Halloween is just around the corner; hurrah! There may not be a holiday quite as much fun for children since it involves dressing up as someone else and receiving candy—just by asking! Because our LANK Halloween party was so lovely, it may feel like we have already celebrated with our children. Thanks again to Kate Sable and her wonderful volunteers for making the day so special for everyone.
As our little ones wandered in to the party wearing their favorite costumes, I began thinking about how darn cute they were, but also about their day to day attire which includes lots of variations of Batman, Spiderman, and Ninja Turtle wear. Many of our little ones don’t have to wait until Halloween to demonstrate their loyalties! So, what is it about superheroes that appeals to the preschool set so emphatically? Should we encourage or discourage superhero play and dress?
When I was growing up the neighborhood kids often split into two teams; one team played the part of the good guys, while the other team were the bad guys. No one wanted to play the role of the bad guys, but in fairness we had to switch off. This type of good vs. evil play was frequent, and may have actually helped us define for ourselves the power of making good choices.
For our young preschoolers there is limited opportunity to demonstrate control, or feel powerful so pretending to have super powers for a short time is very appealing. Just wearing the clothing can make a young child feel important. When playing the part of a superhero, children may experience the emotional regulation that is so important in school and at home. Superhero play is another form of dramatic play; taking on the role of someone else. In this case, the person is fictional but still allows the child a chance to think about scenarios, plots and imagine outcomes. Therefore in my mind, superhero dress and play should not be encouraged or discouraged—but guided. If our little ones enjoy this type of play it is our responsibility to balance it with clear parameters. We can enjoy the Ninja turtle Michelangelo if we also discuss real heroes like firefighters, police, doctors, nurses, Dr. King, or Abraham Lincoln. Children can pretend to leap across tall buildings if we also make clear that real bravery comes from thinking about other people and being kind. We can help guide the play from taking on an aggressive tone by helping the children craft some basic fairness rules before the onset of play.
Finally, we can help our children feel like real heroes by engaging in an activity that is simple but within their ability. Building a bird feeder, collecting canned goods for a food drive, or making cards for others are all simple activities that can be viewed as small acts of heroism that any superhero would be proud of!