For generations kids have loved to play the good guy/bad guy game with toy guns in the backyard. It has always been innocent. It has always been just for fun. As simple as hide-and-seek or tag. However, with more and more gun violence taking place in our daily lives, should we be re-thinking our approach to buying toy guns for our children? I say let kids continue to be kids, but as parents we should monitor the situation to ensure your child’s interest in guns doesn’t get out of hand.
Here are five tips to guide you:
Engage In Conversation With Your Children
Instead of talking at your child about guns, "Guns are bad!” “Don’t shoot at your brother with your fingers!" talk with them. Their understanding of guns is probably less sophisticated than you think. Ask open-ended questions to acknowledge that play is indeed play, and spur a conversation. For example, “Looks like you’re having fun. What are you doing? It sounds like the bad guy did something really bad—what did he do?” Take the lead from your child. If there are aspects of your child’s play that makes you feel uncomfortable — maybe your kid is always talking about “killing” bad guys and that makes you cringe — try to engage and perhaps even redirect your child.
Limit Your Child’s Exposure To Violence On TV & In Video Games
It is important to limit your child's exposure to violence on screens, especially in younger kids. Studies have shown that repeated exposure to violence in the media can desensitize kids to violence. There should not be any link between their fantasy play and what they see on TV.
Make Sure The Toy Gun looks like a TOY!
If you are going to buy your child a toy gun, then make sure it looks like a proper toy so there is a clear mental distinction. I recommend limiting your purchases to water guns and Nerf shooters. What’s more fun than getting squirted in the face or hiding while your play date tries to take you out in a game of tag? Nothing! Let your kid be a kid.
Creative Play Can Be A Learning Process
Play helps children learn how to signal to each other: this is fantasy. It helps teach children to read each other's facial cues and body language, figure out their place in a group, and learn how to adjust their behavior in social settings. Children don't see their own play the same way adults do - to children, gun play is play, while to adults gun play is violence. We need to realize that our interpretations are totally different.
Let It Go
As long as playing with toy guns doesn’t dominate a child’s time, it’s okay to let them explore it. Many young children don't even understand what shooting someone really means. The shooting is more about power, fantasy and imagination — not killing and death.
There is no question that we parents would rather have our children read a book than play with toy guns, especially with the alarming rate of gun violence against children in America. Yet, it's important to understand the distinction, and encourage children with imaginary play, whatever form it may take. If you don't make your child’s gun play into a huge deal, you'll soon find your little one will move onto another game.