My husband and I have a 3-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter. My question has to do with my son, who is very outgoing, friendly and what I would consider a normal, healthy 3-year-old. My concern is that he constantly wants to play fighting with swords, action figures—everything! Do you have any advice to deal with this? Neither my husband nor I are pro-fighting/violence. The real problem happens when he tries to play with other children. He goes right up to them and wants to play fight, usually intimidating them. This leads to kids shying away from him, which makes me feel bad. Despite how often I try to discourage him, he continues to do this.
Your dilemma is not unusual; many parents worry about a child who seems to want to play nothing but violent games. Unspoken in your question is the concern: “Is he going to be violent and anti-social when he is older?” The answer is, most likely not. Many children exhibit this kind of behaviour even when their parents refuse to buy toy guns and soldiers, etc. I think the best thing you can do is create a family climate that is clearly opposed to it. And that includes television. Frankly, I am appalled by some of the things that appear on supposedly non-violent TV. Commercials especially depict aggressive and violent behaviour. News and family programs often feature previews of extremely violent movies or shows. So, even if you are watching a perfectly benign program, it is difficult to escape violence if the set is on.
Then there are video games. Your son is too young to watch them now, but you will need to be alert to their content as he gets older.
You mentioned that you talk to him about his behaviour, and that is good. Try to make it matter-of-fact and informational rather than too critical. “You know why Jimmy doesn’t want to play with you?” (Give him time to answer.) “I think it’s because you always hit him, and he doesn’t like to be hit.” If he is enrolled in an early childhood program, talk to his teacher and find out if the same kind of behaviour (toy choice, hitting other children, etc.) occurs there. And talk with her about a coordinated effort to minimize it.
Finally, reflect on whether there is anything going on at home that is reinforcing the behaviour. He has an 18-month-old sister who may be getting what he perceives as more than her share of attention and approval. Make certain you find time to do special things with him. If he suggests a sword fight, just walk away and say, “I’m sorry. I won’t play that game.” As he gets older, try to think of ways to channel his energy into more socially acceptable behaviour, like tae kwon do or competitive sports
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.