Superheroes: Encouraging Healthy Play
Superhero Play and Child Development
Research tells us that play is a major vehicle in development. Through play, children test the waters, try out roles and behaviors, investigate right and wrong, experiment with language, use creativity, find outlets for physical activity, and learn more about difficult skills like impulse control and conflict resolution. Clearly, many children have a need to play superheroes, and this form of rough and tumble, free play, can contribute to healthy development. According to Pei-San Brown, one of the founders of the Children’s Institute for Learning and Development (CHILD): “There are many benefits to the whole child during superhero play. Children develop physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally during this type of play. It can include R&T [rough and tumble] play, and usually involves significant chasing as well. Also, superhero play often involves much negotiation between children.”
Many have suspected that superhero play may lead to real violence later on, but researchers have found just the opposite to be true. Healthy rough and tumble, free play leads to greater skills and experience in handling adversity without aggression in teens and adults. Further, play deprivation has been found to be a factor in juvenile and adult violence. Play may actually prevent violence. Yet, there are risks in superhero play, as there are in any kind of play. Some children may become aggressive and others may get hurt. Adults are important in guiding children to appropriate and safe superhero play.
Fostering Healthy Superhero Play
Ideally, free play should be independent and unrestricted. In reality, adults need to first set up safe environments, provide appropriate toys, set limits, and then monitor play. Beyond this, there are four important ways to foster healthy superhero play:
- Help children understand more about “the good guys” and “the bad guys.”
- Recognize the difference between typical action-oriented play and aggression.
- Understand how best to deal with play that crosses the line to aggression.
- Encourage preschoolers to practice heroism and conflict resolution.