Ask A Kid Shrink
How much should wecontrol playtime as parents/teachers. I saw that several ‘old’ games have been banned in schools like ‘dodgeball’. What is your take on this? What about ‘gunplay’? They seem to make weapons out of anything no matter what you say or how you try to structure playtime.
When I was a young mom, I thought I could and should control my son’s gun play. Toy guns were not allowed, I thought by providing gender neutral toys, I would be helping him to develop into a sensitive, emotionally intelligent boy. Pretty soon however, sticks were guns, grass blades were guns, fingers were guns. He had this amazing innate ability to make machine gun noises by age two. I don’t even honestly know if he had ever seen a toy gun or not when he began doing this.
What I soon realized is that my little guy was going to be great. I had to allow him to be a kid and grow up on his own time and in his own way. The ways I could shore up his self esteem and help to develop empathy towards others included allowing free unstructured play time, giving lots of praise for his inner qualities such as his kindness, intelligence, caring, creativity. I also had to learn how to get down on the floor and play with him in his games. I had to learn how to make aggressive play comfortable for me so I could join with him and bond together. We had to establish rules and boundaries in this play as well so it could feel emotionally safe for both us. These rules included:
1- Never pointing a “gun” at mom’s (or anyones!) face
2- If someone said “stop” the game stops right then
3- No Hitting
It is vitally important to allow kids unstructured play time where they can be in charge of what they play and how they play. It helps to develop their core mastery in emotional, social, and mental skills. One of the tragedies occurring in our schools is the loss of recess and free time for arts and crafts in school. Research has shown that by limiting kid’s access to these important parts of their day and growing up, we are stunting important brain development – not to mention forcing 6 year olds to sit still for eight hours a day!
It is also totally developmentally appropriate that young kids, especially boys, act out aggressive themes. We see this in playing with toy guns, army figures, nerf guns, etc. It is true that we need to protect our kids from the violence that is happening in our world today.
Every family is going to have to set their own boundaries but I would encourage parents to allow their kids to just have time to be kids- their way.
As for my little baby boy… He is turning out to be a sensitive, emotionally intelligent young man who can still make a mean machine gun noise.