“I’ll get you now!!!!,” the child screams as he launches forward with his sword. Even if you don’t allow toys that look like weapons, Popsicle sticks start saying, “Bang, bang!,” sandwiches get bitten into gun shapes, and yard sticks become part of a young knight’s weaponry. What is going on? Should we worry that our sweet child will turn into a violent adult?
Virtue and Vice
I grew up with an older brother in a neighborhood of boys. So, what did I play every day? Well, I joined right in and played war with everyone else (partly because my brother stuck up for me, even though I was a girl, and didn’t let anyone pick on me).
To me, my brother fought most bravely of all. And he grew up to be one of the kindest, bravest, most willing to lay down his life to defend and help others in need kind of people I know.
No study has ever linked pretend gunplay to future violent behavior. So, what is happening? Why all the machine gun sounds and death scenes? Are they virtue or vice?
The Man in the Boy; The Woman in the Girl
Play is a way that kids can safely practice adult-type behavior. Adults are responsible to provide, protect, and even die for others. Everyone knows the mama bear type image of moms protecting their kids at all costs. This wells up out of a God-given feeling of responsibility and love. God put this desire into everyone, but there is just something profound about how strong this responsibility is felt in men and boys. God says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” and he says, “let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:22-33).
When we look at our children, we have to see beyond their cute, freckled grins and realize that soon we’ll be sending them out into the world as adults. We must do all we can to encourage and edify them to be the honorable men and women that reflect Christ and stand for what is right with courage and bravery.
No one is shocked when they hear the story of three young men in Aurora, Colorado that threw themselves over their girlfriends and took the bullets when a madman entered the movie theater and began shooting. Likewise, no one is shocked when they hear of a mother sacrificing herself to save her child.
When we see our little ones fighting, before overreacting, we have to stop for a moment and consider their little inward drive to provide, protect, and even die. And in our response, we must appeal to their honorable nature and nourish it (rather than cracking down on it harshly or with shame).
Honorable People Stand Up For What is Right
An honorable person will defend what he thinks is right. If you have small children, you are likely familiar with the eyes-wild-with-rage look as they charge at someone who has wronged them or someone they love. So, when I hear a wail from one of my sons and look just in time to see retaliation against someone who has taken a toy from them (usually their brother), I remind myself- his little heart is defending justice here. This is not so much about a toy but about standing up for what is fair.
Does this mean we just let things get out of hand? No.
This is Getting Out Of Hand
Every play fight can easily get out of hand. That’s why parents and loving adults often turn into referees. If one child is pinned, but both look like they are still having fun, it’s fine to wash the next dish or flip the pancakes. If someone is clearly not having fun anymore, then you know it’s time to work with the kids and figure out who went out of bounds and how to avoid that in the future.
It might just be time to remove the yard sticks and dole out swimming noodles. Or, it might be time to have a hard conversation with your child about what is going on in their soul. No one should ever be harmed physically or emotionally by play violence.
Words of Life For Our Kids from Mother & Son: The Respect Effect
You might notice this fling-into-fight nature more in boys than girls. Girls naturally negotiate, even in early years; whereas boys can be much more aggressive. So, what do you do?
Here is an example of edifying ways to correct when a son fights to get his toy back (rather than shaming him for fighting for justice) from Emerson Eggerichs’ Mother & Son: The Respect Effect:
“Mom can take her son aside and say, “I respect your desire to be treated fairly. He was wrong for grabbing the toy. I know that troubled you, and I am glad that it did trouble you. But as an honorable man, what can you do next time?” Ask him for a solution. Give him the opportunity to figure it out. Kids are moral and spiritual beings who know right from wrong and need to be asked. When they come up their own solution, they own it.
As for the boy who says, “Well, I don’t know what to do. He keeps grabbing the toy from me,” a mom can say, “Okay, the next time it happens, come to me, and I will talk to him.” Every mom needs to see her young son’s desire to defend against injustice and combat on behalf of justice. Once she perceives this, her boy’s play takes on a whole new meaning.” p.90
Whether you are addressing sons or daughters, find a way to speak life into your child’s virtues whenever you are correcting their vices. And when you look at play, see beyond. Affirm the honorable adult you long for them to become. Worry less about the harmless violence and more about their future valor.
Moments of Greatness
Have your children ever had a moment of greatness, when the valor of their soul rose up and they spoke or acted to provide, protect, or even lay down their life to help or serve another? Please share it in the comments!
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This blog is designed to help you really engage in what is meaningful in life, embrace the relationships most dear to you, and delight in the small wonders as well as the most significant blessings of life. If you are reading this, you are likely a parent or caring adult that just wants the kids in your life to grow up safely and well. I hope my blog can encourage you along this challenging journey. Here are more blogs you might find interesting: