As I drove past a local Veteran’s Memorial on Veteran’s Day, my son asked why there were so many people at the park. I reminded him that it was Veteran’s Day. He proceeded to tell my daughter all about soldiers and how they keep us safe. Living only a few miles from an air force base, we see soldiers on a daily basis. While we don’t see them carrying the weapons, he understands that this uniform means they have the right to carry a gun. The fact that the soldiers carry guns was an important bit of information my son felt the need to pass on to my daughter.
This mention of guns, of course, added a new element to the discussion. My daughter’s perception of guns is they are bad and dangerous, while my son’s perception is that they are for policemen and soldiers to help keep us safe. Over the years we have had many conversations with our children regarding guns. We have many friends that are police officers and his knowledge of guns comes from these conversations, not television or movies.
As educators, we must be aware that guns, like anything you ask a child not to do, will become a forbidden fruit of sorts and all the more enticing. As a teacher I found two things to hold true when children started pulling their finger guns and hand swords. First, every time I observed children involved in this type of play I reminded the children of our classroom rules about guns: we don’t point them at someone else and if this behavior scares another child we needed to stop. Second, the less I said after our conversation the less time they spent engaged in the behavior.
The notion of children playing with weapons, mimicking gun sounds and making them with their hands is always sensitive and cultural. While some research suggests that gun play does not lead to real violence, remember that many parents will have different ideas about what is appropriate, and that some children, like my son, may have a very positive outlook on guns. However you choose to handle this type of play, be sure that you are open and honest with families and state your classroom rules clearly.