- Ask permission.
Yes means yes. Consent is the key to raising children empowered with body autonomy. Superhero play is physical fun and as such, requires explicit consent for participation.
“Do you want to play superheroes with us?”
- Switch roles.
Most kids want to be the hero of their stories. As a parent, you will spend most of your cos play time relegated to the role of the villain. But encourage flexibility, bravery, and permeability with the roles everyone adopts. The villain can become a hero. Daddy can be a princess. Your son can be a mother. Your daughter can be a dragon, who transforms into a Queen, who becomes a hero.
The value of playing with permeable roles is tremendous. Empathy is based on an ability to see behind someone else’s eyes. What better way to learn that than to pretend to be someone else in action? Break through the boundaries that keep people stuck in their own limited point of view. Empower your children to embrace a character’s potential for evolution.
Play is a therapeutic landscape for children. They can work through a great many psychological challenges within the safe, imaginary world of superhero play. Allow that. And to join them in that universe – that is a gift.
“If you could be anyone you can imagine, who would you like to be today and what challenge shall we overcome?”
- Build a backstory.
Question each character’s motivations, feelings, and unmet needs throughout the play. Characters are not “bad” or “good” but multi-dimensional people with a capacity for a great many things. Painting each character’s backstory as the canvas of play unfolds provides a great opportunity for young ones to conceptualize something that most adults don’t even comprehend. Understanding the heart of each character provides a path for peaceful resolution in both the imaginary and real worlds.
“You want me to destroy your city? Okay. What hurt is behind my anger?”
Practical Tip: You can amass a super dress up collection by saving your Halloween costumes each year and buying some on clearance right after Halloween.
- Have creative powers.
While we’re seeing beyond princess and knight, and good and bad, let’s also go beyond flying and freezing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a cape toting flight around the skies but the imagination has far more potential for creativity and innovation – exercise it.
“I have love power. So if a villain has a big hurt or an empty heart, I can heal and fill that villain with love and their anger will be completely diffused, thus neutralizing the threat.”
- Act out consequences.
One of the concerns with violent role-play is that there can be a disconnect between violent actions and (a total lack of) consequences. One character punches another character in the face in a cartoon and he just laughs. Murder people in a video game and you go about your merry way or the game resets. So take the play a step further than defeating the villain. Was there collateral damage when that ice blast exploded? Does the villain’s brother cry when he is taken away?
“You have him trapped. Now what will you do with him?”
On a personal note, I have a special connection with the character of Robin Hood – a loving rebel champion for the oppressed. As a child, I watched that cartoon movie countless times. Imagining myself as Robin Hood is my first memory of feeling a sense of empowerment. Nurturing that character within myself is definitely one piece of the puzzle to who I am today.