Are Superheroes good for our Kids?
And how to support positive Superhero play.
Okay, confession time. I love superhero movies.
As a kid, I was a big fan of superhero cartoons, before they were cool. I'm that kinda cool. (Nerd Pride)
But for kids, boys and girls, superheroes have a big draw.
Children often feel powerless and small, no matter their family background. Superheroes give them a sense of power, control and bravery that may be a challenge for them.
My oldest was three, when he was first introduced to superheroes, and he was hooked. So much so, that I was that mom at the grocery store and tire shop with a mini-Batman. I loved the way his imagination soared and how empowered he felt when he would put on a superhero shirt for the day.
But then I had two more boys and the magic of superheroes turned to concern.
The punching, hitting, and angry faces, which led to a lot of tears and time-outs, did have go through a few superhero detox seasons.
But the more my boys clung to superhero movies, shows, and pretend play the more and more I struggled with the whole superhero formula, and the aggressive play that results.
If you don’t know by now, if I’m struggling with something it is time for some research.
I found an article citing by, family therapist Erica Pelavin from Palo Alto, Calif. This is what she had to say about Superhero play.
Kids engaged in superhero play use their imagination and learn to work well with others. Teachers can take advantage of this opportunity to support creative learning by setting up art materials and encouraging students to make props, costumes, and sets. Working with peers supports developing skills in cooperation, negotiation and compromise. The job for teachers [and parents] is to make sure this play is productive and fun for everyone and has strict boundaries so that all participants feel safe.
Okay so feeling good, stress relieved, until later in the article…
“Superhero play only becomes a concern when the play is physically aggressive in nature, and there is an imbalance of power between the children who are engaging in the play,” says Pelavin. Kids typically seek out playmates with similar interests and physical abilities, but a bully could assert power and control over another child. Pelavin continues, “When superhero play becomes aggressive, parents have an opening to talk about the consequences of violence. Parents can help children learn that responding with aggression not only causes physical injuries but can make children feel afraid or angry and may even cause the aggressor to lose friends. When the play turns away from problem solving and rescuing and starts to include name-calling and exclusion, it is no longer beneficial.” (SOURCE)
Ah, ambiguity, a parents’ worst nightmare.
So, superheroes have their positives and negatives, while I prefer things to be black and white, that’s just not the world we live in.
But as I look at how superheroes have become such a big part of what my kids play, read, and watch I have to use every opportunity to shape and train my boys in how they play and interact together.
Every Interest our kids have is an opportunity to point to our need for a savior. "No" and "not my kids", is usually my first response, but God has been working on me to trust him in the process and meet my kids where they are just like God meet me where I am at.
I might know where a path might lead in a negative direction, but so does God. And he allows us to experience the good and bad of our decisions and interests to shape us toward intimacy with him. Even if that means a little detour off the ‘the way’.
Check out a few Tips to support positive superhero play
• Establish rules from the start.
For example, no pointing sticks or other props used as weapons directly at another person. These rules may need to be discussed several times. Listen to feedback. Kids can find creative ways to satisfy their interests while following directions and being safe
• Be specific about what aggressive behavior is.
Is it touching another person’s body? Is it using hostile language?
• Respond accordingly either by interrupting the play to stop aggressive behavior or talking about it afterward. The discussion can also address the story created, children who felt excluded, and interesting twists and turns in the plot.
• Make sure there is an appropriate amount of space for safe play.
• Talk to the kids about real-life heroes, both male and female, and focus on their positive characteristics — for example, helpfulness, perseverance and diligence.
• Use this play as an opportunity to build problem-solving skills. When there is an issue, resist resolving it for the children. Ask for their ideas.
- Use pictures of superhero faces to teach body language and a greater understanding of emotion. Many superheroes constantly look angry, and to a child this is all they see. But superheroes often express determination and courage with the same face. It's a great opportunity to expand your child's emotional vocabulary.
• Be positive. Acknowledge children’s new accomplishments and skills. Help them feel powerful. (SOURCE)
Superheroes are not going out of style any time soon but taking the opportunities to point our kids to the greatest hero of all time is my number one goal as a parent.
A few years back, I discovered a great tool for teaching biblical character qualities to preschool kids, who have an interest in superheroes. It's a Hero Training Challenge, by Liz Millay over at Steadfast Family. It was a really sweet way to engage my kids' interests and point them to Christ at the same time. I encourage you to check it out for your young kiddos. Hero Training Challenge
*I am not an affiliate of Steadfast Family, just a supporter of good content for biblical parenting that we have used in our own home. *