Most of the time, the sound of children playing is music to a parent’s ears. Occasionally that lovely sound is interrupted by statements like “Bang, you're dead,” or the sounds of hitting, followed by tears. Sometimes children behave and speak with excessive violence during play. It's natural for parents to wonder what causes this behavior and question when to worry.
The Purpose of Play
Play is an important part of maturation and learning. According to a 2012 study by the American Association of Pediatrics, play helps the child develop physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally. When the child puts on a fireman’s hat, he isn’t just pretending to put out fires. He is confronting his own fear of disaster and learning how others are there to keep him safe.
Violence in Play
Violence is a common part of play. Children will turn fingers into guns and shoot playmates, who in turn dramatically fall to the ground dead -- at least until everyone wants to play the next round. Other times, children play more disturbing games. Your little princess might one day decide to become the evil queen, screaming at and hitting her dolls. Little boys might start out pretending to be super heroes and end up wrestling on the floor. Children play these games to explore the darker sides of their own nature. In pretend play, children explore their capacity for anger as well as their own physical boundaries.
When to Worry
The University of Pittsburgh points out that most violent play is harmless fun. However, there are times when parents need to step in. Young children don’t always know their own strength, so what starts out as fun can quickly turn into a real fight. In a similar way, children can use play to explore anger, but that anger may get out of the child’s control. Neither of these situations should cause parents alarm. The Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry urges parents to look at behavior both in and out of play. If the child is easily frustrated, impulsive and has an intense temper, these may be signs of a more serious problem.
Reducing Violent Play
Parents can take steps to reduce violent play. One of the first things they can do is help the child set limits. Before a child starts roughhousing, ask the little one if he is in a safe place to play. Make sure that the child responds to your request to stop playing if you see things getting out of hand. The Healthy Kids website also encourages parents to limit television and computer games. Most children’s programming includes some type of violence. Many video and computer games involve attacking or battling other players or characters. In addition, when children are playing video games or watching a show, they aren’t truly playing. Play helps children solve problems and get control of their emotions.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Developmant and Maintaining Strong Parent Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty
- University of Pittsburgh: Rough Play
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Understanding Violent Behavior In Children and Adolescents
- Kids Health: How TV Affects Your Child
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images