Playing "Guns" - When is Play Not Ok?
I recently had the pleasure of presenting to a group of talented early childhood educators about a variety of topics, the most pressing being “What do we do with all of these boys who want to play guns at school?” This is not a new dilemma – kids (both boys and girls) have been “playing guns” for as long as any of us can remember. Many of us probably did, right? But here’s the thing: We live in a world where some bad things have gone down. We are now prepping our young children to enter into school settings with zero tolerance policies for guns. We can’t really stop them from enacting gun play (children will make gun toys out of anything, even if toy guns are never provided), but at the same time we don’t feel right about allowing it. So what’s a parent or teacher to do?
First, look closely at what your children are actually playing. Are they aiming at each other and declaring each other “dead?” Do they know what dead means? On television, specifically cartoons, characters who are shot at don’t really die. They evaporate, disappear, wither up and come back, etc. You can talk with your child about what they feel like when someone hurts them, and maybe even what it means when someone dies. Maybe they’re playing super heroes or something where they are in a position of power over someone else. Play is how kids process things going on in their world. Kids who act out play scenarios where they need to be in charge often feel somewhat powerless in other areas of their lives. If you think about it, this makes sense. We make lots of decisions for our children – where they go to school, what and when they eat, where they’re going, etc. Giving children the power to make small choices such as, “Do you want to wear this red shirt or this blue shirt today?” can help to build empowerment, and reduce power plays in general.
Another strategy is to give kids an alternative to playing guns that still feels similar. Targets are great for this. Use sidewalk chalk on a fence or a dart board type game to let them throw water balloons, balls, sponge bombs or anything else at – safely. Put parameters around it such as, “We never aim at people, because we don’t want to hurt them, but we can aim at this.” Not shoot – aim.
Finally, talk about it! This is not a topic that we should keep away from kids. Whether you have guns in your home or not, chances are good that at some point, your child will come into contact with a dangerous weapon of some sort. If they already know never to touch a gun, and what to do if they see one at a friend’s house, they have a base to work from. Otherwise, it’s just something new that could be exciting to check out.
For further info, here are some resources I’ve used in the past. And always, if you have questions or aren’t sure how to handle a situation, just ask! This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. If I can’t answer your question I will connect you with someone who can.
Website: PBSKids.org - Boys and Guns: What's a Parent to Do?