Whether we like it or not, children see and hear about guns regularly. However much we try, it’s virtually impossible to prevent our children from witnessing weapons.
Television (even on kid’s channels), cinemas, electronic games, the internet, toy figures, newspapers, magazines, books, advertisements that surround us (often for violent movies/cartoons), images on many items (including the use of characters especially for children), radio and some songs include references to war-scenes, murders, fights, attacks and weapons of all kinds.
Children often see guns firsthand with police, security guards, hunters, farm staff, hobbyists and armed forces (in parades, on military bases or in war-zones) among others. The guns could be legal or illegal, in holsters or being used – children notice them.
Why Do Children Need To Play?
- To assimilate what they’ve experienced, witnessed or heard
- To understand what confuses them
- To process and heal from fears, worries, anxieties, anger and powerlessness
- To practice skills of all kinds
- To try out roles (which aids perspective and compassion for others)
- It’s enjoyable and engaging, as long as it’s child-led and kept safe
- Its accessibility and flexibility can fit in all types of learning styles
Children understand the power of play therapy and naturally use it. Incorporating the scariest, confusing and taboo topics, like wars, is often a misunderstood need among children.
“Children re-enact in their fantasy play everything they hear about or observe. […] It is therefore not at all surprising that children will want to pretend killing games as soon as they learn about killing in the real world.
Many play therapists provide toy guns for the children they see because there is such a great need for children to play with guns (Schaefer & O’Connor, 1983). Others prefer not to provide guns but let the children create their own if they wish.” ~ Aletha Solter
“Children play at what concerns and worries them. They play at what causes them anxiety. Quite understandably most children will be anxious about the idea of particular types of gun-users in their world and consequently need to play at keeping safe and solving the problems that gun-use throws up.” ~ Diane Rich
Doesn’t War Play Encourage Violence?
“Some people think that children’s war play serves only to promote wars because it prepares children to be violent. There is no indication that this is true. Many pacifists admit to having played with guns as children. The cause and effect between war play and real wars is actually the other way around, because wars create a need for children’s war play. If there were no wars or violence in the world, we would not see children playing at killing each other. They would have no need to do so.” ~ Aletha Solter (Emphasis added)
How Can We Keep Gun Play Safe?
First of all, banning all pretend weapons actually makes war play riskier. Children often have such a burning need to resolve their mixed up feelings about violence, that they will get sneaky if it is not allowed. My experience as an early years educator is that banning gunplay is a losing battle, however much we try to re-enforce the rule! I used to hate seeing children playing with guns, but I’d much rather children play with their created guns, under direct supervision, than do it hidden.
Clear safety boundaries, communicated in a calm manner, focusing on what the children CAN do, is the most effective way I’ve found to keep pretend weapon play safe. Of course, responsible adult supervision is advised during war play too.
Seeing pretend gunplay can create great turmoil within ourselves. If children sense our discomfort and ask us about it, maybe we could explain generally why this is so. We need to try to be sensitive to the level of answer they’re ready for.
Personally, I’d rather children didn’t play with toy guns, mainly because many look too realistic. Of course, all guns should be stored locked up and unloaded, with the ammunition locked up separately. But what if a child accidentally finds a real gun and mistakes it for a harmless toy? What if that child has a burning unfulfilled need of gunplay, to calm their confused mind about the taboo topic? Remember, children are often taught how guns are used by society in general. Sadly tragedies like this do happen, so let’s try hard to prevent any more. It’s helpful to point out the differences between real guns and toy ones to our children and the different rules for both.
Letting children pretend to kill people with their finger or stick, could actually help them gain enough understanding, empowerment and emotional stability to have fulfilled their need to use guns (WITHOUT using a real gun).
What do you think about children pretending to use weapons?
Solter, Aletha, PhD., Helping Young Children Flourish Shinning Star Press, Goleta, Califirni. 1989
Rish, Diane, Bang! Bang! Gun play, and why children need it. This article was first appeared in Early Education, Summer 2003, which now can be downloaded form http://www.richlearningopportunities.co.uk