Saturday, March 15, 2008

Killing Monsters

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!


Shez said...

Great post. thanks for reminding us that pretend play is normal and necessary, especially the bad guy part.

siobhan said...

So does that mean guns and so on are ok as toys?

Laura said...

siobhan, yes that's the idea. Kids playing with guns doesn't mean that they actually think real violence is OK or that they will become violent or that they think you condone violence. It means that they are wrestling with their every day inability to be in charge and are coming to terms with that in their pretend play in ways that make them powerful and capable. It might mean shooting the bad guys or the monsters with guns.

Jones also made the point that when boys wrestle (and in this household, when my daughter attacks my son) or try to kill each other in their pretend play it's kind of their way of saying that they love each other. They act out the scenario, break it up and then come back for more and LOVE it.

I have a greater understanding of the normalcy of my kids playing this way, but I'm still uncomfortable with camouflage clothing or realistic guns--they can chew their toast into guns if they want them.

siobhan said...

Laura, the playfighting thing makes a lot of sense but I do feel uncomfortable with the idea of giving ds toy guns.

Laura said...

My kids do have guns, but they don't look realistic at all. They have a couple of pop guns with corks and water squirt guns and even a metal gun that sparks like Flash Gordon--it looks futuristic in a retro way from the 1950s.

I don't want them to have anything that looks real, but they can play out different scenarios that they want to.

Shez said...

Hi Laura
I linked to this post in the inaugural edition of
The Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers


Laura said...

Thanks Shez, I'm flattered. It was an amazing workshop on a subject that is so disturbing and seemingly dark. Yet, with a simple shift in thinking and a greater, more compassionate understanding of what the playing is actually about is so liberating for us parents and the kids.

They're not monsters. They're PLAYING monsters--that's the important distinction to understand. It seems so obvious written out like that, but it is such a concern for so many parents.

Dark play is still play. Are the kids sympathetic with their friends? Are they loving and kind and supportive of one another and energetic and humorous and mischievous and silly? Healthy kids!

momof3feistykids said...

Thank you for this post. This is an issue I struggled with when I first became a parent, and I agree.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...