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Guidelines for Gun Play

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

Recognizing that boys are ‘hard-wired’ to turn EVERYTHING into a weapon can help you understand it a little more (even if you don’t like it).

Helping him manage the desire for gunplay – and the play that results is essential.

Banning it (one mom even tried to ban the word “gun” in her house) may cause even more fascination with gun play. The “forbidden fruit syndrome.”

One dad shared his thoughts, “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.
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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 his 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 becomes.

The duct tape guns above were carefully crafted by brothers in a house where guns were banned – that just didn’t matter – so they crafted their own and he presented it to his mom with, “It’s our nature, Mom.”

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 the gun play and 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!


Have you read the other gun-play-focused posts?
Voices on Gunplay – Parents ask about and share their personal experiences with their sons – who make everything into a gun.
My Family Hunts – Incorporating a ‘hunting ethic’ into your son’s play.
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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