This is a hard post for me to write, but the real purpose of my writing is to talk about more than just the pretty moments in life.  There are real bumps and bruises along the path of parenthood; moments we would rather didn’t happen…  but they do happen. Aren’t those the ones we learn from the most?

Like many parents, gun play makes me very uncomfortable.  Having my otherwise sweet children look at someone and say, “Bang Bang!  I shoot you!” makes me cringe and worries me about what lies underneath those impulses.  Is this anti-social behavior or just something many children (especially boys) are drawn to from a primal place?

Since beginning nursery school last year, this behavior and some others that I find unsavory have begun to creep into our lives.  It’s been very confusing especially since we go to a school with a clearly defined “media policy” that strongly encourages parents to create a media-free environment for the children, meaning no tv, video games, computers, PDA’s, etc.  Naively, I’ve always assumed that children get these ideas from seeing them explicitly via violent images.  I had judgmentally assumed that little “tyrants” are created by negligent parents.  I feel quite differently now.

For the past month or so, we have been struggling to find a balance between guiding this “aggressive” behavior and not giving it too much attention, reaction, or power.  It’s a tricky place to be and one that makes the boundaries blurry sometimes.  Children need clear boundaries to feel safe and to know definitely where they stand.  Perhaps there was not enough of this and it resulted in our children needing to push and push until they came up against the firm boundary.  That’s my best guess.

The incidents have been building in intensity and finally I reached my breaking point this week.  I searched and read many articles on the internet of all types of parents and children who are experiencing the same thing; some have media in their lives, others do not.  I spoke at length with our nursery teacher who has decades of experience with small children. Across the board it seems that this impulse to experience power through gestures (making the hand into a gun) and words (“Bang! Bang! I killed you!”) is a common part of childhood development.  Children with no violent toys will still create a gun out of a stick.  There is something instinctive about it. As our teacher said, “It lives in them and play is the only way they can process it out.”

These are archetypal ideas for young children; death, killing, good guys and bad guys, weapons, explosions.  It’s almost “Cave Man” in my view, imprinted on our psyche from long ago. Now the question is, “How do we guide this behavior and give it a healthy outlet?”

I know one thing: trying to squelch this impulse will be unhealthy and probably result in a subverted and possibly more intense interest in the topic than already exists.  I definitely don’t want that.  I need to get more comfortable with myself and accept the fact that this is a natural impulse and not the fault of another child or family who is bringing this to my children.  Even in the most cocooned environment possible, this is still a reality.

In our family, we need to be clear on our boundaries:

  • Guns will never be bought as a toy so if our children want to play with them they will at least have to use their imaginations to create them!
  • No shooting at people, animals, or trees.
  • How is the other person feeling?  Are they scared or sad?  If the other person is uncomfortable, the play has to stop.
  • Turn the impulse into something creative if possible; shoot water to the plants to feed them, shoot fire into the oven to help Mommy cook, etc.  This requires alot of on-the-spot creativity from me!
  • Create a list of “Can-do’s”.  If the child can’t shoot at people, animals, or trees what CAN he do?  I’m still working on this one!  And need more clarity and ideas from my mentors here……………
  • If someone is hurt or scared by the “gun play” how can we repair what has happened?

One thing we did, which worked beautifully, was another wonderful idea from our nursery teacher.  She suggested I ask my children what they thought they could do to repair this specific situation and make a person feel better.  I asked them this and it was amazing to hear their ideas and to see the REAL POWER they felt by having the chance to make the situation right again.  They began to draw pictures to give to this person they had hurt; they gathered toys that mattered to them and suggested giving them to her; they asked me to write down their words in a sweet apology letter.  These were all their ideas, which made it so authentic and healing for all of us.  I participated in the process by asking alot of questions to inspire their process and providing a pretty box for them to put all these “gifts”.  Then we put the box outside and the “Love Fairies” came and took the box away to deliver it to this person.  It felt good for me to be able to do something tangible to bring closure and to guide them in a way to genuinely repair a hurtful situation.

As I travel further down the road of parenthood, my compassion for other parents grows and my judgment of others diminishes.  It’s easy to judge something you haven’t experienced yourself.  I continue to realize that there is no ONE WAY to do things, there are no neat answers, there are only suggestions, ideas, and inspiration we can offer each other and that each person must make their own.

Here are some links to a few interesting articles I found on the subject:

As I gather more information on this topic, I will pass it along. xxx, Leah

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