Should You Set Limits for Pretend Play?
"Bang, bang! You're dead!" Whether it's fake sword fighting, pretend gunplay, or a superhero scene recreated, parents may cringe at the idea of make-believe violence where kids pretend to kill each other. But there's more to pretend play than meets the eye, which is part of the reason you can't stop kids from doing it. Learn what pretend play means to children, and find out when you should step in.
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By Lucy Rector Filppu and Keren Perles
“Bang, bang! You’re dead!” In a culture filled with violent video games, TV shows and images of war, it’s unnerving to see children pretending to kill each other. But whether it’s pretend gunplay, fake sword fighting or a superhero scene recreated, there’s more to it than just violence. How can kids safely use their imagination, and when should you step in?
Clarify Your Values
Use Props That Have Multiple Uses
Know When to Step In
“If two kids are wrestling, and one kid is being pinned, and they’re smiling at each other while it happens, that’s fine,” says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play and author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. But if one child is definitely not enjoying it, you should intervene and help them understand where they stepped over the line.
Allow Kids Some Leeway
Don't Shame Kids
Despite your discomfort, be careful in disciplining kids for play you find inappropriate. “The last thing you want to do is shame your child, because that leads boys to mask their feelings and act with false bravado,” warns William Pollack, Ph.D., author of Real Boys. Instead, ask open-ended questions and even play along to better understand your child’s perspective.
Make Decisions Together
Watch Out for Mismatches
Put a Positive Spin on Play
Take a deep breath and realize pretend fighting is a stage like any other. It doesn’t mean your child is destined for a life of crime. Curiosity and vulnerability often lie beneath the “Bang, Bang” bravado. Use the opportunity to teach your kid about the world and about his own ability to reach great heights.
Looking for activities that inspire peaceful forms of play? Try these 9 outdoor games for outdoor kids, or for the little princess in your home, do our fairy tale crafts to add cool props to pretend play.