themselves.

Peace to you and your families!

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