May 30, 2012

In my many years of working with young children, I have learned to ‘look behind’ outward behaviours to try to understand the archetype of what a particular behaviour might really be about.

When I have an inkling of what the child might be striving for with a particular play style or game, it can be a dual win.  My understanding (and love) of a particular child deepens, AND I am given insights that may help me to creatively support this health-giving opportunity of play.

But, one of the most difficult things to work with is ‘gun play’, and its cousin, swordplay. (Superhero play has elements of this also, in the attempts to ‘kill off’ the baddies, all kinds of ‘violent’- looking scenarios are created).

It is difficult for two reasons. The first is the fact that this kind of play happens mostly with boys, and can be outwardly ‘aggressive’ to look at.  The second thing is that ‘gun play’ is often the thing that many parents fear, or dislike and want transformed in any way, shape or form possible. Teachers are often asked or told to stop this ‘gun play’ from happening, quick smart.

I believe ‘gun play’, whether it is in Cowboys and Indians wildwest games, or ‘shoot ‘em up’ style battles, is more strongly nature, than nurture.  All kinds of children – even those brought up in the most loving, television-free, video-free, computer-game free, water-pistol free, happy, harmonious households – play with ‘guns’.

I watched in true disbelief last year at my home-based playgroup when my three-year old son Ned took one of our large wooden pegs (about the size of an adult’s hands) and picked up a green rectangular block, and it instantly became a pistol.  I was wildly surprised to see for myself that ‘gun play’ can be innate.

How do we manage these things, especially when they often present difficulties to both ourselves, and others?

1.  We can make rules (or at least try to)

There are no guns/swords in this house. Guns/swords only hurt people“.

That works, sometimes, but not all the time. And may just push it underground or out of sight.

2.  We can refuse to buy gun or sword toys.

But they’ll be given them for presents, or make their own. All they need to do is to find an L shaped stick and there it is.

….but one of the most helpful ways I have learned is to ‘transform’ it.

When we give children the opportunity to find positive uses for their imaginary guns, we still acknowledge their almost primal need to be powerful in a way that is healthy and helpful for all the children in the group.

We have had ‘guns’ that could shoot out ‘mortar’ when building a brick house (cubby) in play. Very focused, specific use there. Or in the case of a ‘fire rescue’, the water ‘gun’ saved the day. One misty day, children developed a ‘gun’ that streamed a rainbow in the corner of our garden. Another group imagined a ‘gun’ that could be used to capture the glory of the sun to help us light our winter lanterns with its stored flame.

Mostly, after a short while of using this newly-transformed and full of imagination power ‘gun’, the ‘gun’ is put away happily, to be safely stored until they are needed again (but mostly forgotten).

The act of allowing ‘gun play’ in a measured, contained scenario supported by a kind and helpful adult for a short period (5-10 minutes) can be an astute decision in raising good-natured, cooperative children.  It is the old ‘win, win’.  Don’t you think?

Swordplay can be transformed in the same way.  My friend Jen just wrote about her son Kaelan, “Sir Wonderful” and their creative use of a ‘sword’ as a behaviour management tool.  It is a great article.  Why not pop by to read their story?

But I also love this one. I found the picture book, “The Sunflower Sword”, written by Mark Sperring and illustrated by Miriam Latimer, in my local library and I LOVE it!

The Sunflower Sword

It begins…

“In this land, there lived a knight who wanted to be big like the other knights, and fight like the other knights and have a sword like the other knights. But his mother said he couldn’t”

As part of her striving to search deeply for a truth behind the veil, and understand his bottomless desire for a sword, she asks him why he wants a sword and he simply answers…

“To whoosh and swoosh in the air”

Oh, to understand their inner workings!  Sometimes, we SHOULD just ask them, don’t you think. Asking, not assuming as we busy mums and dads might sometimes do, might give us an ‘a ha’ moment of understanding and a way to satisfactorily meet their needs and wants.

With that in mind, she sets out to find a creative solution! (I won’t tell you anymore, but really, this book is a worthy investment if you have boys who want to woosh and swoosh- perhaps you too, can use her idea.)

For now, I will now pop this little story up in a tiny pocket of my brain, ready to pull out this transforming strategy should the need arise.

So, what do you think about ‘guns’ and ‘gun play’?  Do you let it be or stop it completely?  What do you think of this idea of ‘transforming’ play?

 

This post was written by Amber Greene … a Writer and Parenting Educator whose motto in life is to ‘Fire up your Creative Spark!”  She helps women and children around the globe to unveil their creative powers. Amber provides creative strategies for parenting and supports parents to increase their confidence and find more joy and fun in the busy daily slog. Visit her at www.mamamoontime.com for a daily dose of creative inspiration, and free art and crafty activities for both mama and child.


  • I’m not a fan of gun play at all and have always discouraged it in my household. I do allow water guns though so not sure if I’m being a bit too worked up?

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  • I don’t think you can stop it. Take away toy guns, they’ll use sticks. Give them dolls and they become armies. Just let them go be kids

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  • To prevent them knowing how to make one you would need to ban TV (including childrens shows especially some cartoons), Computerised games including equipment made for children, never take them to the movies – you don’t know in advance what the short promotional clips at the beginning will show. Your children will possibly come into contact with toy guns etc. and you not be there to give your children the concept that it is “play only” etc.
    Swords have become popular because of Jake the Pirate. A 3 year old I know has a soft one. He knows it will break if he is too rough with it. He likes hitting another one but has never attempted to hit anybody with one. He and his little friends play in a similar way with empty rolls from glapwrap, baking paper etc.

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  • We didn’t allow gun toys until our boys were about 6. Old enough to understand that guns are violent and dangerous but that in the right context (water guns or toy nerf guns) they are ok. They promote strategical thinking, hand eye coordination and exercise, and can be fun. We don’t allow replica guns however.
    We also encouraged our children to say “I’ll defeat you” rather than use the word “kill”.

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  • I am 51. I have 4 children and we never bought or were given gifts of guns, swords etc. Now I have GC they do not have these items either. It was a choice I made.

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  • My kids play fight with guns. I used to hate it but I think it’s just something that boys do. As long as they know it’s just play I don’t worry about it now.

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  • Guns do not kill people…..people kill other people with guns.

    Children role playing with guns or swords, are children playing, it is as innocent as that!
    In the world of child fantasy they play many roles, that does not mean they will become a particular role as an adult. Racing car drivers and nurses may actually work as such as adults and the child who is the warrior shooting baddies may very well grow up to be a priest, a dentist or carpenter or dancer in the Royal Ballet. I wonder if Princess Mary played at being a princess or did she play at being a bulldozer driver?

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  • I played with toy guns with my brother and friends and none of us are violent gun toting adults.
    I believe than in the world of make believe, guns and swords etc are as innocent as the children role playing with them. Just as in role play as sea captains, train drivers, intergalactic travellers, soldiers, teachers, doctors and zoo keepers; these children swap roles and are not interested in gender roles either. These imaginative youngsters do not grow into adults and still have the same roles as they did as little children. Some children who role play as a nurse or fireman, may chose these professions. I fantasised about being a trapeze performer or ballet dancer when I was small. In reality, I trained and worked in areas of welfare, no ballet shoes or sparkling leotards to big top performances for me!

    My children played with toy guns and noisy Star War type weapons… They are very well adjusted adults.

    Toy guns and whatever children play with do not create violent behaviours as adults. Many things that happen TO a child have the potential over time to behave in unacceptable ways.

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  • We have told everyone in our circle of family and friends that we don’t play with guns/weapons and don’t do fighting type activities. If my kids do receive weapons for gifts, they get given to charity. Most people though do respect our non-weapon stance and do not seem to mind. I think banning it and having an our family does not use violence rule in place can be easy and there is no need to pretend that gun/sword play is something different.

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  • So loved EESTIGIRL’S comment ..I grew up with a brother that would tie me to the clothes line while we were playing Cowboys and Indians (he would be running around with a toy bow and arrow), then there were the times he would don his sheriffs outfit and I would be is deputy (guns included) and we both turned out fine.

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  • If the whole cowboys and Indians etc is kept to a minimum while reinforcing it as a game and playtime and discouraging violence I suppose it is ok.

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  • I don’t like gun play.

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  • I think banning gun-play is just another chapter in the saga of our cotton wool kids. My four sons (now between 25 and 33) used their empty water pistols to play cowboy games. If they couldn’t find their guns, they would use sticks instead. If anyone got hurt, there were always bandaids, but then they risked being called a chicken. It was all part of playing games with imaginary villains as they were growing up. Once they outgrew these games, they went on to more grown-up activities. Playing with toy guns did not make them want to buy the real thing when they got older. Toy guns were associated with childhood games, nothing more.

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  • my child love this playing with her friends..

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  • I think “gun play” is perfectly fine and healthy and normal. I don’t have a problem with it at all.

    Reply

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