One of the best workshops I went to at the recent homeschooling conference was presented by Gerard Jones who has written the book, Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. His premise is that when kids play in violent ways, when they play good guys and bad guys, when they play rough and wrestle on the floor they are actually releasing and processing the primal violent parts that are in the deep recesses of everyone and are actually improving their ways of handling dark and scary stuff. It is normal and healthy and good. Furthermore, Jones made the point that the "nice" kids, the sensitive ones, the rule-followers are even more likely to play this way when they are pretending as a counter to what they are not. It's all the dark stuff that they are not, but need to work out and try on and pretend to be.
When Jones said all of this, the room breathed a collective sigh of relief. Clearly, we all had monsters and bad guys at home and needed to know that they're not going to end up on the top of a clock tower somewhere--they're normal and healthy!
Jones started out his talk speaking about kids playing super heroes and rescuing and how this type of play allows kids to feel more powerful than they really are in their lives. It allows them to be in charge and have mastery over objects and ideas. Then, what if your kids are the monsters? Yes, what then?! Well, as he said, you can't play good guys and bad guys, if you don't have bad guys. And this is where nice, normal kids are trying out the things they will never be. THEY'RE PRETENDING!!
Aha. Duh! How do we not know this stuff already? Some wise souls obviously do, but a lot of us are disturbed by violent play and think it means something dark and awful about our kids and of course it doesn't. Another presenter, Ren Allen, explained in a workshop about children's creativity that her son ate his toast into the shape of a gun. He's a nice kid. Does he really want to kill or maim anyone? No, he does not. Nor does my son. Nor does my daughter. Nor does your son, and neither does your daughter. They want to play with the dark side and have fun and try out the things they will never do in real life and learn what the boundaries are and roll around with their friends.
Maybe they'll save a runaway train or two also. Our kids are monsters and superheroes and can control all sorts of things in the world. They are strong and powerful and wise. My two have saved me on a regular basis. Thanks Superman! Thanks Supergirl!