Aggression. Violence. What's the Difference?

Boys are active.Boys are aggressive.Boys are action-oriented.But does that make them violent?Where is the line between aggression and violence?How do we know what’s normal?When do we worry?

Kids Need Imaginative Play - They Need A Hero

Imaginative play, whether with guns or not, helps children understand and process their world. Most boys are hard-wired to seek aggressive play. They love the action, adventure, and applying their endless energy to scenarios filled with good guys and bad guys. 


Prominent “boy expert” Michael Gurian calls testosterone, “humanity’s life insurance.” Testosterone gave hunters the strength, agility, and drive to kill prey to feed the tribe. Testosterone compelled hunters to mate and ensure plenty of offspring to continue the tribe.You may have noticed that boys play quite differently than girls. Testosterone is responsible. Testosterone fuels your boy’s desire to be active, take risks, run around, jump, hit, yell – and pick up sticks and turn them into weapons.When we recognize that his ‘wild’ behavior is not intentional perhaps we can take a different view of the behavior and provide appropriate outlets for it. Boys, and those who love them, must learn and teach self-control over the tendency towards aggressive, impulsive behavior.

Help him channel it

Boys tend to run around, burn off energy, and self-narrate their action sequences. This isn’t just random activity. They are playing out scenarios of good guy/bad guy, including heaping doses of honor, valor, and courage.Give him opportunities to hone his physical skills with plenty of room for creativity. This happens, especially, when weapons are not supplied “ready-made.” Has he put in time and effort to sand his stick-gun so that it is shiny and smooth? Has he given thought to how to create a trap that will actually catch something? Has he explored different ways to create an arrow and bow?

Now what?

Perhaps his play includes, “I’m going to kill you.” Now what do you do? As adults, it is okay to say, “I don’t like it when you talk about killing me.” As Gurian advises, “Be serene about this threat.”Be assured there is NO proof that active aggressive play in youngsters begets violent youth and men. I wonder, though, if by stifling these aggressive urges in the early years there may be pent-up frustration expressed later on?

Managing Anger

Boys must learn to channel their aggressive feelings including managing their anger. If they aren’t allowed to express their aggressive feelings they will stifle it, shut down, and the result may be “side-ways” behavior – anger or withdrawal expressed elsewhere in their lives.

Give Him a Hero

Boys want and need heroes to emulate. Boys, more than girls, are drawn to superheroes. In Wired to Move, author Ruth Hanford Morhard explains, “Well-orchestrated superhero play stimulates boys’ imaginations and creativity, develops empathy, builds confidence, helps confront fears and anxieties, and builds an understanding of boys’ roles in society. With the right guidance, it can even help boys overcome natural tendencies such as impulsiveness, aggression, and lagging verbal skills. For boys from unstable environments, superhero play can help them feel more in control. And it expends some of that seemingly limitless ‘boy energy.’”

What’s Normal?

Michael Gurian in The Good Son, offers these tips for determining what’s normal for your young boy:· Throwing tantrums, very physical - including hitting walls/floor or others, with fists· Emotionally manipulates you with guilt, sadness, and everything else· Picks on older or younger siblings· Screams, yells, and cries· Roughhouses the family pets· Bounces around the room and also can be quiet and unaggressive· Purposefully disobeys until we assert authority appropriately· Forgets instructions and rules, over and overThese behaviors must be balanced by your loving authority – holding boundaries, repeating rules calmly, and giving appropriate consequences.

What’s Not?

What are the violent tendencies we should worry about?After studying many incidences of boys who commit violent crimes, Michael Gurian in The Soul of the Child, surmises, “…all of them had experienced one or more of the crucial elements for antisocial and evil behavior: lack of attachment at crucial times (especially during infancy and puberty), some form of abuse or violence, broken caregiving systems, and/or developmental epochs of general neglect.” 

“Every behavior is useful in some context.”

What contexts are you giving your son so that he is able to express all aspects of himself fully and completely?

Comments from Facebook:

"Are you asking? or telling? I am positive that my boys - playing good/bad guy and loving guns - are not violent and never will be, but aggressive, sure, sometimes they are... they're BOYS. And they are loving, gentle, sweet boys who, generally speaking, remember to protect their baby brother's head whey they're wrestling with him or throwing each other around. and they LOVE guns."

"Adventure. I feel that we live in a society that has turned away from the natural energy of boys. I see that this trend to deny "boy energy" started in schools, by trying to make boys behave "as good as girls" in the classroom. The result is the medication of boys, so that they can fit into the brick & mortar classroom."

"I love that he approaches boys that way. I have seven. As I was reading this, one was having a "war" with his Cheerios. Two others are having a battle with head and tails on coins at the table. The three year old twins are racing back and forth, sliding on the tile, competing to see who could go the farthest. My house is full of competition, speed, wars, violence, and aggression. But one just poured the milk for his brother, one just comforted a twin that crashed, and one just praised his brother for winning the toss-up."

"The difference is understanding the difference! Children can absolutely be taught to distinguish between "play" and "real.""

Have you read the other gunplay-focused posts?

Voices on Gunplay

- Parents have asked about and shared their personal experiences with their sons who make everything into a gun.

Guidelines for Gunplay

- They're going to play, what boundaries will you keep?

Gunplay at School

- How teacher's handle gunplay at school may vary from how you handle it at home.

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