Handling Aggressive and Violent Behavior

I’ve noticed my 4-year-old son and his friends playing in a way that I don’t like. They are very rough with each other and use pretend guns. I overheard one little boy tell my son, “Stay down, I shot you. You’re dead.” What do teachers do about this kind of play?

I agree that it is a concern when we hear children playing in aggressive ways. The recent violence in schools has focused attention on adolescence, but early-childhood educators believe it is necessary to start much sooner to teach children skills for playing without violence.

Here are some strategies educators are taught that can be used at home as well.

Before play begins, talk about what kinds of activities are acceptable and state in clear terms what kind of play will not be tolerated. For example, you can say, “I do not want any play with guns and shooting. Killing people is not a game that I will allow.”

Engage a discussion with the children so that they have an opportunity to think and talk about the rules for play. Encourage them to ask questions.

Monitor play times closely for a while, and when there are signs of problems, ask the children to sit down for a brief discussion. Remind them of the rules you have established.

Make suggestions to redirect the play. If possible, borrow their ideas, only with a positive twist. For example, if the children are pretending to be super heroes, suggest that they could be super heroes that help people.

Much has been made about violence on TV and in movies, but children may be witnessing aggressive behavior from you. If your child hears you yell at an umpire at a ball game or tell a joke about wanting to “kill” someone, you are sending confusing messages. This negates your efforts to help your child learn to play in cooperative ways.

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