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Archives, Childhood, Education, Natural Toys, Outdoor Play, Parenting, Play, Sunday With Sarah, Toy Safety, Waldorf Education, Wooden Toys

Children and Weapon Play: Should Parents Be Concerned?

Parents often become concerned when their child learns about guns for the first time and starts playing shooting games.

In this week’s “Sunday with Sarah,” video, I address the topic of kids and weapon play: why children (particularly boys) pretend to play with guns, ways it can be addressed, and how to meet a child’s need for weapon play in a less threatening way.

Click the image above to view.

As always, please leave your comments and questions below, and I may answer your question in a future video!

Have a week full of safe and healthy play!

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PRODUCTS FEATURED IN THIS VIDEO:

P.S. If you’re enjoying these videos, be sure to visit the Sunday with Sarah YouTube Channel and click SUBSCRIBE!

CORRECTION: I’m afraid that there is some outdated information in this video. In it, I mention a surge in testosterone that occurs in boys at around the age of four, however recent research has questioned this previously accepted theory. For more information, see this recent article on the subject: Do Boys Really Have a Testosterone Spurt at Age Four?. Whether or not it is caused by a surge in testosterone, what is clear is that at around the age of four, it is not uncommon for preschool boys to start becoming interested in more active, physical play.

VIDEO SYNOPSIS:

Healthy kids are often drawn toward violent gunplay. Guns are fascinating for young boys and, considering the massive amount of media dedicated to the weapons, it’s no surprise that kids emulate the violence they observe in their own play.

As the parent of two grown boys, I completely sympathize with parents who are concerned when their children develop this fascination. It can be concerning when your kids are pretending to shoot imaginary (or real) enemies. Does this mean they’ll grow up to be violent? Should we allow our children to indulge in such play?

Over my 20+ years as a Waldorf early childhood teacher, I can first and foremost assure you that this kind of play is completely normal. All boys participate in it to varying degrees and, unless your child has taken the additional step of actually committing physical violence toward others, you can rest assured that you’re simply witnessing normal behavior.

So why are kids, boys especially, so drawn to guns? It’s a complicated question with no easy answer, but one reason I would suggest is that guns give children a feeling of control. Kids are rarely in control of anything; their parents, teachers and older siblings all exert authority over them. Pretending to fire a gun satisfies a child’s urge to be in control of something.

While I would strongly discourage providing toy guns for children, I would also caution parents against trying to completely eliminate gun play. The most compelling reason for this is that it’s nearly impossible! Children’s imaginations are simply too strong to combat: a stick, a wooden spoon, even a finger can become a make-believe firearm.

Ground rules regarding gun play should be enforced, however. In my classroom, the rules were that children could pretend to fire guns but they must do so outside and they must never point it at another person. Trees, rocks, imaginary foes and other non-living targets were fine. Not only did this keep gun play from becoming too menacing, threatening or non-inclusive, it actually followed some of the basic safety precautions of real firearm handling.

All this being said, there is one way of discouraging gun play: by providing the alternative of sword play.

Sword play might seem, at a glance, to be no different from gun play. They’re both lethal weapons, right? While that’s true, there are some important differences in the way children play with them and I’ve found that sword play is much more productive.
The single biggest difference between guns and swords are the stories they evoke. When children engage in imaginative play, they’re really telling stories. As all storytellers do, they borrow from the stories they’ve already heard.

So when a child plays with a gun, they’re going to imitate the gun-related stories they’ve heard or seen before. Flip through the TV channels or watch an action movie and it becomes quite clear that guns are most often (not always, of course) associated with stories involving massive amount of indiscriminate violence.

Swords, on the other hand, are more likely to be portrayed within the context of chivalry and honor, in stories about knights, dragons and castles. While there’s no denying that these weapons could be just as deadly and used just as indiscriminately as a gun, the simple fact is that the stories we pass on about them are much more gentle and focus on good triumphing over evil. And that’s the kind of play they inspire!

Swords can still be hurtful and dangerous, so it’s equally important to treat them with respect. In my classroom, children could only play with toy swords after completing a knighting ceremony. They would wear a rainbow cape and a crown and sit on a special branch. Then I would recite and they would answer:

MISS SARAH: John Andrew Young, have you been good?

CHILD: Oh, yes.

MISS SARAH: Have you been true?

CHILD: Oh, yes.

MISS SARAH: Have you heard the stars singing in the sky?

CHILD: Oh, yes.

MISS SARAH: Here is your sword. Use it for right, to carry the light, not for some silly quarrel or fight.

At this point I would tap the child with the sword on each shoulder before handing it to them. This ceremony really helped the children understand that wielding a sword was a privilege and responsibility.

While I did allow children to mock sword fight, I strictly enforced the rule that sword blades could never be used against another person. The swords could hit each other, but not a human.

I hope this helps. Leave your comments and questions, and I’ll see you next time!

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Boys and Doll Play
Archives, Childhood, Parenting, Waldorf Dolls

Boys and Doll Play

KYLA B. WROTE TO ASK:

I am a single mother to a nearly 15-month-old little boy. I was wondering if you might be able to give me with some information on boys playing with dolls. I was hoping you could address the benefits of boys playing with dolls. I have had some disapproving comments and looks from other parents when I try and discuss this with them.

People are concerned that my son has too much of a female influence in his life,  as my son has no father and we live with my parents, but my father is a wonderful role model for my son and they have a very close bond.

People are also under the impression that boys play with trucks and girls with dolls. But I think all toys are for everybody. I thought dolls would help teach my son compassion, caring and even the beginnings of responsibility.

Please help me, Sarah. I’m feeling a little confused as to how to incorporate dolls into my son’s daily play and also how to respond to the critics. Am I best to purchase a weighted doll as my son’s first doll and put his current doll away for later? Or is he not ready yet for dolls?

SARAH RESPONDS:

There is a fear among many men that playing with dolls will make boys less masculine. Sadly, there are some women who also share this belief.

We’ve been conditioned for so many decades to think that boys play with trucks and cars and girls play with dolls and too many boys have been told that playing with dolls is for “sissies.”

This thinking needs to be changed.

Giving a boy a doll gives him the opportunity to explore his nurturing and caring side, and can teach a boy as much about being a father, just as dolls teach girls about motherhood.

Children imitate the adults around them in their play. When mothers and fathers model nurturing, caring behavior, boys and girls will imitate this in their doll play and this is healthy! It teaches children about relationships and empathy.

If a boy spends his days at home with his mother (whether she is a single parent or not) he will want to imitate her activities. This is normal.

This is natural. This is good. He is practicing parenting.

Times have changed. Today’s fathers tend to me much more involved in child-rearing than they were decades ago. It is not uncommon anymore to see a dad with a baby in a sling, or pushing a stroller.

Since children are imitative, it is natural for them to want to carry a dolly in a sling or push one in toy carriage.

And it’s curious how culturally it seems more acceptable to allow a girl to play with traditional “boy toys.” Most people don’t think twice watching a girl playing with building sets, Legos, or toy cars. In fact, many parents are now encouraging their daughters to play with these so called “STEM toys” and teaching their daughters that they can grow up to be a mother and have a career.

So why do so many adults seem alarmed when they see little boys playing with dolls or “playing house” and pretending to cook in a play kitchen? Don’t we want our sons to grow up to caring fathers and capable of cooking a meal?

We need to change our way of thinking and educate others that doll play is important if we want boys to grow up to be nurturing, caring fathers. It doesn’t make them any less masculine.

I believe that all parents of boys should give their son a doll to love. I recommend giving a boy his first doll between 18-months and three-years-old, before he has gotten the memo that boys don’t play with dolls. A one-year-old will probably have little interest in a doll other than to explore it with his senses as he would any other object.

But at 18-24 months he may start snuggling with and be comforted by a favorite soft doll. But it is around age 4-5 when children really begin imitative pretend play with dolls.

It can also be very helpful to give a boy a doll when a new younger sibling is on the way, and can help prepare your child emotionally for the new arrival. Our Heavy Baby Dolls (with their weight that makes them feel like a real baby) are wonderful for this purpose!

What if you give your son a doll and he shows no interest in it? I get this question a lot. I would advise you not to worry. Not all children are going to respond to all toys the same way. If he is too young for it, keep it around and he may show interest in it later.

Some boys become very attached to a special doll, other boys show little interest. Children are unique, just as adults are. There is no one-size-fits-all toy.

The important thing is to give provide your son with a doll and give him the opportunity to develop his nurturing and caring side through play. But remember that there are many ways that children learn to become nurturing and caring adults – the primary way is by being cared for by nurturing parents.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite memories as an early childhood teacher as I observed the children in my class during free play. I will never forget the day when Wilson, a little boy in my class who was always full energy and joy, was pretending to nurse a dolly that was tucked under his sweater. He held the baby securely with one arm while he brandished a wooden sword in the other, engaged in a lively sword fight with another boy.

Wilson is a wonderful reminder that boys can play with dolls and be no less of a boy!

Are you the mother of a boy? Have you given your son a doll? Does he play with it? Please share your comments!

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Yelling Silences Your Message
Parenting

Loving Discipline: Stay Calm and Speak Softly

It took me many years of experience as a parent and Waldorf teacher before I learned a really important lesson.

I learned that when I really needed to get my message across to a child, it is much more effective to get down to the child’s level, look him in the eye, and speak in a quiet, calm voice.

When we yell, children (and adults!) tune us out. When emotions are flying high and voices are escalating, it can take a child by surprise to be spoken to in a tone close to a whisper. The child will stop what she’s doing to really hear what is being said.

We are adults. When children experience us as being in control of our emotions, they feel much more secure, even when their immature emotions are spiraling out-of-control. It is our job to keep calm and let children know that we are in control and able to help.

It’s not always easy to do with a screaming toddler or while a pair of siblings are pummeling each other, but it’s important to take a deep breath, stay focused in the present, and remind yourself that you are the adult, and that you are capable of responding calmly.

Wish I’d learned this when my own children were younger. I hope that many of you will learn this important lesson sooner than I did! It will absolutely result in more harmony—at home or in the classroom.

Peace,

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Do you have any discipline challenges, or tips to share? Please leave a comment!

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