Gun Play: 4-Year-Old Loves Toy Weapons Q:

Gun Play: 4-Year-Old Loves Toy Weapons
Q: My four-year-old son is just fascinated with play guns. We feel it is very important to
encourage nonviolence and don't allow them in our house. Are we making a mistake by
prohibiting this type of play?
A: Four-year-olds are busy trying to master their fears, understand mortality, and gain a
sense of power in a big, often frightening world. These factors, which naturally converge in
four and five year olds, lead to a fascination with guns. The fact that your son is fascinated
with guns right now does not mean that he will grow up to be a violent person. Rather, it
means he is developmentally on target, trying to understand the power of guns, what makes
people get hurt, and what makes them die, why everyone on TV is so obsessed with guns and
killing, and why his parents get so upset when he points his finger at someone and pretends to
shoot them.
Families have a wide range of responses to gun play. At one end of the spectrum, kids are
equipped with realistic Uzi imitations, and at the other, gunplay is banned altogether. Yet
even in households where toy guns are not allowed, children still find ways to explore their
interest in weapons: they build guns out of Legos, pick up sticks and say, "Bang! Bang!" or
eat their peanut butter sandwiches in the shape of a gun.
Here are some guidelines for responding to your son's fascination with guns while
encouraging nonviolence:
• Set parameters for the play. When we forbid a form of play, that play often goes
underground and we lose an opportunity to help our children figure out answers to their
questions. Make it clear to children that any play which intimidates, hurts or frightens
another child is unacceptable. Then clarify the rules about guns at your house: "In our family,
you're not allowed to point guns at any people or pets without their permission." Or, "I want
you to keep your gun play outside."
• Provide props for play that have multiple uses. Giving children open-ended props
encourages flexibility and creativity. When a child makes a gun out of plastic blocks, ten
minutes later, those plastic blocks can be transformed into a container ship. However, when
children play with highly realistic guns, those guns can only shoot and kill.
• Make your values clear. Children care deeply about how we see the world. Share your
perspective with your son, "When I see you playing with guns, it really upsets me because
people can be hurt by real guns."
• Help children deal with their fears. Often gun play increases when children are feeling
fearful. Children look for symbols of power (such as guns and swords) to help them feel more
secure. Helping children deal with their fears can take some of the intensity out of their gun
• Let your kids know that people are working to stop violence in the real world. Kids
sometimes use gun play to cope with fears about violence in the real world. If your child
seems scared of real violence, talk about people who are working to stop fighting and end
war. This can help kids feel safer and therefore, less driven to engage in gun play.
• Provide kids with alternatives to gun play that help them feel powerful. Four- and
five-year-olds love to be competent. Providing them with real work experiences such as
carpentry, cooking, gardening can channel some of the energy being directed into gun play in
a new, more creative direction.