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I am writing to ask what an appropriate (ethical and constructive) response to the following situation would be:

  • A child is a 7 year-old boy
  • The child has been playing with my daughter and has drawn an image apparently depicting a violent scene
  • When asked about what he has drawn, the child said that "This is S's head. S has been poisoned. This is his body, head (separated) and guts".
  • Due to a number of factors that I cannot go into here, I believe that parents of the child are likely to disregard this situation (perhaps this is the right course of action - I am not qualified to tell)

I appreciate that to interpret this situation it is necessary to talk to the child to understand what he meant, what made him draw this, as well as become familiar with the child's background. I am not asking for analysis here.

I would greatly appreciate any advice that would help me understand what actions need to be taken by:

  • parents of the child
  • parents of children that play with the child
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  • Hi! I removed the salutations, as we don't typically include those in questions here (or answers) on StackExchange questions. – Joe Feb 19 at 19:16
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I was a leader in a group for 6-9 year olds for a little while, and it was very common for children of this age to draw violent things. One time we were making nodding chicks as a cute Springtime craft activity, and even then a lot of the kids decided to draw battle scars all over their chicks. Many of the cartoons they're watching at this age will involve fighting and good guys defeating bad guys and that kind of thing, hopefully not with blood and guts, but that's a fairly obvious extrapolation. Boys may also be trying to be macho for peer pressure related reasons. So the violent imagery relates more to those things than any sort of realistic violence.

So I wouldn't make a big deal of it, just try to gently discourage it. When he explained what the drawing was, I'd just say something like "That's not very nice!" or "Oh no, poor S!" and if there was time, maybe ask further about the drawing like who is S? Who killed S and why? Then I could give my opinion on the scenario e.g. "Killing S for stealing a cake seems a bit harsh, they could have got the Police to deal with that". It won't make the kid lose interest in violence anytime soon, but it might encourage him to think things through a bit more (when is it necessary to kill the baddies?), and let him know that adults don't like solving problems by killing people. Alternatively, if there's a non-violent part of the drawing, you could compliment his drawing skills on that bit (maybe he did a good job of drawing S's hair or something?), so he might focus more on drawing well than drawing violent things in future.

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  • I like this answer because I find it positive and helpful (outlining good steps to be taken). It also draws from experience of working with children, which is a big bonus. Thank you! – StackExchanger Mar 9 at 15:24
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Bluntly answering the question ask asked: you're not that child's parent, so it should be of absolutely no concern to you what steps are taken by that child's parents. You may choose to let your daughter play with their child, or choose not to, but that's where the line ends, as far as the other child goes. If they're not concerned about it, then that's their choice. This will be far from the only time you have a concern that is not shared by the other parents! You need to decide if this is a problem that leads to you asking your daughter not to play with the other child, or not.


Your concern should be for your child, and how she processes this. At the age you describe, the child is well able to have a conversation about what happened, and should be able to describe her feelings. Does it bother her? Hopefully you've had conversations about violence before, and in particular helped her understand the disconnect between fantasy violence and real violence. She will encounter plenty of the former as she grows, and needs to understand that difference.

You also can use this to help her understand how to handle the situation where she feels uncomfortable with what a friend is doing. You can talk about how to talk to the peer about it ("That makes me uncomfortable", to start, but leading to talking about her feelings openly with others).

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  • We all have (a small amount of) responsibility for the well-being of all children in our communities. Usually, trusting parents to handle things will be sufficient and the pragmatic solution [and I suspect that this is the case here], but I strongly disagree with the first sentence. – Arno Feb 19 at 21:32
  • @Arno If this was a question of abuse or neglect then that would apply, but it does not - so my answer does not assume such. – Joe Feb 19 at 21:36
  • @Joe thank you so much for your comprehensive answer! To learn as much as I can from this situation (and to complete the answer), could you please share what you think an appropriate response would be if it was my child? Also, to help me understand the essence of your answer: is there anything at all that the other child does that would be my concern? Your comment partly answers this: situations of abuse or neglect. Could you suggest what would constitute parental neglect in this situation? Should one stick to legal definition or is there also an ethical guide of when someone should step in? – StackExchanger Feb 19 at 22:07
  • @Joe This sort of behaviour might be indicative of some form of abuse or neglect, though I think that you'd probably want better evidence of it before you called the cops on his parents. – nick012000 Feb 22 at 0:53

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