When playing with some younger nephews they like to destroy things that people have made such as a tower of blocks, drawings someone made, etc. They do so because they find it funny and probably like to see us all laugh. Again they are young, around 3 yrs old, so is there a certain age to tell them it's not ok to destroy other people's things?

5 Answers 5


Our rule was "build before destroying" At two that meant they had to try to add a block to the top of the tower before trying to knock it down, or make an attempt at a shape or letter before scribbling over a drawing. As they age what is required out of the building phase increases.

Where a project that took some effort or had emotional investment was threatened we'd generally try to redirect to imitation or competition. "Johny is making that one; we'll build our own to destroy" "oh my isn't it hard to get that part right" "ours will be even taller/more purple/whatever"

If you worry about kids doing bad things to get a laugh you should probably stop laughing for them.

  • I like this answer most for getting them involved in the creation so they have attachment. I think that's a great idea. Thanks!
    – Eric F
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 4:47

Destructive play is fine as long as it's ok to destroy the object in question. For example, as an adult I still enjoy "destructive play" when I have an old IKEA desk I need to get rid of and can't move out of its room. Taking a sledge hammer to it is both therapeutic and insanely fun. And it's ok, because no one needs or cares about the desk. With kids it's the same. If they want to make something (like a block tower) for the purpose of destroying it, let them. If they want to make a drawing just to tear it to shreds, fine. They got enjoyment both from making it and annihilating it.

But it's when the object has value or shouldn't be destroyed that the problem arises. When Johnny is making a block tower with the goal of seeing how high he can get, it would cause a lot of contention if his little brother came flying in to play tornado. In this case, the block tower, the very same object that was so much fun to decimate when it was allowed, has now become a hands-off object. And this is where it gets difficult and becomes age dependent.

For really small children, you can gently explain that they shouldn't knock over Johnny's block tower because it's his turn to play with it and he doesn't want you to knock it over. Then watch them like a hawk and be prepared to intervene at any instant. One quick glance and the thought of "oooo block tower...." is enough to start a toddler running.

As kids get older and start to understand taking turns, respecting boundaries and other people's feelings, explanation can take over as the primary method of preventing unwanted destruction. Once they can understand "Don't rip up that drawing, Mommy really likes it", that will probably be sufficient (though be prepared for a few slip-ups as they learn better impulse control). And if something is really important or fragile, child proof it or put it somewhere where the child can't destroy it.

Short answer: stop destructive play when it's inappropriate. But as long as it isn't going to hurt anything, go for it. It isn't an easy, cut-and-dry thing. Teach them when it's ok and when it isn't. And that when in doubt, ask.


Context matters

If they destroy something that nobody cares about and doesn't have any real value, then why not, but they need to know that before. At best they should destroy stuff they made themselves, if they created a drawing and destroy it now, there shouldn't be any problem ether.

But if they damage or destroy something that they didn't know if it was ok, or even worse, if they destroyed something they knew was worth something to someone, they need to feel that they did something wrong.


The core challenge is to keep things safe and fair.

At 5 years old my kid STILL destroys snowmen before they're finished. Towers get knocked over. Artwork gets torn up. Just about every creative activity you can think of has a destructive side.

For kids with sensory processing disorder, they often seek out the sensations of destruction. The physical impact of running into the snowman, the noise of blocks falling, the feel of paper tearing.

I don't consider my job to stop him from doing these things, but rather to channel his energy in a safe direction. No destroying siblings stuff. No knocking over towers that could fall on someone. Emphasize the value of artwork, and provide doodle paper to tear. I'm still trying to figure out how to keep the snowman alive.

And before laughing at something a kid does, make sure it will still be funny the tenth time.

  • "And before laughing at something a kid does, make sure it will still be funny the tenth time." That is so true
    – Eric F
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 17:50

I say block towers and so on are fair game. It is a part of the learning process.

No lego buildings or models, not drawings or art. It's fair to say things like that up front. "Let's build towers and knock them over." Let's make a Lego/Duplo house, but we won't break this one until everyone is finished playing with it".

  • 1
    But what age around? A 2 year old may find destroying Lego things is funny which seems ok as they don't really have a full language concept yet but a 12 year old of course shouldn't be allowed so there must be some in between age where it becomes not ok
    – Eric F
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 0:41
  • @Eric F imo, around now.
    – WRX
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 1:05

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