Voices on Gun Play

Parent Voices on Gun Play


Have you wondered about your boy’s fascination with all-things-guns-and-gun-play? You aren’t alone!  Why, oh WHY, does he turn everything into a gun??Enjoy this wisdom-gathering of parents - their words used below by permission. A mom recently posted a question to the private Boys Alive! group on Facebook. (Ask to join and you’re in.)“I can’t stand the gun play, shooting, bad guy realm my 4.5 yo loves to inhabit. Can anyone share a positive spin on it? Why, if at all, is this phase healthy or normal? He doesn’t have toy guns, but he can adapt any old thing to be a shooter of some sort. Sometimes I can roll with it, but other times it just sets me off. I sense that I need to adapt. Before that happens, I need to feel clear from a philosophical place.”

He is hard-wired to defend and fight.And hunt.

“It shocked me when my teeny toddler picked up a stick and started making gun noises. Now he's eight (still fascinated by fantasy violence) and I posed this dilemma to him. His response was "It's our nature, mom."”

Does it make him bad?

“This kid who likes good guy/bad guy gun play is a lover. Sensitive and heart-centered.”“For years we told him he could only shoot "love bullets", but he eventually saw through that. When we finally broke down and got him a nerf gun he was in nerfvana. Now we just hold the line on not pointing weapons (imaginary or nerf) at people's heads. Ever.“It is true, boys like to do battle. And in fact, it helps them build empathy.”

Is it normal?

A mom of 5 sons and 4 daughters reassures, “Boys cannot escape their need to defend/fight any more than girls can escape their need to nurture and dress up. At my daycare, boys always play knights/ninjas/cowboys, rescuing the princess and fighting bad guys.”“It is so much a part of their nature. My 20 mo has been picking up sticks and thrusting them at trees and bushes since he could stand up. He also does this “hi-ya!” war cry. He just deep down in his little soul loves to play fight and defend.”“We don't try to fight it. He began using things as swords before he was even talking. Before he saw TV. Before he saw big kids use violent play.”

He wants to know what the rules are.

“Put guidelines around it like ‘no shooting at heads’ and then let it be. If you try to stop it, it’ll make him want to do it more. This is how boys explore the world around them.”“As long as they’re fighting/shooting bad guys, don’t sweat it.”“I use a lot of "I" statements. ‘I don't feel safe playing pirates if you point that at me.’ Or ‘I don't like it when you say you want to chop my head off.’ He learns that his play and choices do affect others.”“Start teaching him about great warriors of valor.”

If we squash the way he plays – we make him bad.

“At a recent gathering, my son’s friend was the most aggressive and over-the-top in his violent play compared to the rest of the boys. He is not allowed weapon play at home. So he finds other ways to get those feelings out and channel that energy and it's not always KIND.”“I gained some wisdom from the documentary based on the book Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon. I learned two important things that have influenced how I parent my boy:1. There is no proven connection between fantasy violence and real violence.2. When we try to limit or suppress their expression of this, they shut down and stop expressing themselves.If we want them to grow up to be men who embrace their human emotions, we moms have to allow this one thing that we don't quite get: aggression. Expressing it in play is the first step towards being able to control it. Obviously the world would be better off if more men knew how to manage their aggression.”“I recently watched a war documentary ( Korengal ) and there was a part that stuck out to me. It was of a young solider loading ammunition in the biggest gun I have ever seen. He was telling the camera how his parents never allowed any violent play in their house. No toy guns, no shooting style video games, no bad guy play, etc. Then he started rapidly firing, with a smile on his face. That broke my heart for his mother and made me realize suppression is detrimental!”

Have YOU actually played Guns?!

“I don't really like gun play but my son does. One time I was feeling resistant as I watched him having a great time in the yard. So, I decided to join in, play, and see what it was like. Turns out it was fun and very innocent like all other play. I hadn't played guns before but came to a very comfortable place when I did.”

Rolling with what ‘triggers’ you.

“I get pretty upset when I see him use certain toys as a gun. I used to be in law enforcement and have so many mixed feelings about this stage of more active “fighting” play. I actually told him not to even say the word gun. I see now that’s probably not the correct way to approach this at all.”“Instead of fighting it, I show an interest. I ask a lot of “what if” questions. ‘What if you saw a kid with a real gun? What would you do?’ ‘What if you thought you’d met a real bad guy?’ ‘What if you saw someone do something mean to someone else?’ Constant questions. He talks to us a lot.”

Families that Hunt.



“Grandpa hunts and has a gun cabinet. It’s hard [for me] but it is part of our family culture. Grandpa talks a lot about responsible gun use. My son knows why we established rules around gun/weapon play. He knows that a 12 yr old boy had a toy gun that was mistaken for a real gun and the boy was killed. We filter but he's aware of the world around him and consequences.”“My husband does not hunt, but everyone in his family does. He grew up in a rural farming community in which shooting was part of PE in high school. He is very peaceful, but believes strongly everyone should learn to shoot in order to understand and respect this powerful tool. Information and understanding is always better than mystery and myth.”

Dad speaks

A mom writes what her husband, who is “kind, non-violent, and pretty dang cool,” says about gun play, “It is part of being a boy. It is normal and pretty much every boy will be like this. If you try to tell him it’s wrong, you will make him feel like he’s not normal for being interested in it.”A dad writes, “From a dad’s, former boy’s, perspective, gun/warrior play is totally normal. I grew up doing it with friends with little or no media influence. My son does all the same stuff without guidance.”A Dad shares, “My 5 yo boy is too young for guns/hunting but we've done some fishing. I’ve talked about hunting and where food comes from. We talk about the difference between real guns and play guns. Grabbing teachable moments so discussions are general and sporadic. Down the road, I picture that his education on guns/hunting will be like mine. I grew up in suburbia but occasionally, my dad took me hunting or shooting. He and other family members were very serious about safety and as kid, I got it. I have other guy friends who were taught the same thing.” “My husband said he remembered playing gun games as a kid. His parents didn't allow it, so he always felt guilty when he did it at friend's house, like he was being a bad kid. I don't want my boys to feel like they are bad kids for doing what comes naturally to them.”

More than 35 comments later,

the mom who thought she was alone in her conflicted feelings about her son and gun play found that she wasn’t alone after all, “This is definitely opening my mind. What I appreciate the most is that I posted something from a vulnerable place to a bunch of strangers and everyone was kind. It's comforting to know that others have gone through this/ are currently in this phase. I intend to reexamine and shift how I am addressing my son's play. Warriors, empathy, limits around how he engages in it, and mostly not wanting to suppress him.”And isn’t THIS what it’s all about?Trite but true: It does take a village.And thank goodness that village includes hunters!

Have you read some of the other gunplay-focused posts?

My Family Hunts

 - A dad weighs in on the ethic of hunting and the values it teaches his sons.

Guidelines for Gunplay

- They're going to play, what boundaries will you keep?

Aggression. Violence. What's the Difference?

- Reassurance that just because he likes gunplay, he won't be led to violent behavior.

Gunplay at School

- How teacher's handle gunplay at school may vary from how you handle it at home.

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