Quite often I will show the boys in their dress ups, engaging superhero play. For us, superhero play has been a great tool and opportunity for us to encourage the boys to be creative and use their imaginations, while also providing opportunities for us to teach them some lessons about being kind, identifying with emotions and feelings while also observing and modelling positive behaviours and traits so often seen in superhero's.
The boys absolutely love to be able to dress up as their favourite super hero, which they often discover in books or during our date night movie sessions.
It is very normal for little ones to be influenced by their exposure to movies, books and games that they play and want to then re-enact what they have seen. This follows a similar trend of what we may have done when we were little, such as dressing up as characters out of fairy tales and books. Because superhero's are sometimes depicted in dangerous or violent situations, some families can feel uncomfortable with little ones being exposed to this and then wanting to re-enact these behaviours, which is absolutely understandable.
We are very careful with the type of media that the boys are exposed to and very rarely do they watch T.V or movies, however they absolutely love their superhero books. Books are great as they don’t depict the more aggressive behaviour sometimes shown in movies and T.V shows and they also encourage the boys to be creative in “filling in” the details that the books don’t provide, such as body language, voices and continued communication between characters.
Little ones use play to help them understand their experiences, express their emotions and thoughts as well as model and mimic the behaviours and relationships they have seen, whether this is though media or through family and friends. Superhero play is a great way to encourage little ones to communicate and problem solve, as well as work in groups, play cooperatively and delegate tasks and roles. It also helps to encourage confidence and freedom of expression and being able to demonstrate power and assertiveness in a safe environment.
Studies have also suggested that superhero play helps to relieve stress and anxiety in some children as well as build confidence and courage (NCAC, 2008).
Younger children are often attracted to the commercial figures that they have seen in media and in books, however their interest may be stagnant and they may not demonstrate the complexity in this play that older children will demonstrate.
From three years onwards, little ones are more likely to use louder noises, body gestures and actions to chase each other while pretending to be their favourite superhero. As they get older and structure their own ideas about the personality and behaviour of the superhero, they will often begin to engage in more organised and structured play, such as working out how they will act, before doing this themselves.
If your little ones are beginning to mimic behaviours or actions you aren’t comfortable with, such as using pretend guns or pushing and hitting, you can always redirect this behaviour into something you feel more comfortable with. So for example, you can replace the idea and modelling of a gun with a laser beam or replace pushing with the idea of a force field or “repelling powers”, which don’t include the need for physical touch. You can always communicate with your little one the boundaries and your expectations of their behaviour. If your little one does have a tendency to become too rough or over-excited during this type of play, you can always use this as an opportunity to speak to them on how this type of behaviour hurts others and work with them on finding a kinder and more gentle way to express this motion.
You can also encourage little one’s to explore and focus on the positive themes and behaviours expressed by the superhero's, such as they way they help others and speak kindly to other people. It is also a great opportunity to help little ones understand why someone is seen as a “bad guy” and why someone is seen as a “good guy” or superhero. So for example “good guys” and superhero's are kind, considerate, gentle and help people. When reflecting on why someone is considered a “bad guy”, you may like to explain how not everyone is all good and all bad, and that sometimes feelings and emotions make us behave in different ways. I often like to help the boys explore reasons as to why this “bad guy” may be behaving this way, such as if they are upset or hurt. It is also a great opportunity to explore with your little ones what they could do to help this person feel better and happier, or what they would do if someone was being mean or hurtful to them in day to day life.
Not all little ones will be interested in superhero play and that is absolutely okay! It is important to be responsive to your little ones emerging interests and talents and finding a play type that fits in with this naturally. So instead of superhero play, this may be princess play, family play or simply creating their own characters and acting these out.
Play is a major foundation for your little one’s development, whether that be through language, motor skills, social aspects, imagination or just helping your little one burn off some energy. Through play, and especially superhero play, little ones are able to explore different relationships and roles and also have role models to look up to. As a parent, it is also so amazing to see our little ones communicate and be so creative and who doesn’t love their little one in a costume!