Working in an early childhood setting I have seen many young children engaging in imaginative play involving guns. Recently it seemed to on the increase, and until recently gun play was always positively redirected, however after reading an article by Karen Fontaine printed in a local primary school newsletter we discussed various approaches:
Are toy guns and make believe gun play an indication of future aggressive behaviour, or a harmless normal part of childhood?
Early childhood development specialist, Dr Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, advocates that “There is and always has been an interest with was play, with boys just gravitating towards toy weaponry from a really early age, however there has not been a single study that has linked pretend gunplay with future violent behaviour.”
Dr Neilsen-Hewett believes that parents and educators need to watch how children are playing, as play is like a window into the child’s soul. Children use play for different purposes, it is about fun and enjoyment, but play encourages children to understand concepts or make sense of what is happening in the world around them.
Most experts would agree that if you forbid gunplay completely it becomes more of an issue. Dr Neilsen-Hewett states; “When children have a balance of gunplay and other forms of play, it’s not an issue, however if a child plays only with toy guns and is exposed to violence within the home and in their neighbourhood and all of their play is aggressive; then yes, they are at risk.”
Psychologist, such as, Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget, highlighted the benefits of imaginative play as a vehicle for learning, believing that through play children make rules, use symbols, create narratives, make discoveries, and modify their current thinking to incorporate new insights (Montie Xiang & Schweinhart 2006).
There are parents and educators who strong believe that gunplay is unacceptable, and that is their belief which must be respected, although Dr Neilsen-Hewett notes that adopting a strength based approach to behaviour management is best; talk to the children about toy guns, give the reasons why you don’t like them, explain why you don’t what them to play with guns, and then provide other forms of play that are as inviting.