Child Obsessed with “Bad Guys”

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." In response, we've completely phased movies and television out of his life, but nothing has changed. Is this fascination unhealthy? How should we address it?

We don’t think there’s any 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 kids, this is probably a phase that will eventually pass.

In fact, you could actually delay its passage by making a big deal out of it. It’s entirely possible that your son is thriving on the negative attention you’re giving him by focusing on this issue. Kids will do almost anything for attention, especially if they’re feeling neglected. You should also keep in mind that if you try to force him to stop liking these characters, there is a good chance you’ll end up in a power struggle. The best approach is to ignore all this villain business and simply concentrate on affirming him for interests that are more positive.

That said, we should add a word of caution. If your son is mimicking the behavior of the evil characters and acting out in inappropriate ways, you’ll need to nip that in the bud. Don’t allow him to become mean-spirited, aggressive, or hurtful in his interactions 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?” In doing so, you can direct the conversation into channels that are affirming of positive virtues and actions.

This would also be a great opportunity to explain some faith-based concepts to your son. Tell him that each of us is made in God’s image, but that because of sin we have a tendency to rebel and act in ways that make God sad. Explain that this is what “evil” and “badness” are all about. Tell your son that God loves each of us more than we could ever know, and that He is very concerned about how we treat others. You can also teach him about godly virtues by getting a good children’s Bible and reading some stories about positive Old Testament heroes like David, Daniel, and the three boys in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

If you’d like to discuss your concerns with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.

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