At any given moment, if you were to ask my almost four, going on fourteen, year-old son Tristan who he was, you are likely to get the response “I’m Spider-Man!” or “Batman” spoken in a low, Christian Bale-esque grainy voice. My son is a lover of all things super heroes and from the moment he could understand them, he was enamored! His identity (or the “I”) is strongly intertwined with these characters and their positive traits. He will often say “I’m Batman, look at what I can do,” with a glowing face. It is not surprising that he identifies with these superheroes as pretend play is a part of child development.
Recent studies done by Rachel White of the University of Pennsylvania and Stephanie Carlson of the University of Minnesota explain the “Batman Effect.” In her Wall Street Journal article “The Power of Pretending: What Would a Hero Do?” Alison Gopink states that children who pretend they are a superhero do better on measures of self-control and persistence.
According to the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article, a study published in 2015 in the journal of Developmental Science details 48, 5 year-olds who were given increasingly challenging problems. They were required to use their skills of control and self-inhibition. They were asked to sort cards according to color then quickly and then suddenly change to sorting by shape. Some of the children were told to pretend they were powerful fictional characters as they worked through the tasks and some children wore props, such as cape. Then the experimenter told the kids they were Batman and ask themselves “Where does Batman think the card should go?” (Gopnik). With no surprise, the children who pretended to be superheroes did much better than the children who tried to solve the tasks as themselves.
A common exercise I like to use when working with children to help them identify their positive traits is a superhero activity. This is usually a favorite! The children are first encouraged to identify their positive traits, and asked to then draw themselves as a superhero and give themselves a name. Finally, we discuss their positive traits and how they are “superhero like.” With this, I often see children get very excited when they compare themselves to superheroes! Below are several ways you can help your children identify with their inner superhero:
- BE KIND: I love the saying “One kind word can change a person’s day.” Encourage your child to be kind, smile at a stranger, and hold the door for someone. These small acts will not only make others feel good, but help your children to feel good about themselves.
- BELIEVE IN YOURSELF: Superheroes are completing challenging tasks with ease. Support your child by encouraging and validating their feelings. Acknowledge when they might be having difficulty with completing an assignment, or trying something out of their comfort zone, while encouraging them that they can do it. They can do anything with hard work and a little love!
- PROBLEM SOLVER: Believing in ones-self leads me to this next bullet: failure is a very uncomfortable and difficult emotion for a child to experience. As parents, we can encourage our little superheroes to problem solve, especially when things become challenging. Speak with your child about ways in which they can work through a problem, list the pros and cons and encourage a discussion about how each possible solutions makes them feel. Remind them that superheroes are constantly problem solving to help others!
In conclusion, cheers to helping your child unleash their inner superhero! The power of belief is so very strong. Allowing our children to believe they can do anything can sometimes be difficult. During those tedious times, that is when I like to call in the help of our friendly neighborhood Spider-man! Ask your child “what do you think your favorite superhero would do?” Letting children use their inner superhero thinking allows them to see that they can accomplish the goals they set out to do, even without capes and pointy-eared masks!