Violent Play: Cause for Alarm?

June, 2019

I began my research on this topic by googling "encouraging peaceful play," and "discouraging violent play." Strangely, I think, I could not find much on encouraging peaceful play, nor on discouraging violent play. The first search took me to articles about promoting world peace, and the second, to articles about what to do when children are actually violent, as opposed to pretending.


Here is the one article I found on encouraging peaceful play:


Help Encouraging Non-Violence in Young Children’s Play

By LeeAnn Bartolini, Ph.D.


But when I looked into why children play violently, there were so many articles that this list barely scratches the surface.


Most of them support the following ideas:

1. Kids need a safe way to express their fears and aggression.

2. Violent play doesn’t cause real violence.

3. Kids know the difference between fantasy and real violence.

(From In Support of Children’s Violent Play, By Kathleen Quiring)


I separated the articles into three categories: Violent Play, Talking About Violence with Children, and Responding to Actual Violence. I hope these are helpful, and I look forward to a rousing discussion!





“Violent” Play


Guns, Ghosts, and Monsters: Menace or Meaning in Aggressive Play?

Susan M. Gottschall

I hope you can access this! Let me know if you can’t.


Beyond Banning War and Superhero Play: Meeting Children’s Needs in Violent Times

Diane Levin

This article explains why children incorporate violence in their play, which is somewhat comforting. Levin suggests the # 1 way to reduce violent play is to reduce exposure.


Young Children’s Play Fighting and Use of War Toys

Jennifer L. Hart, MEd, Michelle T. Tannock, PhD

Hart & Tannock make the distinction between play fighting, which doesn’t include intent to harm, and true aggression: “Play fighting is defined as verbally and physically cooperative play behaviour involving at least two children, where all participants enjoyably and voluntarily engage in reciprocal role-playing that includes aggressive make-believe themes, actions, and words; yet lacks intent to harm either emotionally or physically.”



Kids and Violent Play: An Education World e-Interview withth Jane Katch, Author of a Book About Children's Violent Play

This interview might make you want to read Katch’s book. She discusses how she handles violent play in the classroom; I think it’s applicable to families, too.


Battling the Boys: Educators Grapple with Violent Play

By Wynne Parry

This article is one of the most helpful one of all those I read! One point it makes is that there is no such thing as violent play: if it’s play, there is no intention to harm. If it’s pretend, then it’s not violence.


Why has my little boy become violent?

By Michelle Kokel

This is an advice column with some helpful ideas about why children might be playing violently, and how to respond.


What’s behind this 5-year-old’s violent play?

Meghan Leahy

This author advocates playing with your child during open-ended play, to listen and learn what the violent play is about, rather than simply stopping it.


When a Child's Play Themes Are Violent

By Stanley I. Greenspan

This article advocates playing with your child to model other possibilities.


Is War Play Bad for Kids?

The surprising truth: no. Learn why aggressive play helps kids become compassionate adults.

By Holly Pevzner

This article discusses children’s need to act out their aggressions. It normalizes the good vs. bad play that looks like violence to us.

In support of children’s violent play

By Kathleen Quiring

This article is by a Mennonite woman who went from banning it to supporting it.



Talking About Violence With Your Children


There’s No Easy Way to Talk About Violence With Your Kids: but You Have to Do It Anyway

Korin Miller

Includes how to talk to children at different ages.



How To Talk To Kids About Violence

From the Child Development Institute



How to Talk to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War

Exposure to graphic images, distressing information, and horrific headlines can affect kids' overall well-being. By Caroline Knorr 3/15/2019



Talking To Kids About Fear And Violence



Responding to Actual Violence in Your Child

When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse”

By James Lehman, MSW



Taming aggression in children: 5 crucial strategies for effective parenting

Gwen DeWar, PH.D.




Violence & Video Games


Video Games and Children: Playing with Violence

From the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry