It’s one of those parenting dilemmas that we all face at some point; whether or not to let your child play with toy guns. It fills many of us with a sense of unease but experts say we needn’t worry and in fact, play fighting should actually be encouraged in children.
Dr Jennifer Hart is an Associate Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the University of The Sunshine Coast. She says that while many parents fear that their child may develop concerning behaviours from being allowed to play with toy guns, it’s actually beneficial and can assist with both social and academic development.
“Research demonstrates playful aggression within early childhood programs is beneficial, yet it is typically discouraged by parents and teachers because it is interpreted to be inappropriate or dangerous,” she told The Courier Mail.
According to Dr Hart play fighting can assist children in developing important skills related to conflict resolution, trust, empathy and understanding right from wrong and is "all for" schools encouraging kids to play in this manner with each other.
As a parent of two young boys I'm still not okay about the whole guns and play thing.
I remember the first time my son even mentioned the word 'gun'. He was three years of age and had only been attending preschool for a matter of weeks before he came home and excitedly showed me how one of the older boys taught him how to make a toy gun out of lego. At that age he didn't actually understand what a gun was and what it did but I knew and when the word left his mouth it was like part of his innocence was taken away, right there in front of me.
Since then he has developed into a fully fledged five year old boy, interested in all the things boys are. Of course he wants to play 'guns' and talks about shooting baddies but every time he mentions a gun (rightly, or wrongly) I've told him that in our house, we don't play like that.
Boys and girls have been playing cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers for decades. Of course not every child ends up on the list of Australia's most wanted list but as a mum it's also hard to encourage a game where the real life consequences are so great. I personally can't just stand back, smiling while my kids pretend to shoot one another.
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In our present day when there is so much unpleasantness and hate in the world, I'm not comfortable with encouraging my child to play with something that has the ability to cause so much hurt to another person, even if it's just a game. The sole purpose of a gun is to hurt or kill. To me, that's not something that a child needs to be exposed to.
Experts may claim that allowing a child to play in this matter is beneficial but I'm sure I can find other less violent means of teaching my child empathy, understanding and right from wrong.