toy guns, violence, playdates, etc - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 07-23-2006, 08:52 PM - Thread Starter
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DW and I have really been struggling with this issue and a BD party we went to today sort of brought it to a head. We are adamant that DS not play with toy guns, pretend that things are guns, etc. He hasn't tried to (he's three). I'm not sure he even knows what guns are. We don't want him not to know they exist but just that they are serious, dangerous, and do horrible things to people.

More and more, kids he plays with (especially at daycare) do pretend gun play, play with water guns, etc. At daycare, the provider is extremely vigilant and nips it in the bud, for which I'm eternally grateful. Today, however, we were at a child's birthday party where each kid was provided with a toy squirter (some animals, some guns) to play with (it was at a park with water play area). Most of the kids and parents ran around shooting each other. It was gun play, sometimes with sound effects, sometimes with folks calling their squirter a gun, sometimes not.

I SO don't want DS around that kind of play, yet I feel like I can't just up and whisk him away from a birthday party because it's present. I can deal well if it's at a park and strangers are doing it, but what do I do when it's friends and it's a party/playdate kind of situation? The other week a friend was over and turned a straw into a gun. I told her seriously that we do not play with guns ever in our family because they can hurt people so badly. She stopped. That was fine. But her parents weren't around, so she was sort of "on my turf." I feel like it's a bit spineless, but I don't quite know what to do when there are other parents around.

I don't want to end up calling ahead if DS is going to a BD party or playdate to ask a parent's philosophy on play weaponry and/or fighting, because I don't want to come off as if I'm putting down their choice. And I don't want DS to have a very dwindling number of friends, but on the other hand I feel passionately about this.

Any advice on how you've handled this at the younger end of the spectrum? I feel like the older the child, the easier it is to deal with the gun/violence issue a bit more rationally.


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#2 of 6 Old 07-23-2006, 10:22 PM
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My kids know the rules. They know we do not play with guns. They recently reached the age that they wanted to know why. We simply explained that guns were something that hurt people or kill people. We didn't go into the details of death but they know enough to know that it is a very serious thing. When they play at home and turn something into a gun (lego, play tools, the boys can be creative sometimes ) we take the item away and state that we don't play with guns because guns are not toys. They understand. In fact my MIL had a nasty habit of giving toy guns as presents. Last Christmas she gave them some and they gave them to me immediately without asking or questioning it. They knew they couldn't play with it and knew it would be taken away if they did.

When we are at friends house and they start joining in the gun play, I remind them of the rule and ask them to go play something else. Sometimes I will walk up and stop them and talk quietly in their ear and remind them of the rule and ask for the toy. They nearly always give it up and go play something else.

I NEVER inflict my rules on other children, but I do expect that MY children follow the no toy gun rule. And if other kids are at my house I will put a stop to gun play right away.

There is usually very little questions from adults or kids. The kids are usually happy to go play something else but on occasion may need direction if they are too caught up in gun play. "Hey, you know we don't play with guns because they aren't toys. Why don't you leave that with me and go with legos...jump on the trampoline...etc."
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#3 of 6 Old 07-23-2006, 10:54 PM
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One of the problems is that no one can actually keep a child from playing pretend guns is he or she really wants to. I'm not thrilled with it, but you can't confiscate everything that a child can use that way (sticks, fingers, penis, etc). So asking what the parents philosophy is won't cover the issue completely. If you asked me, I would say that I don't like my ds to play with pretend guns, but he does. He is not very tractable and would just think someone was silly if they couldn't tell the difference between pretend and real. Because of his temperament, the best way to encourage gunplay would be to try to enforce a no gun play rule.

It's just tricky. We all try to protect our children from exposure to inappropriate things as long as possible but it gets more impossible as they get older. All you can really do is let them know how you feel and why, and hope they eventually make good choices. My ds wasn't really interested in that kind of play when he was 3. It started showing up more after he turned 4. He is more into making spaceships shoot each other than typical shoot em up stuff, thankfully. Anyway, I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make so I'll shut up now

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#4 of 6 Old 07-24-2006, 09:23 AM
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Originally Posted by megincl
Any advice on how you've handled this at the younger end of the spectrum?
Most of the kids we know pretend to shoot, so not exposing my four year old to gun play wasn't an option. I'm handling it (and so many other aggressive play scenarios that come up, like pretend wrestling and pretend swordfighting) by talking to him about the difference between real and pretend. I believe that pretending is acceptable, as long as they learn that actual shooting and swordfighting is unacceptable. I also emphasize that all kids involved must be willing participants, and it's not okay to pretend swordfight/wrestle/shoot a kid who is scared or doesn't want to play that way. That part takes a lot of supervision because my kid doesn't always recognize when another kid is uncomfortable.

I thought I would never allow my son to engage in gun play, but in the end, that didn't feel very respectful of him. He knows the difference between real and pretend, he's compassionate and never hurts anybody in real life, and playing is how he explores. So I went with it.

I understand where you're coming from, though. You seem really passionate about the issue. If you don't want your kid to engage in gun play, then enforce that limit with him just like any other limit: "I know the other kids are pretending to shoot each other, but I'm not comfortable with you doing that because guns hurt and kill people." I use this tactic a lot with other issues, and I see other parents using it a lot, and I don't think anybody gets offended.

In fact, at my son's birthday party we did have squirt guns as party favors, and one parent told his son that he couldn't have the squirt gun, and I wasn't offended. I realized that squirt guns are considered toy guns (which never even occurred to me , I only thought of them as water toys), and I probably won't include them as party favors again! But I totally respected his choice to leave the squirt gun behind. I think most parents understand that gun play is a sticky issue and are respectful of those who don't want their kids engaging in that type of play.
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#5 of 6 Old 07-24-2006, 02:05 PM
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I agree that if it's an issue you feel strongly about then don't hesitate to mention it to the parents. If you phrase it that it's *you* and not *them* then they shouldn't get offended.

We do buy squirt guns for our son to play with and it wouldn't offend me if a parent asked that their child not play with it.

I believe that pretending is acceptable, as long as they learn that actual shooting and swordfighting is unacceptable. I also emphasize that all kids involved must be willing participants, and it's not okay to pretend swordfight/wrestle/shoot a kid who is scared or doesn't want to play that way. That part takes a lot of supervision because my kid doesn't always recognize when another kid is uncomfortable.
I agree with this. As long as no child is involved in the game against their will and there is no actual hitting I don't interfere in play. I also keep an eye on language - I don't allow "I'm going to kill you!" or any other really aggressive, angry sounding tone.

I don't want to micro-manage my kids play. I can control toys but not imagination. It's very hard to avoid gun/sword play as your child gets older, just be prepared to re-evaluate your standards.
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#6 of 6 Old 07-24-2006, 06:46 PM
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I don't like guns and I don't like my son (almost 3) playing with them, but I feel that if I make a big deal out of it, he'll want it more. I just tell him that I won't play that game with him because I don't like guns because they hurt people. I don't buy him guns (he has a squirt bottle, but I guess that still "shoots"). He knows I won't play with him if that is the game. I think that is all I can do. I don't know what I would do in the birthday party situation. Maybe make up a different game that I could engage him in in the moment.

My older stepson is 11 and is very into fighting games like World of Warcraft. He was obsessed with Pokemon and Yugiho (and all their battles) as a little kid. But, in reality he is totally non-violent. He has never been in a fight. He is very gentle. I think he sees the difference between a game and reality. I do ask him to play non-fighting games with ds because as the only sibling and the big brother he has a lot of influence on whats "cool" in the house.
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