Superhero Play


This is what I learned at a recent seminar at my work with Eric Hoffman on superhero play with children, it is so intriguing. Here is the overview!

“When we tell children who are playing with guns and such “don’t play with that” they hear “you don’t want me to have friends? you don’t want me to feel powerful”?”

As adults we have to learn to look through the perspective of a child. They have a different perspective than adults and we cannot understand them or where they are unless we see through their eyes.

At ages 3-4 they begin to have different fears and emotions; they are figuring out friendship and they can start to view the past and future in a broader sense. For example; when mom leaves the child at school and says she will pick him or her up at a certain time that child can now imagine mom as she goes to work and what that looks like, so some children at this age start to go through the stage of being clingy again and crying when mom leaves.

Why are children attracted to superhero and weapon play?
It allows them to:

-Investigate power and autonomy
-Balance the desire for power with the need for friendship
-Test their own physical limits
-Explore feelings
-Answer “big questions”(what does it mean to be alive, dead, boy or girl? they take a little information and make a BIG judgment.. like “I hate you” “You’re not my friend anymore” there is no grey area for them, it is all black and white…. they also start to form stereotypes, what is good and bad? fair and unfair? right and wrong? Am I good or bad? (they are still egocentric at this age) Some children want to try out the “bad” guy role in play but some are still too afraid.

Why are parents and caregivers worried about the play?

They are concerned about:

-The influence of modern media through–
-Sanitized violence
-Use of weapons and violence in place of good storytelling

-Childrens use of negative behaviors, including:

-Hurting themselves and others
-Relying on violence and stereotypes to solve problems
-Disrupting classroom routines and missing other learning opportunities
-Abandoning more imaginative and creative play

Banning or ignoring superhero play won’t help children find positive answers to their questions about themselves and about the world. If we don’t facilitate and guide the play, they will get many of their answers from the media.

Teachers and parents can support positive superhero play by:

-Setting clear, respectful limits that help children understand the difference between symbolic and real violence. (ask them questions about what they are doing “why are you shooting your friend?” “what kind of shooting game are you playing?”)

-Providing powerful props that build children’s ideas of safe fantasy play
-Creating stories by:
-Recording children’s words
-Using dolls, puppets, and flannel board character to act out children’s play ideas
-Creating books from these ideas
-Transforming media characters and plots into the new, imaginative stories

-Fostering heroism by:

-Bringing real heroes and heroines into the classroom
-Engaging children in helper roles (it is the biggest self-esteem for them, find positive ways for them to be heroes)
-Helping children develop a sense of justice
-Planning anti-bias, environmental, and other community projects

Here are some random notes I took through out:

Children see guns as a “power symbol” so we should come up with alternative power symbols to channel their desire to shoot guns into something else. Power symbols gain power by being used in stories, so having the child make up their own story about superhero play that they imagine, making a book out of it and having them create the pages and put it together. For example: through a story they have created have them to come up with something like a “power bracelet” (or some other power symbol in their story besides a gun) but don’t just give it to them and say “this is a power bracelet” they won’t care, but if they create it and it has power to them, it will be a power symbol.

Children need little bits of information, if a child is shooting at you, you can simply say “i don’t want to be shot at.”

Through the safe violence they can learn “non-violence”

Preschoolers ask themselves “what is real, and what is fantasy”

The goal of TV: to get children to keep watching, there is no good story line in children’s tv shows, they are edited so fast (jumping from one scene to the next), that there is NO time for emotions in the characters, because then the next thing comes on. If they do watch TV, sit with them and ask them questions, like “why is that monster hurting people?” “why is that man shooting at that person?”

It is good for children to use their imagination to shoot (a pretend gun) but the agreements should always be safety 1st. If someone gets hurt physically or emotionally the game STOPS. And the game stops until you are sure the child can be safe.

Children don’t sit there and come up with games and talk about it with their friends. For example, if a child said “there are green dragons and they swim in the sky with yellow dogs, but they yellow dogs are bad and we have to keep them away from the green dragons because the green dragons protect us” If a child said that to their friend it would sound ridiculous, not spontaneous or fun. This is why when children are playing they add things here and there about their play and what they are doing, but they don’t “check in” with eachtother… ex: “do you want me to shoot you?” so the adults have to initiate the children asking eachother these questions for safety.



2 Comments on "Superhero Play"

  1. ST AMOUR4 says:

    This is a great article. My older son was in preschool a couple years ago and there was a huge parent meeting about letting the kids “pretend shoot” during outdoor play. I couldn’t believe we were having this discussion and hearing what some of the parents were saying was incredible. I am not joken when I say that some of the parents (not all women) were afraid that if kids were allowed to shoot with their fingers/hands, they would become more and more violent and eventually really hurt someone. One guy made it seem like if we allowed kids to play in this way, they would become serial killers.
    For our family, we allow our kids to play shoot, but we just ask them not to shoot people or animals.

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