by Kelley Jilek
Teachers and parents of preschoolers have become increasingly vocal opponents of superhero play out of concern that it might increase safety problems within child care settings or schools and escalate violence as children grow older. Some even ban it completely. However, banning this type of play might not be the most effective way to deal with it.
Some research suggests that superhero play might actually portray a developmental step that is necessary to children’s healthy growth. In addition, parents and teachers can use this as an opportunity to teach values, respect, and safety.
The creative aspects of superhero play can be wonderful stimuli for kids’ imaginations and provide a great outlet to expand energy. Embrace this kind of play with some of the following strategies for your little superhero fans!
- Choose the time and place. When children know there is a specific time and place, it is less likely to impact other areas and activities. Outdoors is best.
- Emphasize the creative elements of this play. Focus on creating costumes, props, and a setting. Develop story plots.
- Set clear rules that aggressive behavior is not acceptable. Supervise closely. If play turns aggressive, redirect the play. Remove a child who cannot control his aggression.
- Show children that everyone can be a superhero! Point out heroes in your community, or work together on a charity project.
- Talk about superheroes that kids like to watch. What qualities do these characters have that make them special? What characteristics do they have?
- Discuss ways that conflicts are solved on superhero shows. If children are accustomed to viewing violence as a solution, this must be addressed. Reinforce appropriate responses to conflict.
- Develop new ways to play with superhero toys. Have the “good” and “bad” guys work together. Where do the “bad” guys live? Do they have families? Why do the children think the “bad” guys make hurtful choices?
- Give children choices and the power to make decisions in real life. Allow autonomy in simple things, such as what to have for a snack or which path to take to a playground or store (with a grown up, of course).
- Resist children’s pleas for every new superhero toy advertised on TV. Balance your toy selections with other more creative toys and activities.