Q: How should I respond to my child's fascination with evil characters? He's only 3 years old, but whenever he plays make-believe, he always takes on the role of the villain, and the only action figures he wants are those representing "bad guys." Is this fascination unhealthy?
Jim: Our counselors suggest that there's probably no reason to be overly concerned about your 3-year-old's interest in villains. Many young children are fascinated with "bad guys." If your son is like most kids, it's likely a phase that will eventually pass. You might also keep in mind that if you focus on the issue and try to force him to stop liking these characters, he may thrive on the negative attention. Kids will do almost anything for attention, especially if they're feeling neglected. For now, the best approach is to ignore this current preoccupation and simply concentrate on affirming his interests that are more positive.
That said, if your son is mimicking the behaviors of the evil characters and acting out in inappropriate ways, I'd encourage you to nip that in the bud. Don't allow him to become mean-spirited, aggressive or hurtful 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 personality 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?" By doing so, you'll be directing the conversation into channels that are affirming of positive virtues and actions.
Q: Do you have any advice for the parent of a preteen who's trying to gear up for "the talk" about sexuality and "the facts of life"?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: It's good to hear you've been giving this some thought. Too often kids hear about sex from everyone but their parents, and a "pre-emptive strike" can give your child a healthy view of sexuality that will stand up to distorted perspectives coming from other sources.
There's no foolproof formula for carrying out this assignment, but I'd suggest keeping the following principles in mind:
-- Giving your child facts about reproduction doesn't rob him of innocence. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as something that, in the proper context, both expresses love and begins new life, retains his innocence. But a child who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mindset if he's been exposed to it in a degrading context.
-- Don't try to tell your child everything during a single marathon session. Details should be shared gradually over a period of several years.
-- If your child asks questions you can't answer, don't become flustered. Be honest, and then do some research. You'll gain far more stature in your child's eyes by showing candor than by bluffing.
-- The overarching theme of your discussions should be the importance of respect -- respect for our bodies, the wonders of reproduction, privacy in sexual matters and for the well-being of others. Along with providing the correct names and places of body parts, the mechanics of intercourse and the process of fertilization, you'll want to emphasize that sex between one man and one woman -- maintained within a marriage relationship to which both are committed for life -- is not only the right context for the expression of sex, but the safest and most pleasurable.
For more help and a free copy of "The Talk: Changing the Conversation," visit us at focusonthefamily.com/havingthetalk.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.