We all know the scene: our children are running around pointing sticks or Nerf guns at each other shooting, attacking, and killing each other and then celebrating and rejoicing in their victory. For many of us, our knee-jerk response is, “Stop! Don’t play with guns! Don’t pretend to shoot each other!” or something to that effect. We may feel that allowing our children to engage in this type of play could encourage them to become violent, or even lead to them becoming more violent as they get older.
We also oftentimes see the discouragement of weapon or violent play in our children’s school setting. In reality, when children engage in this type of play, it can be quite beneficial to their development and (contrary to what we may think) does not create a violent child. There are benefits that allowing children to safely participate in weapon play can create, provided parents appropriately discuss how to engage in it.
Why Weapon Play?
Allowing children to be in charge of their play can give them a strong sense of confidence and purpose.
When we force on children the type of play that we believe they should be engaging in, we are taking away a part of their own command. Children are naturally curious, and they thrive when they are given the trust and opportunity to explore those curiosities in their own way.
Think about it like this: how would you react to someone telling you that the way that you listen to music on your way home from work is incorrect. You shouldn’t be singing along loudly and putting on a performance in your car (I know I’m not the only one), but that you should listen to the music much quieter and not sing along. I don’t know about you, but I would not appreciate that. It is the same when we tell children how they should be playing.
There should be three simple rules, or agreements as I like to call them, in children’s play: be kind to yourself, others and the environment. If that is happening in their play, then there is no reason for us to stifle that.
Children explore the ideas of right/wrong, good/evil and the values that come with both.
This is a very important thing for children to learn, when they are engaging in this type of play, that is exactly what they are doing. They are working together to figure out what it means to be good and what it means to be bad. They are learning how to deal with people from both sides and are figuring out the importance of being a good person. If you watch closely as children are participating in this type of play, you will notice them working out these very real and heavy issues with one another. Allowing children to do this is helping to support their development into good people.
Children can form true and meaningful connections to each other and the world as a whole.
When children participate in weapon play, either with others or alone, they are building connections with each other and with the world around them. Because this type of play is rooted in values such as good vs evil, participating in this type of play naturally creates strong, meaningful bonds with those around them.
Children learn about ideas like trust, accountability, safety, consent and more. These are all extremely important things for children to learn and when we let them play as they wish, they learn them in the most natural and holistic way possible.
How To Talk With Children About Weapon Play
One of the most important pieces of this is how we talk with children about this type of play. When we think back on the three most important agreements in play (being kind to ourselves, others and the environment), we need to also be thinking of how to communicate this best with our children to better support them in this type of exploration.
Below are a few simple strategies for having this conversation with your children:
- Be honest-and allow your children to be honest as well. This is how every conversation with your children should be. Speak with them about this type of play, ask them if they enjoy it, and why. Then discuss the agreements and allow them the time and opportunity to respond. When they do, be sure to actually listen and take their ideas and words to heart because what children say and think matters.
- Discuss the idea of consent. This is a very important thing for children to learn but it can be difficult to figure out how to help them learn it. But this is an excellent way to do that. By discussing this type of play with them and the agreements of being kind, we can instill the sense of consent in them. Examples of this may sound like: “This play is important and fun, but it needs to be safe for everyone.”, “Everyone has to agree to play in this way”, “When someone says stop or feels uncomfortable or unsafe, we stop right away.” Bringing these words into the conversation is simple and will stick with children, not only as they play, but as they grow up.
Let Them Play!
The bottom line is, children are likely to engage in this type of play at some point. It is a part of their development. I did it, you did it, we all did when we were kids. Parents and caregivers can seize the opportunity to help support them to learn and grow. You may see an amazing shift in your children after these on-going conversations, and you will be doing your part to raise a kind, sensitive and empathic person.
* For an in-depth look at the conversation that I had with my Kindergarten class on this topic and the changes I have seen because of it, be sure to check out my classroom blog.