In my many years of working with young children, I have learned to ‘look behind’ outward behaviours to try to understand the archetype of what a particular behaviour might really be about.
When I have an inkling of what the child might be striving for with a particular play style or game, it can be a dual win. My understanding (and love) of a particular child deepens, AND I am given insights that may help me to creatively support this health-giving opportunity of play.
But, one of the most difficult things to work with is ‘gun play’, and its cousin, swordplay. (Superhero play has elements of this also, in the attempts to ‘kill off’ the baddies, all kinds of ‘violent’- looking scenarios are created).
It is difficult for two reasons. The first is the fact that this kind of play happens mostly with boys, and can be outwardly ‘aggressive’ to look at. The second thing is that ‘gun play’ is often the thing that many parents fear, or dislike and want transformed in any way, shape or form possible. Teachers are often asked or told to stop this ‘gun play’ from happening, quick smart.
I believe ‘gun play’, whether it is in Cowboys and Indians wildwest games, or ‘shoot ‘em up’ style battles, is more strongly nature, than nurture. All kinds of children – even those brought up in the most loving, television-free, video-free, computer-game free, water-pistol free, happy, harmonious households – play with ‘guns’.
I watched in true disbelief last year at my home-based playgroup when my three-year old son Ned took one of our large wooden pegs (about the size of an adult’s hands) and picked up a green rectangular block, and it instantly became a pistol. I was wildly surprised to see for myself that ‘gun play’ can be innate.
How do we manage these things, especially when they often present difficulties to both ourselves, and others?
1. We can make rules (or at least try to)
“There are no guns/swords in this house. Guns/swords only hurt people“.
That works, sometimes, but not all the time. And may just push it underground or out of sight.
2. We can refuse to buy gun or sword toys.
But they’ll be given them for presents, or make their own. All they need to do is to find an L shaped stick and there it is.
….but one of the most helpful ways I have learned is to ‘transform’ it.
When we give children the opportunity to find positive uses for their imaginary guns, we still acknowledge their almost primal need to be powerful in a way that is healthy and helpful for all the children in the group.
We have had ‘guns’ that could shoot out ‘mortar’ when building a brick house (cubby) in play. Very focused, specific use there. Or in the case of a ‘fire rescue’, the water ‘gun’ saved the day. One misty day, children developed a ‘gun’ that streamed a rainbow in the corner of our garden. Another group imagined a ‘gun’ that could be used to capture the glory of the sun to help us light our winter lanterns with its stored flame.
Mostly, after a short while of using this newly-transformed and full of imagination power ‘gun’, the ‘gun’ is put away happily, to be safely stored until they are needed again (but mostly forgotten).
The act of allowing ‘gun play’ in a measured, contained scenario supported by a kind and helpful adult for a short period (5-10 minutes) can be an astute decision in raising good-natured, cooperative children. It is the old ‘win, win’. Don’t you think?
Swordplay can be transformed in the same way. My friend Jen just wrote about her son Kaelan, “Sir Wonderful” and their creative use of a ‘sword’ as a behaviour management tool. It is a great article. Why not pop by to read their story?
But I also love this one. I found the picture book, “The Sunflower Sword”, written by Mark Sperring and illustrated by Miriam Latimer, in my local library and I LOVE it!
“In this land, there lived a knight who wanted to be big like the other knights, and fight like the other knights and have a sword like the other knights. But his mother said he couldn’t”
As part of her striving to search deeply for a truth behind the veil, and understand his bottomless desire for a sword, she asks him why he wants a sword and he simply answers…
“To whoosh and swoosh in the air”
Oh, to understand their inner workings! Sometimes, we SHOULD just ask them, don’t you think. Asking, not assuming as we busy mums and dads might sometimes do, might give us an ‘a ha’ moment of understanding and a way to satisfactorily meet their needs and wants.
With that in mind, she sets out to find a creative solution! (I won’t tell you anymore, but really, this book is a worthy investment if you have boys who want to woosh and swoosh- perhaps you too, can use her idea.)
For now, I will now pop this little story up in a tiny pocket of my brain, ready to pull out this transforming strategy should the need arise.
So, what do you think about ‘guns’ and ‘gun play’? Do you let it be or stop it completely? What do you think of this idea of ‘transforming’ play?
This post was written by Amber Greene … a Writer and Parenting Educator whose motto in life is to ‘Fire up your Creative Spark!” She helps women and children around the globe to unveil their creative powers. Amber provides creative strategies for parenting and supports parents to increase their confidence and find more joy and fun in the busy daily slog. Visit her at www.mamamoontime.com for a daily dose of creative inspiration, and free art and crafty activities for both mama and child.