Q: How should I respond to my child’s fascination with evil characters? He’s only three years old, but whenever he plays make-believe, he always takes on the role of the villain, and the only action-figures toys he wants are those representing “bad guys.” Is this fascination unhealthy?
A: There’s probably no reason to be overly concerned about your three-year-old’s interest in villains. Many young children are fascinated with “bad guys.” If your son is like most children, it’s likely a phase that will eventually pass. You might also keep in mind that if you focus on the issue and try to force him to stop liking these characters, he may thrive on the negative attention. Children will do almost anything for attention, especially if they’re feeling neglected. For now, the best approach is to ignore this current preoccupation and simply concentrate on affirming him for interests that are more positive.
That said, if your son is mimicking the behaviour of the evil characters and acting out in inappropriate ways, we’d encourage you to nip that in the bud. Don’t allow him to become mean-spirited, aggressive, or hurtful with you, his siblings, or other children.
In the meantime, remember that you can use fictional children’s characters to teach your child about virtuous character traits. It’s possible to do this by setting up a contrast between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” For example, you can ask him, “Which character is more honest?” Then discuss the consequences of dishonesty. In the same way, you could ask, “Who is more helpful to other people?” By doing so, you’ll be directing the conversation into channels that are affirming of positive virtues and actions.
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