Gun Play

Our three-year-old son has adopted a new fascination with guns and swords, much to our surprise, since we have none in the house and we do not watch programs or read books that promote weapons of any kind. Sticks in the yard have become swords and shoes are guns, etc. I am impressed by his imaginative thinking, but concerned about his interest in weapons. We have discussed how weapons can hurt people very badly and how we are gentle people who don’t want to hurt others. He agrees with these points but continues to talk about and play imaginatively with weapons. I often just ignore his talk and direct his attention to other ideas or tell him I’d rather not play guns or swords. We’ve tried not to make a huge issue over this, but it is consuming much of our time lately. I’m not sure if there is some other direction we can take to steer him away from his obsession with weapons. Any suggestions?

Gun play is typical among little boys. Even parents who philosophically oppose gun and knife play and ban them from their houses will have sons and daughters who make guns out of Legos, sticks, cheese sandwiches, or whatever they can get their hands on! One theory is that children work out their perception of the world in their play. It doesn’t mean that they will grow up with a gun fascination or become killers. Where do they get the idea of guns in a peace-loving home? They see guns in their world in places we adults don’t even really notice them, such as the TV, ads, movie posters, books, friend’s play, video games, and so on. Children want to imitate or act out what they see in order to process it. This is very normal. Children have been doing this as long as they have had sticks to play with. As a parent, we often wonder how to deal with it. You are doing a fantastic job of modeling what you value and believe. You don’t play with guns or advocate their use. Remember that modeling is one of the most powerful influences you can have on your children and parents have the most impact on children. You state in an I-message how much you find them distasteful. This is also helpful. It tells your children how you feel about the guns and where your values lie. However, banning children from playing with guns can make the toy weapons seem like forbidden fruit, and then they are even more appealing. Banning gun play could also damage your valuable parent-child relationship. Acceptance of the fact that little boys and girls will use gun play will likely encourage them to adopt your values because you are allowing them to explore their values. Children not controlled by others are far more likely to adopt the beliefs and values of their parents because their relationship is a good one. Letting them make those value choices, but also strongly communicating your feelings in the embrace of a connected relationship is all the ammunition (pardon the pun) you need to raise caring, loving, and empathetic children.