Can you please weigh in on a family feud I am having? I have two boys who want to play with toy water guns. My husband says it’s totally fine and innocent, but I hate guns and don’t want my kids near them or imitating any kind of gun/shooting action. Am I over reacting? Who’s right?
Dear Pacifist Momma,
Great question for the summer! When we watch how North American boys play, they do seem to have a knack for following gender stereotypical play based on power and competition. Cops and robbers, tying people up, shooting guns, swords and arrows; all are in the mix. Guns are a particularly aggressive weapon, and especially bothers parents when they become a part of play.
The issue is complicated by the fact that little boys can creatively turn virtually anything into a weapon. They can point their fingers and magically emits imaginary bullets as they shout “Kapow! Kapow!”. They can eat their toast into a gun-shape. Believe me, if they want to play macho, you won’t be able to prevent it by banning toy guns.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things to be done in this situation. This really becomes a situation of how best to transmit our non-violent, anti-gun values to our children.
If you try to cram values down kids’ throats they are more likely to rebel against them. We don’t want that. Instead, if we take the longer journey and use the art of influence, we are much more likely to be successful at having our kids adopt our values over time. Just know that patience is required and at times you may feel you’re not getting anywhere.
Remember that games are how children learn, and there is value in children playing games that are more “rough and tumble” or aggressive. This allows children to explore limits and boundaries with friends. It allows them to practice feeling powerful in a world that can often feel powerless in childhood.
However, if that play looks cruel or their playmate is not feeling equally as empowered, I would intervene. If they seem overly obsessed and impressed with games of power and intimidation I would also be concerned.
But, for your average kid who just wants to you to buy them a water gun at the toy store here is my direct advice:
1. Explain to your child that you don’t like play guns because real guns hurt and kill a lot of people and there is nothing fun about that.
2. Explain what you are willing and unwilling to do:
- I am unwilling to buy a play gun with my money.
- I am unwilling to watch or play gun games you.
- I am willing to let you buy your own water gun with your own money.
- I am willing to let you play guns with friends if the play is mutually enjoyable.
- I will end the play if anyone is looking uncomfortable or unhappy in any way.
3. Continue to find teachable moments and share opinions about the importance of showing respect for others and problem solving as a way to get along instead of using domination and feelings of superiority over others.
I hope this helps – happy parenting!