Alternatives to Forbidding Weapon Play

By Jenny Knuth
Issue 139, November/December 2006

plastic cowboy toy“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”—Albert Einstein

Try some of these ideas to avoid battles over weapons:
Start with the premise “Everyone needs to feel safe.” If everyone does not feel safe—if someone gets hurt, if someone gets scared, if someone who is not playing is being unwillingly drawn into the game—then stop the game. Outline the problem and ask, “How can we continue playing so that everyone feels safe?” This encourages empathy, problem solving, and conflict resolution.

Limit the setting of the game. Limit where toy weapons are used. Examples that parents use include: not at the table, only outdoors, not in the living room, and so on. This encourages creativity and allows expression but not disruption.

Weapons touch only weapons. With sword fighting, you can encourage weapons to touch only other weapons, not people or things. Similarly, you can discourage pointing guns of any kind at people, ever. This is difficult to enforce but easy for children to understand and remember, and it reinforces the idea that real weapons can be deadly.

Time-out for weapons. If playing with a weapon is hurting or upsetting people or things, or breaking the rules, then the weapon can be put in a “time-out.” This stops the behavior and gives a consequence but does not label the child as “bad.”

Redirecting Weapons Play

  • Emphasize healing: introduce medicine potions or rescue vehicles
  • Transform a gun into a magic wand
  • Emphasize costumes and dress-up
  • Emphasize storytelling: draw pictures or write down the fantasy
  • Encourage crafts: spend the bulk of your time creating sets or props
  • Channel the energy into other active pursuits: tag, hide and seek, sports, martial arts, jungle gym, trampoline
  • If all else fails, take a break and have a healthy snack!


Things to Watch For:

Positive Signs
Be happy when your child:

  • empathizes with others
  • is able to set limits and control behavior
  • stops when someone gets hurt
  • is fair and forgiving
  • engages in creative, imaginative games

Negative Signs
Be concerned and intervene if your child:

  • shows callousness or a lack of empathy
  • shows poor self-control or a lack of limit-setting
  • consistently hurts others and damages property
  • is too aroused, unable to stop
  • has a punishing, vindictive attitude
  • engages in repetitive, imitative games

When you intervene, model peace by:

  • never treating an aggressive child aggressively
  • asking open-ended questions
  • being open to all play
  • playing along and modeling the change you’d like to see (turn your gun into a wand, be the healer, etc.)
  • encouraging problem solving: “How can we keep playing so everyone feels safe?”
  • putting the weapon in a time-out

Jenny Knuth is a writer and full-time mother. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband, Greg, and their two sons, Rees (8) and Kadin (5). Exuberant games of “Attack Daddy!” and the like continue to teach her about a warrior’s path to peace. More of Jenny’s observations about life and parenting can be found at