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Category Archives: Gun Play

My Family Hunts

Gun Play.
They will.
You’ve tried to make them stop (repeatedly).
They won’t.

What if you could add life-lessons into their fascination with shooting things?

A Boys Alive! friend in Montana eagerly responded to my query about families that hunt and how they deal with gun play.

Embracing a “true hunting” ethic even if we never pick up a rifle and go to the woods, means we can honor the hard-wired impulse of many boys, while fostering deeper development of the natural urges to provide and protect.
True Hunting
John, father of 2, explains, “True hunting is a collection of actions prior to the act of harvesting.” True hunting is: “when you walk with the stealth and strength of the mountain lion and hike with the stamina and determination of the wolf. It is where you think like your prey, you know their habits and understand the country.”

True Hunting communicates family values:
· Safety – following rules, respecting adults, learning to operate and handle dangerous weapons with care
· Honor – honoring the animals, the land, the wisdom of elders
· Respect – of self, of others, of animals, of land
· Challenge – pushing self physically, emotionally, spiritually
· Teaching & Learning – listening and applying knowledge hands-on

Hunting is a legacy that John wants his sons to have. He wants them to “experience what the natural world has to teach.” He hopes his children will carry on what he has taught and teach the “same or better” to their children.
It is important to John and his wife, Laura, (who didn’t start hunting until a few years ago), to know that their sons understand their place in the food chain.

“Hunting and harvesting teaches the lesson that in order for you to eat and live something else has to die. They learn the hard work involved in harvesting food. They will experience the weariness of long hours walking through the woods. They will know the exhaustion of carrying hundreds of pounds of meat over miles of rough country. They will endure the tediousness of butchering meat for hours on end. They will learn the skill needed to prepare a meal. I cannot think of a better way to teach them to not be wasteful and to appreciate each mouthful of food they consume.”

He continues, “To be a good hunter, you have to be a good marksman. This means understanding your gun and its limitations. It also means understanding the importance of choosing when to take a shot and, more importantly, when not to take a shot.”

Meat comes from WHERE?!
Contrast this honest, strength-filled, life-enriching picture of hunting with the parental information given to a former student of mine (age 9): The animals we eat are the ones that get old and die or the ones that get sick and die.” Imagine his surprise (and distrust of adults) when he eventually found out where most meat comes from!

Let Him ‘Hunt!’
Many parents that I work with have a strong aversion to guns and the violence they evoke. It is important to realize that children do not have this connection to guns – unless they have been exposed to explicit gun violence via real life, media, or video games.

What if you helped him incorporate some of the qualities of True Hunting into his play?

Guide him to connect with animals, spend time in nature looking for tracks, and listening for animal sounds. Research animals, explore their habits and habitat. Encourage his sense of adventure and curiosity. Teach him (or find someone to teach him) how to make arrows or carve a sword, cutting, sanding and polishing it with great care.

Set up targets for practice. As John says, “To be a good hunter you have to be a good marksman.” You must understand your equipment and how and when to use it safely.

Even if you don’t live in Montana, or have a family legacy of hunting, you can guide his ‘gun play’ to have deeper meaning while nurturing his hard-wired nature to provide and protect.

Have you read the other gunplay-focused posts?
Voices on Gunplay – Parents have asked about and shared their personal experiences with their sons who make everything into a gun.
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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Gunplay at School-What’s a Teacher to Do?

Gunplay at Home
is one thing. If you’ve recognized your boy’s need to play with weapons/tools in an active, adventurous way, you’ve likely already begun to ‘manage’ that behavior with firm rules. Read Guidelines for Gunplay here.
He’s Hard-Wired For It
In Wired to Move, the hard-wired differences of boys are explained: boys tend “to be less calm, less communicative, and more prone to fight aggressively over territory and bond with a smaller network of people. They are very competitive, often striving to be at the very top of the hierarchy. Preschool boys are six times more likely to use domestic items such as spatulas as swords or weapons than as kitchen utensils. Studies show boys spend 65% of their time in competitive games compared to 35% of girls’ time.”

Gunplay at School
is a completely different “beast.” Parents have a broad spectrum of views on gun play – parents of boys may ‘get it,’ parents of girls may not. There are sensitive boys that are bothered by energetic boys and every combination in between. Teachers may have different levels of comfort with gun play, too. So, dear teacher, you have a decision to make.

We know that children learn by doing. The adventurous play that usually involves guns allows boys to emulate superheroes, play out their conflicts, build confidence, and confront fears and anxieties. Children are a “miraculous orchestration and integration of the entire body,” when they play, according to Heaven on Earth author Sharifa Oppenheimer. As a mom of boys and a preschool teacher for many years, she purposefully dealt with gun play differently at home and at school.

She states that at school she “found gunplay in any form counterproductive to the well-being of the whole group.” So she simply said, “No weapons.” If they use fingers or sticks as weapons, she says, “No pointing.”

Then – and this is key – she offered alternatives that include all the adventure and excitement they seek in their gun play. A few suggestions will usually spark their own daring adventures.
Sharifa includes:
• Arctic explorers, caught in a blizzard
• Amazon paddlers, with pythons slithering by
• Firefighters, saving dozens of people
2Class Agreements
Another ‘seasoned’ teacher, Teacher Tom, offers this advice: “We have classroom agreements. We put guidelines around the play. The main one is not pointing and shooting at other people. The other part is the grown-ups being flexible and redirecting play only when it starts to feel unsafe and unkind.”

Children are remarkably wise when we listen first and then guide them. Read how Teacher Tom’s class of 5-year olds negotiated good guy/bad guy play in their school setting here.

Superheroes are Your Friend
3Boys want and need heroes to emulate. Boys, more than girls, are drawn to superheroes. In Wired to Move, author Ruth Hanford Morhard explains, “Well-orchestrated superhero play stimulates boys’ imaginations and creativity, develops empathy, builds confidence, helps confront fears and anxieties, and builds an understanding of boys’ roles in society. With the right guidance, it can even help boys overcome natural tendencies such as impulsiveness, aggression, and lagging verbal skills. For boys from unstable environments, superhero play can help them feel more in control. And it expends some of that seemingly limitless ‘boy energy.’”

It is okay that your son experiences different rules at school and home.

He will adjust to each environment and learn increased adaptability and flexibility.
And isn’t THAT a huge life lesson?

See more posts about Boys and Guns:
Parents speak on their own experiences with their son’s and guns: Voices on Gun Play
Firm boundaries are necessary. Guidelines for Gun Play.
Some think that gun play leads to violence. Aggression. Violence. What’s the Difference?

Click here for your Boys Alive! Free Report: “6 Keys to Parenting Success”

Guidelines for Gun Play

Should You Ban Your Son’s Gun Play?
No. (Even if you could).
Is it normal?
Finger pointing like gun

Recognizing the hard-wired impulse of many boys to turn everything into a weapon – and helping them manage the ensuing “enthusiastically aggressive” play needs a little prior planning on your part.

Banning it (one mom even tried to ban the word “gun” in her house) may cause even more fascination with gun play. One dad wrote, “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.”

Choose Your Weapon
When you give a child a fire truck – bright red, with ladders, hoses, bells, and toy firemen – that toy can only be a fire truck. Even the most imaginative child would be hard-pressed to make it into anything else.

When a boy (because it is more often than not a boy) uses his sandwich, a stick, or his finger as a “shooter”, you know his imagination is actively engaged! That stick or sandwich can just as quickly turn into something else as his imagination plays out another adventure.

By keeping toys unformed, you’re building his imagination. Try a simple block of polished wood with wheels and see how many different vehicles (or other things) it can become.

Having your son create his own weapon or tool by cutting, sanding, polishing, and oiling it also changes his relationship with the toy and the way he plays with it. Along the way, telling and reading him stories about adventure and heroism will subtly guide him to the deeper meanings living within his play. Check out Jump Into a Story, for creative ways to combine active adventures and stories.

Set the Rules
Boys want to know the rules. They want to know who will enforce the rules and that they will be fairly enforced.

Parents, you are the ‘enforcers.’ You set the parameters for gun play/adventure play that fits your family. You choose the where, what, with whom, how much, and when it stops.

In The Way of Boys, Anthony Rao points out that “encased in good limits…this type of play can serve its useful purpose to help young boys process their own anxieties about bad things in the world, and respect objects of power.”

Sharifa Oppenheimer, in her book, Heaven on Earth, A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, recalls her three son’s fascination with gun play and how she handled it. She wanted to “honor the desire for grand adventure, for the drive and daring energy that gun play involves, and still discourage the violence.” She believes that “it is the excitement and the energy behind gun play that is so compelling for many children, not the violence.”

Her natural inclination was to abhor violence and she wanted to forbid any sort of gun play but recognized the “forbidden fruit” syndrome that could happen, fixating her boys even more on wanting it. Her compromise was to give them a small amount of time to play with their “little wooden rifles” on Saturday mornings.

Her ground rules were:
1. Everyone had to be on the same team
2. Forbidden to point the guns at each other
3. Everyone had to be having fun
If any rules were broken, the game ended…and they could try again next Saturday.”

What happened in Sharifa’s home, and can happen in your home, too, is that when permission was granted and the parent/child power-play was diffused, gun play was soon forgotten.

Try It – You Might Like It!
One mom in the Boys Alive! Facebook group commented, “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.”

Give it a try. You might be surprised.

Rao relates the story of a mom who decided to join in her son’s Star Wars play. She discovered many lessons, deepening her connection to her son along the way but the problem was that he wanted to fight all the time. Once, folding laundry, he wouldn’t let up. “When I’m done folding laundry, I’ll fight you.” You can imagine how quickly son got after the laundry folding!

Rules of Engagement
Rao suggests the following rules for keeping it fun and positive:
1. Keep it safe. (Use soft toys like inflatable light sabers or pool noodles).
2. Set rules. (Confined areas of the house, stop if it gets dangerous).
3. Set a time limit. (Use a clock or timer, no begging for more time).
4. Don’t judge it. (Don’t moralize).

He continues, “Remember the ritual of fighting, the role playing of conflict, is what’s important for him. It’s pure fantasy and imagination at work. Let him go in whatever direction he wants, as long as it’s safe.”

And an added cautionary note: Imaginative play stays pure when it is not informed by ‘outside’ media images.

Let me know how YOUR next “gun battle” goes!

P.S. In case you missed last week’s post featuring moms and dads from our Facebook group, you can find Voices on Gun Play here.

Click here for your Boys Alive! Free Report: “6 Keys to Parenting Success”

Voices on Gun Play

Your Voices on Gun Play: “It’s our nature, Mom.”

Have you wondered about your boy’s fascination with all-things-guns-and-gun-play? You aren’t alone. This is a wisdom gathering of parents – their words used below by permission.

Guns Duct tape

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!

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Aggression. Violence. What’s the Difference?

Boys are active.
Boys are aggressive.
Boys are action-oriented.

Are boys violent, too?

Where is the line between aggression and violence?
How do we know what’s normal?
When do we worry?

3 superheroes
Imaginative play, whether with guns or not, helps children understand and process their world. Most boys are hard-wired to seek aggressive play. They love the action, adventure, and applying their endless energy to scenarios filled with good guys and bad guys.

Prominent “boy expert” Michael Gurian calls testosterone, “humanity’s life insurance.” Testosterone gave hunters the strength, agility, and drive to kill prey to feed the tribe. Testosterone compelled hunters to mate and ensure plenty of offspring to continue the tribe.

You may have noticed that boys play quite differently than girls. Testosterone is responsible. Testosterone fuels your boy’s desire to be active, take risks, run around, jump, hit, yell – and pick up sticks and turn them into weapons.

When we recognize that his ‘wild’ behavior is not intentional perhaps we can take a different view of the behavior and provide appropriate outlets for it. Boys, and those who love them, must learn and teach self-control over the tendency towards aggressive, impulsive behavior.

Help him channel it
Boys tend to run around, burn off energy, and self-narrate their action sequences. This isn’t just random activity. They are playing out scenarios of good guy/bad guy, including heaping doses of honor, valor, and courage.

Give him opportunities to hone his physical skills with plenty of room for creativity. This happens, especially, when weapons are not supplied “ready-made.” Has he put in time and effort to sand his stick-gun so that it is shiny and smooth? Has he given thought to how to create a trap that will actually catch something? Has he explored different ways to create an arrow and bow?

Now what?
Perhaps his play includes, “I’m going to kill you.” Now what do you do? As adults, it is okay to say, “I don’t like it when you talk about killing me.” As Gurian advises, “Be serene about this threat.”

Be assured there is NO proof that active aggressive play in youngsters begets violent youth and men. I wonder, though, if by stifling these aggressive urges in the early years there may be pent-up frustration expressed later on?

Managing Anger
Boys must learn to channel their aggressive feelings including managing their anger. If they aren’t allowed to express their aggressive feelings they will stifle it, shut down, and the result may be “side-ways” behavior – anger or withdrawal expressed elsewhere in their lives.

An excellent resource for understanding boys and their emotional lives, including managing anger is Boy Talk: How You Can Help Your Son Express His Emotions.

Give Him a Hero
Boys want and need heroes to emulate. Boys, more than girls, are drawn to superheroes. In Wired to Move, author Ruth Hanford Morhard explains, “Well-orchestrated superhero play stimulates boys’ imaginations and creativity, develops empathy, builds confidence, helps confront fears and anxieties, and builds an understanding of boys’ roles in society. With the right guidance, it can even help boys overcome natural tendencies such as impulsiveness, aggression, and lagging verbal skills. For boys from unstable environments, superhero play can help them feel more in control. And it expends some of that seemingly limitless ‘boy energy.’”

What’s Normal?
Michael Gurian in The Good Son, offers these tips for determining what’s normal for your young boy:
· Throwing tantrums, very physically, hitting walls/floor, or others, with fists
· Emotionally manipulate you with guilt, sadness, and everything else
· Pick on older or younger siblings
· Scream, yell, and cry
· Roughhouse the family pets
· Bounce around the room and be quiet and unaggressive
· Purposefully disobey until we assert authority appropriately
· Forget instructions and rules, over and over

These behaviors must be balanced by your loving authority – holding boundaries, repeating rules calmly, and giving appropriate consequences.

What’s Not?
What are the violent tendencies we should worry about? After studying many incidences of boys who commit violent crimes, Michael Gurian in The Soul of the Child, surmises, “…all of them had experienced one or more of the crucial elements for antisocial and evil behavior: lack of attachment at crucial times (especially during infancy and puberty), some form of abuse or violence, broken caregiving systems, and/or developmental epochs of general neglect.”

“Every behavior is useful in some context.”
What contexts are you giving your son so that he is able to express all aspects of himself fully and completely?
For more about boys and gun play, check out these posts:
1. Voices on Gun Play – Moms and dads share their experiences with their son’s interest in making everything a weapon.
2. Guidelines for Gun Play – He is hard-wired to play this way. Here’s some guidelines to keep it safe and fun.
Join the conversation in our Facebook group – we’d love to have you!

Comments from Facebook:
“Are you asking? or telling? I am positive that my boys – playing good/bad guy and loving guns – are not violent and never will be, but aggressive, sure, sometimes they are… they’re BOYS. And they are loving, gentle, sweet boys who, generally speaking, remember to protect their baby brother’s head whey they’re wrestling with him or throwing each other around. and they LOVE guns.”

“Adventure. I feel that we live in a society that has turned away from the natural energy of boys. I see that this trend to deny “boy energy” started in schools, by trying to make boys behave “as good as girls” in the classroom. The result is the medication of boys, so that they can fit into the brick & mortar classroom.”

“I love that he approaches boys that way. I have seven. As I was reading this, one was having a “war” with his Cheerios. Two others are having a battle with head and tails on coins at the table. The three year old twins are racing back and forth, sliding on the tile, competing to see who could go the farthest. My house is full of competition, speed, wars, violence, and aggression. But one just poured the milk for his brother, one just comforted a twin that crashed, and one just praised his brother for winning the toss-up.”

“The difference is understanding the difference! Children can absolutely be taught to distinguish between “play” and “real.””
photo from

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