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#1 of 17 Old 06-11-2014, 07:51 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Little boys and gun play

Sigh. I'm revisiting this issue again. When my oldest was just starting to get interested in making sticks into guns, and asking for a toy gun, I went from thinking I would try to forbid all gun play, to thinking I would not try and stop him from making sticks into guns but would never have toy guns in the house, to letting a family member get him a Nerf gun. I came to an uneasy peace around it for many reasons-- a) since almost all boys seem to want to play this way, and mine did despite my Waldorf-inspired playroom and no TV household, there seems to be something innate b) adult men in my life assuring me that when they were kids, they and all their friends also played this way and they are peaceful, kind people and c) I thought forbidding it might create the old forbidden fruit syndrome and cause hyper focus on it.

So my almost 8 and 4 year old boys regularly play "battle" type games when playing outside and have a couple of Nerf guns. They have the little green "army guys" which they do battle "set-ups" with. ANd of course, they are Lego fanatics and almost all the mini figures (in the sets they want, anyway) come with little guns.

I do tell them they may not shoot at me because I personally do not like it, and they know that some kids are not allowed to play in this way, and others just may not want to, and we respect that. So there are some boundaries around it, but when they are home or with friends with parents of like mind, I do not restrict it at all. But with all this gun violence happening recently, I am so uncomfortable with it again! I find myself wanting to tell my 7 year old, who I have kept innocent of all these current events, that there is a lot of gun violence in this country right now and real people with families are being killed, and that's really what guns are about, and I wish he and his brother would stop playing guns! But that just seems like it would be placing the weight of the world on his shoulders, and asking him to change developmentally appropriate play/processing/whatever because of MY anxiety, not because it's really harming my kids. I don't know. What I want to know is, in developed countries that don't have our gun violence problem (that's all the rest of them, I guess!), do little boys do gun play??

I appreciate any thoughts on this and how others are handling it.
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#2 of 17 Old 06-11-2014, 09:24 AM
 
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Projectiles are fun, and high powered projectiles make it more interesting. Then there's the tactics and conflict of a battle that make things even more interesting. They don't really understand death yet, and even when it's explained it doesn't quite sink it if they aren't ready for it to, so it's lighthearted play. I try to steer mine toward target shooting instead of nerf darts at each other, and give them some of the same rules one would have about a real gun like never point at people, don't carelessly keep it loaded and cocked, and don't touch the trigger until you're about to shoot your target.
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#3 of 17 Old 06-12-2014, 10:47 AM
 
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I guess it is a matter of remembering that they are in fact playing, and have the minds of children. Gun play is about power, and a game of tag, and good and bad. And it does not mean to them that they are desiring to kill. Play should be a safe place to process the world.
A lot of play could seem awful if we choose to look at only with an adult mind. Playing doctor (emergency surgeries!, amputations!), firefighters (house burning down around the family!), using bikes to play car crash, cooking up poison stews in the backyard...
I don't think it is appropriate to tell young children about current atrocities that are not part of their world. But discussing that real guns can kill people, and never touch one, etc., at age 7 seems appropriate.
Would changing the weapon to a sword or bow and arrow make you feel less uneasy?
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#4 of 17 Old 06-14-2014, 01:13 PM
 
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What I want to know is, in developed countries that don't have our gun violence problem (that's all the rest of them, I guess!), do little boys do gun play??

I live in Germany and actually, it's hard to say. My only child is a 4 yr old boy and he is at a Waldorf preschool, so we sort of live in a bubble insofar as almost all his friends are the types of kids whose parents wouldn't let them play with toy guns. So far I haven't noticed anyone making guns out of sticks or whatever, but maybe they do I just haven't seen it. In the Waldorf world and in Germany in general, they get kind of into the midieval/castle/knights and princesses and dragons play scenes. This involves swords made of wood. So far my son isn't interested in these games and quite frankly I would not be too thrilled with him getting all into sword play. Although it's a step above guns, it's still representative of violence, war and killing and I feel uncomfortable with that. I would be hesitant to buy him a wooden sword although I feel as you do, that forbidding it outright is not necessarily realistic or the best approach and just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's a harmful thing. I found this article helpful: http://www.mothering.com/articles/bang-bang/

My son has, a few times, used a stick to pretend it's shooting fire and I think once he said it was a gun....and I said we don't ever aim a gun or a fire stick or anything like that at a person or animal. That was the rule and the limit and I would stick to it. I have heard many parents make that the limit: not aiming it at people or animals. This was a very short phase for my kid, so far, but if it comes back that is my limit. I would never ever buy him a toy gun. Not even one of those bubble guns.

We were at a street fair / carnival recently and they had plenty of cheap toy guns as prizes for the games and for sure kids there had them. I very occasionally see kids playing with toy guns when we're out and about, and I would be willing to bet gun play is less here than in the US. Simply because the culture here is much less gun-oriented and kids' play does reflect the world / culture they are in. In Europe the whole knights, castles, kings and sword fighting theme is very much a part of the history so it makes sense kids play that rather than guns.....

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#5 of 17 Old 06-16-2014, 01:53 PM
 
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I wouldn't allow it.

These behaviors are learned. Children of any gender can learn mastery, especially of self; nurturing; and motor skills without (mock) violence. Even hunter-gatherers were skilled in many arts such as tracking, endurance, survival, plant and habitat identification, compassionate trapping & harvesting of animals, and dog training. There is no good use, IMO, in life for aggression. This only ends in trouble and heartache.

I also wouldn't allow children to playact trauma such as car crashes & amputations.

Human experience is rich and full of positive constructive cooperative esteem-building opportunities, so there is no limit to play opportunities that foster proper respect and esteem for self and others. I think that any play that involves a victim is not healthy. Another poster said that a lot of play is about power and that is true. However there is power that relies on receiving esteem and control from others (being the rescuer of another child or dominating another child through conquest) and there is power that results from mutual sharing such as building something together or transacting "business" with eachother such as playing store. I don't feel that exploitative power (the former) is healthy and I would redirect that sort of play into the latter form where each child's esteem is supported by the group.

Power-sharing is win-win and is badly needed in the world. This is what I think that we should teach our children, and all play is learning.

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#6 of 17 Old 07-07-2014, 02:17 PM
 
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I wouldn't allow it.

These behaviors are learned. Children of any gender can learn mastery, especially of self; nurturing; and motor skills without (mock) violence. Even hunter-gatherers were skilled in many arts such as tracking, endurance, survival, plant and habitat identification, compassionate trapping & harvesting of animals, and dog training. There is no good use, IMO, in life for aggression. This only ends in trouble and heartache.

I also wouldn't allow children to playact trauma such as car crashes & amputations.
I generally think that this kind of play is how kids assimilate the world around them. A child who knows what amputation is, or has been around car crashes may need to work that out in their play.

My rule of thumb has been that aggressive play is allowed, but not violent play. For me that line is crossed if someone is angry, or too rough with out caring about the other person.
Oddly enough, I think ds, who is now 11, has learned a lot of empathy through rough play with friends. By being expected to "tune in" to his friends and not hurt feelings or cross lines of roughness, he has really developed a good sense of these sort o fthings.
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#7 of 17 Old 07-09-2014, 04:13 PM
 
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That's an interesting perspective. For me I don't know that I believe that kids need to be rough in order to learn to be gentle & considerate, but if everyone involved was OK with it and it worked for you then OK! Good point about processing trauma through play. I was thinking specifically about the enormous amount of trauma that children see on TV and in video games, which is not healthy or necessary, and I felt that if parents see this kind of play in their children they may want to assess their children's exposure to trauma and minimize their exposure and fascination with it. But if they were in an accident, saw an accident, or know someone who was in an accident then that makes sense.
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#8 of 17 Old 07-11-2014, 12:48 AM
 
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Hey come on, your kids are too small to understand all the complicated stuff of the world and there's no harm in letting the boys play with the gun. All you need to do is to keep an eye on what all games they play with it.

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#9 of 17 Old 07-12-2014, 10:55 AM
 
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I see nothing wrong with roughhousing for any gender. They need to understand boundaries, and, yes, I'd be willing to have a talk with even little kids about safewords if they like shrieking "no, stop!" when they don't mean it. Probably wouldn't use the word 'safeword' but the general concept, yes. I also consider martial arts, including sparring, to be very valuable at any age. As the PP said, you can learn a lot of empathy and a heightened awareness through rough-housing. It's not for everyone, but there's nothing wrong with it.

In some families, fairly young kids are even taught how to use guns. I've heard of 6 year olds being taught how to aim and fire BB guns. There are families that hunt either for fun or as part of their livelihood and so learning to hunt and to use guns is important even from a young age- but it's not indiscriminate violence. Those kids are taught to respect guns and to use gun safety (at least, ideally).
And ALL kids really need to know about gun safety. Guns are dangerous and kids need to know this. Your child's innocence will not protect him if he finds a loaded gun at a friend's house. If anything, it will put him at much greater risk.

Guns aren't just about killing people. People can use guns with tranquilizer darts to help save hurt animals. There are things like skeet shooting that are for enjoyment and that, when done properly, don't hurt anyone or put anyone at risk. Yes, guns can do a lot of damage, but not always. Guns are a tool- like any other tool, they can be abused. Yes, they're a tool initially designed to destroy, but there are a lot of things that were designed to destroy that have been remade to save lives. It sounds like you have hang ups about guns that you're putting on your children. I understand, I really do, the school shootings issue is terrifying, but it's a lot more complicated than that and removing all guns isn't the answer. And, again, just because guns aren't always for killing doesn't make them any less dangerous- you REALLY need to make sure your child respects how dangerous guns can be. What would happen if he found a real gun?

You also really can't stop them. Kids can make anything into guns if they want to. Just look at what kids are being suspended for for "toy guns"- pieces of toast, hands, folded paper, etc. I'd rather help kids process play that they're interested in than forbid it and let them process it under the guidance of other kids.

Not all kids can handle gun play, some kids get truly violent when they do "play violence" or even see movies with it. Some kids can actually benefit from it, some kids most certainly do not. You know your child, if you don't think your child can handle gun play or don't think they'll benefit from it- then go from there.

Some articles that may help you: (the first one is about how kids play with guns in Japan, which may answer your 'developed nation' quesiton, although I don't know of any developed nations without gun use, and the second is about Switzerland which has an incredibly high rate of people with guns and also very low gun violence)
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/...r-mind/278518/
http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/the...re-that-works/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heathe...b_1720962.html

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#10 of 17 Old 07-12-2014, 05:05 PM
 
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We own 2 guns each, including my adult child. They are tools for mature people. Guns and other weapons are intended to strike another living creature. It's true that sometimes they are used simply for inanimate sport, but in any case they aren't toys. We don't play with them, even as adults (though some adults do, I understand, but that is not to our values, but as adults we can make our own choices and that's different from children's play). We are happy to own guns & have no problem with guns. What I have a problem with, as a mother, is "gun play," which is aggression. To me it's the same as allowing a child to play "hack you," "stab you," or "saw you" with other perfectly useful tools. "Punch you" doesn't even need a tool.

The OP is describing battles, not target practice, so the object of aggression is another child. This is why I wouldn't allow it because this sort of play is about domination.

I also don't think that because children tend to certain behaviors doesn't mean that as parents we should just "cave:" kids are all doing XYZ these days & ok, then we should just accept it. I think that we have a profound responsibility to assess and address our kids' behaviors and do as much as we can to lovingly gently change behavior that we see problems with. I have definitely seen that most parents hope to have a home where the seeds of our best intention can grow. Kids may not always agree or comply but I think we have more responsibility and influence than we may think we do.

If the OP's kids are crazy for guns and she doesn't feel she can curb it then target shooting or a redirection of dominating behavior may be wise.

To me this isn't about guns, it's about appropriate power relations.
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#11 of 17 Old 07-24-2014, 01:42 PM
 
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We own 2 guns each, including my adult child. They are tools for mature people. Guns and other weapons are intended to strike another living creature. It's true that sometimes they are used simply for inanimate sport, but in any case they aren't toys. We don't play with them, even as adults (though some adults do, I understand, but that is not to our values, but as adults we can make our own choices and that's different from children's play). We are happy to own guns & have no problem with guns. What I have a problem with, as a mother, is "gun play," which is aggression. To me it's the same as allowing a child to play "hack you," "stab you," or "saw you" with other perfectly useful tools. "Punch you" doesn't even need a tool.

The OP is describing battles, not target practice, so the object of aggression is another child. This is why I wouldn't allow it because this sort of play is about domination.

I also don't think that because children tend to certain behaviors doesn't mean that as parents we should just "cave:" kids are all doing XYZ these days & ok, then we should just accept it. I think that we have a profound responsibility to assess and address our kids' behaviors and do as much as we can to lovingly gently change behavior that we see problems with. I have definitely seen that most parents hope to have a home where the seeds of our best intention can grow. Kids may not always agree or comply but I think we have more responsibility and influence than we may think we do.

If the OP's kids are crazy for guns and she doesn't feel she can curb it then target shooting or a redirection of dominating behavior may be wise.

To me this isn't about guns, it's about appropriate power relations.
I am also perfectly fine with guns, and hope to learn to shoot one day. My son is just turning 4. He started with the "shooting fire" thing. We've tried to enforce "no pointing at people or animals". I go back and forth on this topic and just really don't know what to do. I want him to grow up to understand & respect guns as a tool. I want him to grow up to be loving and empathic. But it seems nothing I do changes him from being a "typical boy" in this regard.

We do not have TV. He has seen very few movies, knows very few characters. He does go to a Montessori school, which does influence his behavior (the other kids, not the school). Any tips for raising kids the way you describe pumabearclan? I sure could use them!

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#12 of 17 Old 07-25-2014, 10:28 AM
 
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Could you perhaps help your son to find other means to affect his world? The intent to "shoot fire" is an inclination to project his will and power beyond himself and make an impact on the world. This is a natural and positive inclination, I think all people hope to make their mark in the world, it's just part of being human. Making a mark by destroying something or someone is the easiest way to do this, it's expanding the ego beyond the bounds of our bodies and pushing back on the world that we see hemming us in all around; taking charge of trees, people, animals, etc by imagining having a greater power than they.

Destroying doesn't take any skill, it's entirely reactive, because the object to destroy is the creation of another. Once the destroyed thing is gone, there is nothing to notice or mark the destroyer. There are, to my thinking, two better techniques for making a mark in the world, and those are to shape what is already in the world in an artful manner or to create something new. So these would be avenues you could use to redirect your son's egoic desire. Simply destroying something is essentially meaningless and doesn't actually accomplish anything that satisfies the ego. At 4 years old, it will be somewhat difficult to get this across to him. So if he can understand that simply shooting stuff isn't really powerful and that better power and esteem would come from creating art or something original through developing skill, this would be a good path for his future. If he likes to shoot fire you can describe how lasers are used for delicate surgery, to stencil metal sculptures, etc. So rather than shooting fire to annihilate trees, he could pretend to sculpt them into topiaries, for example. Or use a stick to play that he is welding to make a bridge or a car. Or send a rocket with supplies to an imaginary moon colony. These activities "shoot fire" and but are creative, not destructive, and are activities from which he can contribute to his world and receive esteem from others and derive self-esteem.

You could emphasize that destructive shooting is low-skill and that you know he is capable of doing much more with his skills, then give him some ideas. You will probably have to brainstorm yourself to come up with some ideas, get some pictures to show him of the constructive alternatives, and then discover what interests him and guide him along.

I hope this helps.
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#13 of 17 Old 07-25-2014, 08:55 PM
 
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That actually helps a lot! I'm going to copy that to my husband as well so we can be on the same page. Thank you!

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#14 of 17 Old 07-26-2014, 04:46 AM
 
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So glad!
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#15 of 17 Old 07-29-2014, 09:08 PM
 
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My 3 year old son is obsessed with guns and shooting games. I never let my older son have toy guns (he wasn't interested) and didn't plan on letting my little one have toy guns. But...

My 3 year old, starting about a year ago, started turning EVERYTHING into a gun- sticks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, toy cars, heck, even a football once. You hear so much on the news these days about children, sometimes even very young children, being suspended or even expelled from school for "gun play", that I was very concerned. So, I went the other way- I bought him a couple toys guns (that don't really shoot), taught him "gun safety"- never point at people, only shoot zombies (don't ask! lol), only shoot animals when you're hunting, don't use anybody else's gun but your own, etc, or you lose it for the day- and then made a rule that he could ONLY use the the toy guns as guns, not other toys, and to NEVER go near or touch a gun that isn't bright colors, and to always ask me and the other parent before playing with guns with another child. So, he plays with guns, sometimes all day, but at least at school, since there won't be toy guns at school, he won't be labeled "bad" or "violent" and sent home, and hopefully, if he ever gets a hold of a real gun, he won't touch it because it's not his.

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#16 of 17 Old 08-08-2014, 08:00 AM
 
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I've loved reading this thread - it's such a complicated issue!

On a personal, visceral leve, I really hate gun play. It makes me so uncomfortable, as do guns in general, even though we do own four (gifts from a gun-loving relative; they stay in safes and my husband has taken an interest, but I can't make myself). Thankfully, even though he's had some exposure to the concept of guns through an older cousin and a couple of movies we didn't pre-screen well enough, 3.5yo DS has taken absolutely zero interest.

Anyhow, something I thought of while reading this was something I remember from Playful Parenting - if you're alarmed by violent play, gun play, etc, the first thing to do is meet them where they are and play with them, guns included. If your tactic is to impose lots of limitations or outright ban it, you probably won't get very far and might exacerbate it. As mentioned, play is how kids make sense of their world, so if they're being exposed to guns and violence in their lives, expect to see it come up in their play. Banning it doesn't help them sort out what they've seen. You have to be invited into their world first, then you are able to guide the play where you'd like it to go. I like pumabearclan's suggestions to take the concept of shooting something to a more productive, positive place. I think in the book he mentions turning guns into "love guns" where, when they child shoots at him, it makes him chase the child down trying to hug and kiss them while he acts like a total goofball. It gets the kid laughing, involves physical connection, turns an inherently isolating game (me vs you, winner/loser, aggressor/victim) into a bonding game.

My personal current concern is that I have several family members who own guns, including one whom we visit often, and I know they're kept locked up, but I'm wondering if I should still introduce the concept of gun safety now in case he comes across one, or wait. I'll probably wait...I'm not even sure he knows what a gun is, to be honest. It doesn't seem like a good approach to say, "This is what a gun looks like. Don't ever touch one." Ha.



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#17 of 17 Old 08-08-2014, 09:01 AM
 
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My personal current concern is that I have several family members who own guns, including one whom we visit often, and I know they're kept locked up, but I'm wondering if I should still introduce the concept of gun safety now in case he comes across one, or wait. I'll probably wait...I'm not even sure he knows what a gun is, to be honest. It doesn't seem like a good approach to say, "This is what a gun looks like. Don't ever touch one." Ha.
If it comes up maybe you could jump at the chance to give a calm description of guns & gun safety. Kids see adults using tools all the time & although it may be tempting, the number of kids who attempt to drive cars, use a drill, mow the lawn, or carve a roast is rather low. The fact that a gun is a weapon-tool causes parents, kids, and people in general to react differently, I think. If we can emphasize the value of the gun as a tool first rather than just a weapon it may help. As I said, that's how I think of it, we have them as a tool of last resort for self-defense and survival.

I don't like to dwell on current events, and this is a difficult topic, but I think that the recent "porch shooting" incident indicates that the "weapon" aspect was primary in the user's mind rather than the "tool" aspect; a gun didn't seem to be the right tool for the job, as the jury's verdict indicates: the opinion is that there were other tools available, such as using the phone & relying on the locked doors, turning on all the lights, etc. This frightened person wanted to use a weapon, not a tool to solve the problem, which he admitted. (I'm not passing judgement on the man, no one can know how difficult this was for him.)

As long as kids are seeking gun play as a "social tool" (weapon) rather than as a self-defense of survival tool, I think we have potential for problems.

I really like the post above regarding Playful Parenting, a very good suggestion!
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