My 4 year old son has been playing “killing” games, shooting and cutting up bad guys. He has also targeted family and friends verbally, saying “I'm going to kill you, capture you, cut you up.” Is this normal developmentally?

—How do I handle it?

Dear How do I handle it,

Around the age of four, children are exploring the wholeness of their psyche and become fascinated with the “dark side” of their humanity. It is a necessary step in developing a healthy, whole ego. How they undergo this passage is up to us. Not only is your son exploring his dark side, he is also learning his social behavior (and will continue to do so until age 6). So it falls to us to help them explore this side in a socially appropriate manner:

We never direct those comments to any living being, human, animal or plant.

We can act out those feelings with action figures.

We can act them out with like minded friends as long as rules of engagement are agreed on by all children and parents beforehand AND the time we engage in that activity is limited.

We can write stories and illustrate them.

We can read stories about the dark side. Try Maurice Sendak and traditional fairy tales.

We never point any weapons, real or pretend, at any living creature.

We can point and fire a weapon at a target.

We can attend weapon safety classes. (And I highly recommend it if your child continues to be interested.)

In conclusion, yes, what your son is doing is normal. Now neaten it up a little.