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My 7 year old son has started using words like 'kill', 'murder' and 'stab' when he's playing with me or other kids. He's not angry or violent about it. For example we might be playing/pretending to be ninjas and he'll say "I'm going to murder you".

His school teacher emailed his mother and I and said that his use of these words had upset some of the other students. I can't help but think it was more upsetting to the teachers than the students since, again, he uses these words in the context of play and has no history of violence. Indeed, he's an extremely sensitive boy and will get weepy when I do nothing more than raise my voice.

His mother is very concerned about this and wants to get him into counseling. I'm less concerned and am more willing to chalk it up to behavior befitting a 7 yr old boy.

Should I be more concerned than I am? Is his mother overreacting?

Thanks in advance.

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Before jumping the gun and throwing the kid into counseling, I'd just talk to him and let him know that some people find it upsetting and not to say those kinds of things. If he complies, then problem solved... –  Doc Mar 17 at 18:27
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You're concerned that when pretending to be someone who's primary job is to murder people, he says he's going to murder you? –  Kevin Mar 17 at 21:15
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@Kevin As I said in my original question, I'm not concerned, but his mother is. I'm wondering if I should be more concerned. –  Nick Mar 18 at 6:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As Michael Thompson (child psychologist and author of several great books on raising boys and their emotional development) likes to say (I'm paraphrasing), kids know the difference between real violence and play, and we lose credibility with them when we act like we cannot tell the difference.

If you're playing a game where you're pretending to be assassins (that's what Ninjas are), it seems perfectly appropriate to act out what they'd say and do. In fact, as the father of a 7 year old boy, I'd think it weird not to.

That said, it's important that he understand that (a) he must distinguish between people who are willing participants "in the game" with whom he's engaging in play violence, and those who are not and might find the play unwelcome; and (b) that there are specific times and places where play violence is not appropriate (his school may be one of those places, if they are humorless about it).

Google "Michael Thompson" and you'll find lots of references about play violence in boys, and how we are not doing them a service by overreacting to it.

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I don't think your boy needs counseling based on my observations of my boys and their interactions with the other kids on the block. They are always "killing" something. Not literally. Not so much my oldest, but even he is oblivious to it, which supports your theory that it's the teachers that are upset by it.
I had an incident last year where my boy and his friends (all aged 7) made a " butt" by carving a "crack" in an apple in the lunch room. This was big time funny stuff and it attracted the attention of the lunch attendant, who promptly reported it to the principal. My son and the other boys were reprimanded, and me and the other parents got the dreaded email (like you), where we were instructed to get our boys on track or else. The school acted like someone was sexually assaulted, but c'mon, making an apple into a butt IS funny, not to mention pretty normal for 7 year old boys, and relatively harmless. I suspect the lunch lady was offended, not the children. However, the school's reaction to it forced us to deal with it seriously, lest our boy be charged with a sex crime before he learned cursive.
This is why, to a certain extent, I agree with your wife that the behavior needs to stop...at school at least. They just have zero tolerance for violence (or apple- butts), so you need to make sure he understands that even though he's not serious, it is a serious matter, believe me!

Counseling, no. A serious chat regarding "a time and a place for everything," yes.

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