Why do children play like this?

There is no doubt that children try to act out the things they see on TV. But studies have shown that even without TV, children will still play games for power and control. Many people think this type of play comes from the amount of TV children are watching and the kinds of shows they see.

There are a number of reasons why children play this way. We need to take a closer look at children’s feelings as they are growing. Young children often feel small and powerless in this big world. It can be a scary place. Pretending they are the good guys fighting the bad makes them feel more powerful and helps them overcome their fears.

Power play helps young children feel powerful and in control.

Pretend guns

“I don’t like guns. I don’t have toy guns for the children to play with and they aren’t allowed to bring toy guns or weapons to my child care home. But they still have them. I find them making guns out of pencils and Legos. Even the bananas at snack time become guns!” — Sarah, child care provider

Most child care providers find it’s really hard to keep children from playing with guns. If the toy guns aren’t there, the children will make their own pretend guns.

Instead of trying to stop children from playing with guns, think of this play as helping children grow and learn. Try asking the children if the superhero they are playing does other things besides using guns. Where does he sleep? What does he eat? Does he have a family? These types of questions help children change their focus from guns to find better ways to play. You may find them changing their play from superheroes fighting to superheroes going to the grocery store to bring home food for their families.

Ask questions to focus power play on areas other than fighting.

Handling power play

One of the big problems with power play is when children take the fighting, hitting, and kicking too far and someone gets hurt. You need to be there to make sure children can work through their need for power without anyone getting hurt.

Here are some ideas:

  • Give children other ways to feel powerful. Have special jobs for everyone, such as setting the table, helping make food, sweeping, putting away supplies. Let children know their jobs are important for helping you and the other children. Give children lots of choices of activities and materials to use during the day.
  •  Set clear rules for power play — everyone must be safe. Tell the children, if their play hurts anyone or makes anyone feel they are not safe, the play must be stopped or changed.
  • Teach children to say “stop” to each other, if they feel they are not safe during the play. Help them listen to each other.
  • Another good rule is that no one’s feelings should be hurt during play. If you find that the same child is always the bad guy, talk with the children about how it feels to always be the bad guy. Ask the children to help think of a good guy character for this child to play. You may need to go even further and say that no children can be bad guys. All bad guys will be pretend.
  • When you see children starting to play good guys against the bad guys, move in and ask them about their play. Ask them, “Who are the characters and what will they be doing?” Remind children of the rule to keep the play safe. Talk with them about ways to keep their play safe.
  • Talk with children about the meanings of “real” and “make believe.” Make sure you tell children that you don’t allow real hitting, kicking, and fighting. Help them think about ways to solve problems without hitting, kicking, punching, or other violence.
  • Watch children closely during superhero play. Children can get into pretending so much that they forget they may hurt someone. Some children will have trouble keeping their feelings of power in control. If you feel a child is getting too angry or upset, step in and help calm the child down.
  • If you have children who cannot play without hurting others, give them a chance to draw pictures about fighting or give them play dough to make fighting characters. Talk to these children about their pictures or the figures they make to give them a chance to talk about these feelings of power.
  • Now and then, step in and join the play. Ask the children to give you a role  tell you what you will be doing during the play. When you’re part of the play, you can ask questions to focus the play in other ways. “Do you think the Power Rangers go out for pizza?” This is also a good time to talk with children about why people do bad things and whether or not they can change.

Who knows — you may find that you really enjoy being She-Ra, Goddess of the Universe!

TIPS 2-10

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Why do children play like this?

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