Gun Play

This post on weapon play inspired me to finally put down my thoughts on this topic. With three girls, gun play isn’t a huge issue in our home, but it does appear from time to time. For example, a few weeks ago Katherine started building toy guns out of legos and called them “shooters.” She engaged Clara as well and the two of them went around shooting things for a few days. It was pretty clear that the play came from school - with 10 boys and 6 girls in Katherine’s class, gun play is inevitable. I think she was just trying it out at home because she wasn’t quite comfortable joining in at school. It went on for a few days, then they abandoned it. I struggled with letting them be and was grateful when it disappeared.

Although my own experience with gun play has been limited, it is a common topic among parents.  Based on discussions with Katherine’s teachers and her classmates’ parents, I have formed a few opinions. Of course it is easy for me to have opinions when it is not something I really have to deal with, but I’ll share them nonetheless.

They even make beautiful wooden toy guns. Who knew?!Generally speaking, children play what they need to play in order to process their world. Most children are exposed to guns through a variety of sources, such as t.v., movies, the news, other children, and toys. Some children have parents who have to keep guns in their home because of their job, and children of military families are exposed to guns, especially if they live on a base. Whether we like it or not, guns are very present in our lives. It makes sense that children need to process this aspect of life and doing so through play is healthy.

I think it is important to also keep in mind that gun play doesn’t have the same meaning to children as it does to adults. I am horrified at the idea of my five-year-old going around pretending to shoot people. But that is based on thirty some years of experience and a mature understanding of murder and death. To a five-year-old, it is nothing more than an escalated version of tag.

As far as allowing it in my home, I follow the guidelines Katherine’s teacher uses in his classroom. I try to be aware of the effect gun play is having on the children playing it and the children nearby who are not playing it. If someone feels threatened, I intervene, but if no one feels threatened, I’ll let it go. When I do intervene, I’ll tell the gun player that the gun may not be pointed at people and I’ll try to redirect the play. Often I’ll suggest they hunt a dragon or some wild beast in the forest. Sometimes I’ll turn their pretend gun into a pretend water squirter and request that they cool me down. This usually works, but I have it easy because the girls usually lose interest pretty quickly anyway.

For parents whose children don’t lose interest so easily, I think it is possible to embrace the need for gun play. One parent I know enrolled the whole family in archery lessons. Every weekend they went into the woods together to practice their skills. They enjoyed shooting targets out in nature in a safe and healthy way. I think this approach is brilliant - it treated her son’s need and desire for gun play positively and with respect, and it brought the whole family into it in a way they could all enjoy.

As with any issue, parents need to find their own comfort level while considering their individual children. One child may really need gun play, while another child may be stuck in a gun play rut to the point of missing out on other important kinds of play. One child may play guns in a way that negatively affects others while another child may play in a way that is non-threatening. How a parent decides to deal with gun play is personal, and may change with time as the child changes.

I have to say, though, despite my views that gun play is generally ok, I still bristle every time it comes home. It will probably always be difficult for me to balance my knowledge of guns and their role in society with the need my kids have to process their world through play.

What it says about society that our kids play guns is another matter…