I got an e-mail referred to me from a parenting expert asking me to help answer a dad’s question on how to handle his son’s desire to play knights, including the “killing” of bad guys. Below is how I answered him, what are you thoughts, input? What advice would you give? He asked:
I have a 4 year old boy that loves to play with his knights and wants me to play along, but I get lost in how to play? Who is the enemy? I’m just at a loss. His knights are cool, but they have knives and swords and I’ve tried to fight the dragons, but now he wants to fight the bad guys. I’ve tried to say, we need to try to talk to the bad guys and help them become good, but he says he did that and there is no hope so they’ve got to go! He loves setting up his army guys, green against tan and well the same kinda thing. I just need some help on helping him be the protector and the fighter and the knight, but don’t want him to be cold to the other side. Then we get into “he’s dead!” Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I need some biblical guidance. Your ideas would be most helpful!
Here is my response, I’d love your comments below:
Thanks for writing, I appreciate both your desire to connect with and play with your son, but also you concern to not encourage play that isn’t healthy or best in developing Godly values in your son. I have had the unique experience of being a big brother to a little boy born when I was 13 so I was a teenager/college throughout his growing up, and now as the father of a son of my own.
My first advice, would be to not worry too much about your son’s desire to roleplay “killing” or fighting with soldiers – there is a degree to which he is merely playing out the warrior characteristics God built into men. Our role as leaders and protectors shows itself in young boys in their play as soldiers, knights, super heroes, etc. When I was a young boy my mom tried to prevent me from “playing guns” as she was concerned I might grow up and shoot someone! On one family vacation she caught me playing guns with a stick I found that was shaped like a gun. At that point she realized that it was useless to try and keep me from role playing with guns, and ironically, she saved that stick and I have it to this day. I love water guns to this day, but have never gotten into “real” guns and certainly haven’t shot anyone, despite lots of gun play as a boy. The reality is, I wasn’t role playing “guns” so much as I was defending what was important to me, being brave and a hero, and sticking up for what is right. Things I still strive to do, minus the guns. So to one degree, its good to be sensitive, but don’t stress over it too much, you may be fighting against the way God wired little boys to be.
However, having said that – there are ways to keep war, fighting, or killing play within healthy bounds. Here are a few ideas worth trying:
1) Make the enemies non-human, robots, aliens, monsters, etc. – i.e. things that don’t exist (Notice in star wars the enemies are often aliens or clones, one reason moms like star wars)
2) Minimize killing with stun guns, or letting those defeated, shot, get up and walk away. (Notice in G.I. Joe even when a jet plane crashes, they always show the bad guys running away, a way to minimize death.)
3) Play organized fighting GAMES instead of real life. Soldiers can be doing training, or Knights can be competing in a competition to become the King’s Royal Guards or something. So the losers don’t “die” they just lose.
4) Model forgiveness in your play. You don’t need to preach at him, but when he makes a toy “kill” one of yours, you can say, “Hey, that hurt, but I forgive you” You can even joke a little, “You need to go to Sunday School!” or “You obviously need Jesus, you know He died even for you!” Keep your correction soft and light hearted and he will hear you better than if you lecture him, as then he might just ignore you thinking you don’t understand or are taking it too seriously, because I can tell you, he isn’t taking it very seriously, he is just playing.
The biggest keys in raising a son, is what you teach him about REAL life – not how he plays with toys. I did a lot of toy warfare as a boy, but when I had a bully at school (a REAL bad guy) my dad coached me through showing love to enemies, even giving a gift, buying a comic that one bully liked to better relate to him, and I saw many of these bad relationships turn into friendships through my dads coaching. In the end, how I handled “real” bad guys was far more important than how I played with bad guys who were 2 inches tall.
Keep in mind, even if your son uses harsh words like killing or “your dead” they don’t understand death or its permanence to the degree we do as adults. They will yell “your dead” to a friend and being playing with them 2 minutes later. I wouldn’t be concerned with a boy wanting to kill toys, if it were a pet or living thing, then I would be more concerned.
If you son is old enough, you may want to watch Price Caspian, the most recent Narnia movie. It is a little violent, BUT there is a great scene where Prince Caspian wins the right to kill the enemy king, and while he wants to (this man killed his father!) he chooses not to kill him and says something like, “I am not like you” meaning that he is wants to be a GOOD king, by being merciful.
I hope this has been a little helpful and encouraging to you – bottom line, play, be the dad, be gentle and encouraging, point out what concerns you (thats your job) but let him grow at his own pace. He will outgrow this and be on to something else soon enough!
A fellow dad on the journey,
What do you think? How would you have answered differently? Or what would you add? Your constructive input is desired! I’ll forward to this dad your input as well!
HERE ARE SOME VIDEOS OF ME PLAYING KNIGHTS ON TOYBOXTALES.com
The Reign of the Dark Knight (4 Part Series)