A friend of mine is losing a crusade against “violent” toys in her son’s life. Her rules about no toy guns, swords, or bows and arrows are being thwarted by her little guy doing what little boys do: pretending. A bent stick becomes a gun, a wooden spoon becomes a sword, and he (pretty ingeniously) rigged a bow out of a wooden hanger and a rubber band. My friend is beside herself. “I just don’t want those things in his life so he doesn’t grow up to be violent and aggressive,” she laments.
She only wants the best for him and so she continues removing the makeshift toy weapons.
My friend is not alone. Many parents are concerned about their children, particularly their sons, pretending to use weapons. Schools are also getting increasingly concerned about even the mention of toy guns. (Check out how this 5-year-old girl was suspended for mentioning a Hello Kitty bubble gun.)
Why do kids want to play with pretend weapons?
According to experts, little boys have always wanted to project their power onto the world, often in the act of playing with “weapons”. Long before toy guns, children were playing with toy swords and spears. This play is actually thought to have an evolutionary purpose – to prepare the boys to become effective hunters when we needed hunters to survive as a species.
Does this kind of play indicate my child will become a violent or aggressive adult?
You’ll be happy to know, there is no good scientific link between “weapon” play and later violence.
In fact, this type of pretend play can be beneficial to the child’s development. It can help them to control impulses, think symbolically, see things from another’s point of view, and even learn empathy.
The weapons in this play don’t indicate violence to the child. Instead they represent heroism and power, good and evil, winning and losing. These are things that children need to work out in their own minds, and play weapons give them that opportunity.
What if he pretends to shoot me (or a family member)? Should I be worried?
Most likely, the first person he will pretend to “shoot” is you, and that can be upsetting to some mothers. You may think that he’s angry or has violent thoughts towards you.
But it’s actually something much more benign. He “shoots” you because he loves you and he wants to show off to you. You’re probably also the first person to whom he will show his perfected summersault, the worm he has found, or a picture he has drawn. He is proudly showing you what he can do.
You can turn the play around, as Dr. Michael Thompson suggests, and whenever he “shoots” you, you can announce, ”That’s a Love Gun! Whenever you shoot me, I need to kiss you!” Then chase him around until you can catch and kiss him. After a while, it may just become a game that you will enjoy.
Is there any harm in banning toy weapons in our house?
The wisdom of the 1990′s was to ban pretend weapons to avoid aggression, but there can actually be a few negative outcomes with banning pretend “weapon” play. When your child discovers this new “game” and then you don’t approve, he may take it personally and think that you don’t approve of him or his imagination. He may think, “If you don’t like my game, you don’t like me.”
As long as the roughhousing is good-natured, it’s fine, even beneficial, to let it continue.
And if you hear from other adults how appalled they are that you are actually encouraging roughhousing and pretend weapon play, stand firm. Declare that your children don’t need adults always interfering in their playtime. And then grab your own pretend “Love Gun” and join in the fun.
Find more ways to encourage your child’s creativity here!
*This post is mean for discussing children playing with ONLY pretend weapons. Of course, if the child has any chance to be around a real weapon, safety needs to be discussed thoroughly, as well as the difference between real and pretend weapons.Photo courtesy of sakhorn38 at freedigitalphotos.net