Let’s take a case study. My son is a six-year-old whirl of testosterone. A few days ago he was trying to get my attention while I tried to get some work done. So he calmly walked up to my chair, placed a tender young hand on my arm and said, “Dear Papa, please will you spend a choice moment with me.” Not. Only those raising a dog instead of a child could believe that.

In reality, he backed up about six or seven feet, got down on all fours, and scrambled as fast as he could, head first, into my chair, nearly knocking me over. He got my attention. Of course, if he had pulled a stunt like that for the Vikings he’d have been docked 15 yards minimum. But in spite of the penalties boys just seem to have a tendency for violence.

Much to his younger sister’s chagrin, he’d rather tackle her than sit still and talk. As any parent of boys knows, the way to get him to stop tackling her is to tackle him first and pummel him until he has been comedically lanced of his passions and collapses in a fit of laughter. To deny this aspect of my child, to never engage with him violently at all, would be a profound mistake with disastrous consequences. The play fights are about learning how to fight well, and about what to do with those fighting spirits.