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Friday, August 17, 2012

Playing with guns

Every time I go to work, I spend part of my day bashing my head against a brick wall. I'm not alone- I know that. I think that if I took a vote amongst Early Childhood workers about the playground rule most often broken by young children- the rule which is the most completely futile and requires constant, constant reinforcement without any hope of long-term success- it'd be this one.

NO PLAYING WITH GUNS.

You can play at being a policeman. But
you can't play with a gun.
I was a 'no guns' mum. I'm a peace-loving person. I'm distressed by criminal gun use, from robberies to massacres- aren't we all? I cringe at legal gun use too, from policemen shooting mentally ill people by mistake (yep, that happened here fairly recently) to the condoned violence of war.

I hate it when I see on TV every single night the suffering caused to ordinary people by real-life gun use. I hate the way guns are used to solve problems in books and on screens. I don't want that quick-fix, no-think solution modelled to the world's children. I don't want the world's children growing up with guns being normalised like that. I don't want kids to think guns are toys.

So when my son was young, I had a rule. (Lots of urban parents have this rule in Australia, though it's probably different in other demographics.)

No toy guns in this house. 

I started out my Early Childhood career as a no-guns teacher, too. I fitted right in; nearly every centre where I worked had a rule about that.

No guns at school. 

And,

We don't shoot our friends, not even pretending. 

All very well in theory; but as I've discovered over time, our homes and our care centres exist within the real world, not in some fairy-floss land constructed by well-meaning adults. There are guns included in the spy and soldier and cowboy costumes at the toy shop, and guns used in superhero movies and cop shows and cartoons, and real guns on the news. There are guns in the hands of police on the street, guns in the hands of soldiers and in the holsters of security guards. There are dads who play Paintball with paint guns, and there are big brothers who play shoot-'em-up video games with virtual guns.

This is the real world, and in the real world children copy what they see others do. That's what children are hard-wired to do; it's one of the ways they learn.



I started my turn-around on gun play when I started reading a blog by a mum whose partner is in the navy, Momma in Progress. One day when I was thinking about gun play I put myself in that mum's shoes, and I thought hang on. In her world, a gun may well be part of daddy's tool kit. I expect that this mum, and many other parents with military connections, deeply believe that weapons are a legitimate part of daddy's positive role as a keeper of the peace. Why wouldn't a child of a military family want to play at doing daddy's job sometimes- just like the child whose dad is a truck driver, or a builder, or a farmer?

And then I thought, what happens socially when the children of the military go to preschool and are told that using guns is bad? And what about the children of the police, security guards and other 'good guys' who use a gun? Is banning gun play a form of discrimination against these children? Will these children feel a sense of belonging to their school community if gun play is viewed as intrinsically bad?

Why do we always frame gun play as bad, regardless of the context of the children's play? We always seem to think the worst of children who want to run around with a fantasy gun. We're quick to apply labels. Why is that?

These are questions that I certainly never thought about when I first started working in Early Childhood. I think it's important we do think about them, because the definition of insanity is to go on doing something that's not working, expecting a different result.

And making rules about gun play is not working. Here is a run-down of your average day in a preschool room full of energetic, four-year-old boys where there is a 'no gun play' rule.


You start off with a rule that the kids aren't allowed to have toy guns. You don't supply them, and the kids aren't allowed to bring them from home.

The moment you turn your back, Johnny and Jimmy have made L-shapes out of a few pieces of building kit and they're pointing them at each other. P-chow!

Oops; immediately, we need another rule.

No making guns with the Lego. No making guns with the Mobilo. No building guns, full stop!

But the desire is strong. Where there's a will there's a way. Maybe they'll go round the corner, or wait till you're not looking, to play with their make-do guns.

Or maybe they'll just get devious.

"It's not a gun. It's a magic wand / laser stick / invisible-making-shape-shifter-space-rocket-blaster / (fill in each child's favourite fantastic truth-bender)."
"It's not a gun, it's a
bow and arrow."

What to do then? Believe them, or call them liars? You know in your heart that they're just trying to put you off the scent, but probably you'd rather believe these children are essentially not deceitful... and you can't prove they intended the toys to be guns...

Of course, you could always put away the Lego, and the Mobilo, and the paper towel tubes, and every-other-possible-thing-you-can-make-a-gun-from.

(That's ridiculous.)

But it doesn't matter what you do or say. Take away their creations, turn around twice, and they've picked up sticks and are pointing them at each other. P-chow!!

Oops. Time for another rule.

No playing with sticks. No pretend guns out of sticks.

Ban that, turn around twice, and they're shooting their fingers at each other. P-chow! Tchoo! Tchoo!

What are you going to do now? Ban pointing? Ban saying "p-CHOW!"? (Good luck.)

What a lot of rules. What a lot of negativity. ECTs know we're supposed to allow the children to follow their interests, yet here we are making a whole string of restrictive rules about an obvious interest. Some of the children are ignoring those rules completely, because their interest is so strong.

Is there another way?

I believe there is. I believe we can forge a middle course between encouraging mock-violence and banning gun play. (And remember, I hate guns.)

If we've done our reading and research, we'll know that children need to experiment with power and control; often they do this through role play. This is one of the ways that children learn empathy.

Think of an example like this, which I've seen unfold in the playground many times. The child is playing 'policeman' and using his 'gun' to help him put the baddie in jail, because that's what he's seen on TV. Then another child comes into the game and 'releases' the prisoner.

When you look at the whole picture, the policeman-with-a-gun game is a reflection of a pretty normal aspect of our society, and it's also made a stage for another child to practise empathy- he sees his friend 'locked up' and enters the game to set him free. These role plays are good things, not bad things. If the play gets too rough, the other children will protest- you bet your life they will. (And then we can take control on the basis of the roughness, not on the basis of a blanket ban on the fantasy tool.)

Children engaging in gun play are not typically shooting at the good guys, are they? They're trying to control 'the bad guys'. And while we may not like seeing children using 'guns' to do so, they're only copying what's around them; they're only experimenting with power, as seen in the adult and the fictional world.

Putting a negative value on every bit of play involving a pretend 'gun' doesn't eliminate the children's desire. It only puts a barrier between us and the kids- it builds a wall between our personal knowledge of the subject and the children's curiosity. It creates a situation where the children are prepared to defy us to explore their interest, and that's never a good look.

And so my 'middle course' would start with removing the value judgments and knocking down that wall. I've never tried this, mind you. I'm still in the construction stages of this new philosophy. I'll welcome your comments to help me to refine my strategy.

I'd start by sitting down with all the kids at mat time after I'd witnessed the first gun play of the year, and I'd say,

"Let's talk about guns."

(I can guarantee that I'd have the perpetrators' attention right there.)

I'd narrate what I'd seen in the playground, and I'd ask those involved to tell us about the game they'd been playing.

And then I'd stimulate discussion. I'd follow the threads that the children's game suggested. I might throw in some questions, depending on where the children's contributions led.

"What are guns used for?"

"What sorts of people use guns?"

"What do guns look like?"

"Has anybody seen a real gun?"

"Where have you seen pictures of guns?"

"Does anybody have a story to tell about a gun?"

"Do you think guns are a good thing or a bad thing?"

I would certainly ask this question:

"Some people feel safe with pretend guns around, and some people feel scared. What do you feel when people play gun games near you? Do you feel excited? Do you feel scared? Do you feel bored?"

(Note that my first project of the year is always to explore feelings, to help the children increase their vocabulary of 'feeling' words, so they should feel comfortable with this approach.)

And this question may well come up naturally from that:

"Do we need to make some rules about gun games to keep everyone safe and happy?"

Teacher Tom has a very fine post about giving the children agency in making room rules, and I would model what happened next on that. I do recommend that you have a look at that post, if you haven't already done so. (The crux of it is that to be written up on the list, a rule must be agreed on by the whole group, and certainly not just imposed by the teacher.) It is ever so much easier to maintain rules which the children themselves have agreed on.

Perhaps we would end up with a rule that gun play is allowed in a certain area only, or that 'guns' must not be pointed at people's faces, or that if someone says 'stop' you have to listen. But the vital element is that each rule must be put forward by and agreed on by the children; the teacher nudges rather than leading.

This would be a complex discussion. Any teacher leading a 4-year-old group discussion on such a controversial subject would need to be on his or her toes, reminding the children of prior agreed rules that gun play must not break (for example, some classes have a standing rule of 'be kind') without putting a general label on the role play.

These issues are not too complex for four-year-olds to toss around if the teacher has thought carefully about it beforehand. Releasing the lock-down on the topic of guns allows us to share our own feelings and reasoning, and it allows the children to do the same. Once you stop banning something, I also believe it becomes slightly less desirable and fascinating.

If the fascination remains, the interest can be treated like any other interest; perhaps a small area of the room can be devoted to a display related to the army, the police and other gun-carrying 'good guys' and the interest followed up in art and stories and resources. Children can be actively taught that guns are dangerous and that they should tell an adult immediately if they find a real gun- without playing with it, without pulling the trigger. Isn't that a lesson you would like actively taught, especially if you are a family who has a real gun somewhere on the property?

I can imagine a scenario where I might eventually- with the permission of the children's parents- supply some toy guns at circle time and ask the children, before anyone touched one, whether they were really sure that they were toys (and I would supply some very realistic toys). I would ask them what they would do next if I left the room right now, leaving the pile of guns on the floor.

Don't touch it.

Tell an adult at once.

Perhaps our fear of nurturing violent impulses is preventing us from educating children about the dangers of firearms- and perhaps that is wrong. Is prevention better than protection? Is education better than censorship? What do you think?

47 comments:

  1. Well said! I have been nutting out this problem too, children are so quick to pick up on the negativity within the classroom from excessive rules and attempts at following through with punishment. I believe that children should have the opportunity to explore and play with ideas through play, but working in a classroom I feel my ideas are essentially squashed by the senior staff and room leader. I have just started introducing 'Philosophy time' within the classroom and have found the children are fascinated with the concepts of death, murder and violence, possibly because like guns they are put in the 'too hard' basket. Would love to know how it works out for you and the kids!

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    1. Well said to you too. I LOVE the idea of 'philosophy time'!! I will certainly report on how this goes if I have a chance to put it into practice.

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    2. >> We were inspired by the french movie 'Just a Beginning' where a Philosophy program is established into a pre-school class

      http://en.unifrance.org/movie/31286/just-a-beginning

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  2. Annie, I feel as you do about guns. I couldn't be more against them and am appalled at their easy availability in the U.S. -- don't get me started. But here you've nailed my philosophy on the head, and not just about guns, about a lot of things (like screaming, etc.) that I'm not keen on children doing: "Once you stop banning something, I also believe it becomes slightly less desirable and fascinating."

    We dis-empower these activities by remaining calm about them. Even children who are not exposed to TV and video games engage in gun play. I trust they have a therapeutic need to do that. Thanks for another excellent post!

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    1. Thank you, Janet. As ever, I think it's better to engage with a problem than to turn a blind eye to the real issues and start shouting orders!

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  3. I can imagine a scenario where I might eventually- with the permission of the children's parents- supply some toy guns at circle time and ask the children, before anyone touched one, whether they were really sure that they were toys (and I would supply some very realistic toys). I would ask them what they would do next if I left the room right now, leaving the pile of guns on the floor.

    PLEASE DON'T......If you want to teach gun safety have an expert come in. A policeman or a military man or an emergency room Dr. Show and tell with toy guns....please rethink that.

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    1. Anonymous, can you tell me why you had that reaction? Without knowing your reasons I can't respond in a way that will put your mind at rest.

      I am not talking about real guns. Nobody is getting hurt here. And it's not show and tell; it's problem solving. I am talking about giving a lesson in risk assessment and thinking before we act. Naturally, that sort of scenario would require me to be very sure that it was an appropriate activity for the demographic and for the specific children/families involved. I might do exactly the same activity with toy snakes- in fact, I have.

      As for the experts- in my experience it's more important to have the skill of communicating appropriately and effectively with young children than to have (for example) weapons training. I have seen some school visits by well-meaning experts which completely missed the mark because those adults didn't have experience keeping children's attention and gave too much information (or inappropriate information) for the age level.

      It actually makes me a little sad to think that you feel that an education professional would be less able to give such a lesson effectively and safely than someone who had little or no training in talking to very small children about danger.

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  4. Playing with toy snakes does not equate with playing with toy guns. I agree that sometimes banning things makes them more desirable but that is like sugary treats not guns. Children need to know that guns are adult only . Like matches. If a child brings a toy gun to school around here (public) they can be expelled.

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    1. I can see where you're coming from, but one difficulty with that comparison is that retailers are not flogging toy matches to children- and matches are not glorified or highlighted by TV, movies, news reports, cartoons and video games. They have not actively been made desirable by the media.

      Also, in my country where many snakes are deadly, it is extremely dangerous for a child to touch an unidentified snake, so I see a very valid parallel there. The message is the same: Don't touch. Don't guess that it's a toy. Call an adult immediately. Isn't that the message you would like to teach small children about guns? Isn't that the same as 'guns are adult only', except that instead of just telling, we are showing and explaining and allowing the child a visually enhanced learning experience?

      Do you mean a preschooler (age under 5) can be expelled for bringing a toy gun to school where you are? I find that draconian. It misses the opportunity to teach the child to know better. Here toy guns and other toy weapons are usually confiscated, the child is spoken to about the issue and the parent is asked to keep such things at home in future.

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  5. Yes, Aunt Annie I totally agree with you , I give to your readers this scenario that I have been following all week in a Long Day care setting in a small rural town.
    I had an almost three year old on Monday who shared with me his insights on guns .I did not jump to conclusion but rather listened intently. His same age peer added some of his own thoughts and similar experiences. You see in our community we use guns to protect our livelihood from pests such as foxes. I shared with the child’s family and they were able to tell me that Dad had the night before when they were looking over old photo albums and Dad had shown the child a photo of himself (as a young child) holding up a dead fox.
    As the week progressed the two children each found a plank of wood and inevitably used them as guns... they role played seeking out these pesky animals that maul their lambs, take their chickens and eat just enough of a ewe for them to then see her half dead !!! I observed closely and did not see a gun pointed at a child these two children were to engaged in using their imagination THESE CHILDREN WERE TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF THEIR WORLD around them.
    I was observing as some giggly five-year old girls ran to me on Wednesdayin the playground to see what reaction they would get when they declared “they are shooting at us“ in reality the girls were loving the chase.
    Politely I said “well unless you are a fox I do not think they are shooting you”. One of the children with their plank of wood smiled and nodded at me as if to say thats absolutely right ...and the girls went off to play something else while the other two children continued navigating the play ground!
    Yes we discussed safely handing and having an adult I also spoke to the families to let them know it was an opportunity to hone these safe practices to their children.
    One of the children also used art to explore the concept and used amazing recall to highlight the features in the photo that he had observed ...even details that his Dad had to agree were in the photo yet he had not even taken a lot of notice of.....
    We will have a police person visit our centre in a few weeks ......they are actually coming to speak to the children about a more relevant threat than a gun locked away in a gun case......they will be talking about safety on another front you see we have a paedophile living approximately three doors away from our centre.. I guess that the police person will undoubtedly talk to the children about the gun he has in their holster!
    As an aside the planks of wood were more recently used as ramps to project trucks up!
    I do not intend, as Aunty Annie also indicated to ban every perceivable thing that could be used as a gun....what would children do without fingers ....???

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    1. What a great story! Thanks for sharing that. So much of people's attitudes is about demographic and context. I also live in a rural community where guns are used to protect livestock, and acceptance of the positives of gun use is really a must.

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    2. I think I got a little excited in typing my first post on your site ...it should read ......"an almost four year old" my apologies !

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    3. Haha- I kind of guessed that! Welcome to the site.

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    4. Hi to all! I am a male ECE here in Sydney. This will be a short story. I must suggest that instead of focusing on the negative aspect of guns to children, we must show them oe explain to them the positives. Children who are banned from doing a role play with a gun now thinks "it is bad to own a gun and people who own a gun are bad criminals or people". I was on the Pre school room and i saw two male 4 year old children pretending to be with a gun.One teacher said "we dont use gun here...it is bad". A few minutes later, i was able to sit down with the two boys and asked them "Why are you pretending to be with a gun?" To my surprise..their reply was "Because im a BADDIE" Then i realised that a lot of us ECE are telling the children NOT to play with guns and failing to properly explain to them. Now,most children think that ONLY BADDIES CARRY A GUN.Simply because we tell them.."IT IS BAD" :(
      This was an eye opener to me. Thanks.

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    5. Very true, Jose. A friend of mine has also pointed out that if we say to children that guns are for adults, they see a real gun as a 'rite of passage' and crave it as a sure indicator that they are an adult when they hit adolescence. Now, THAT though worries me!

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  6. Aunt Annie, what a brilliant post! You have said exactly what I feel and what a lot of current research supports! Boys NEED to be able to take part in weapon play - they can't control this urge. To say guns are bad says that THEY are bad as they have this urge to protect. Also as you mentioned many children have relatives or friends who use guns for various reasons. Weapons in themselves are not bad - the way they are used can be inappropriate. I also agree strongly that the children should be part of any rules that are made - only then will they understand the thinking behind the rules and understand the need for the rules. I also agree with you that very often other professionals are not able to communicate with the young children and that should be left to the experts who are best able to do this and the children know and trust them. Conversations and discussions like this also take much longer than a quick session with a visitor. Brilliant!!

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    1. That's so true, Niki- a visitor does not have the children's trust, especially at this young and vulnerable age, and so the impact of the message is so easily lost. And yes, this is a 'project' which might easily extend over some weeks as small children have a limited focus time.

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  7. I think we tend to focus on safety here. We would never say weapon play or any play was bad..just that it is dangerous. That way children don't get confused and think they are bad for doing something normal. I agree that inviting a person in is not always a good idea. The pro's do relate to the children best but sometimes it provides a dissassociation. I think it is safer to have a child relate guns to those who use them than to their teacher.Not every child will come away from a discussion and presentation of a pile of realistic toy guns with the message that they are not safe to touch. One who may have been daydreaming might even decide to bring in daddy's real one to show you someday. Just seems so dangerous to me, I think schools just shouldnt go there. Talking yeah, but purchasing and presenting them with a pile of fake guns in order for them to help distinguish real from not real...scares the daylights out of me.I think that part would be going to far.

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    1. The idea is not to teach them to distinguish real from not real- the whole point is that they aren't able to distinguish! The idea is to teach them a code to follow when they see any gun: don't touch, tell an adult.

      Also- as I said, a teacher has to be totally on top of their game to attempt this entire exercise. That means that the teacher knows who's listening, who's likely to 'daydream' and HOW TO ENGAGE that daydreamer in an important circle time.

      I don't know what you mean about 'disassociation'??

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  8. 'disassociation'??

    I sort of made up that word
    I was trying to say that the children would associate guns and their use with the person invited into the classroom to teach about gun safety and never have a thought in their head connecting their teacher to guns. I agree that it is a slippery slope and that a teacher must be TOTALLY on top of their game before going into this. I still think it is not a place for us to go at all. I wonder what parents would think since it is ultimately their call.

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    1. Hah! Okay. :) Personally I don't think the children form a connection in their mind between what we present to them and our personal selves- if I teach about space, they don't typically decide I'm an astronaut.

      I also think I would worry about the man in uniform making the gun seem too glamorous, which is exactly the opposite message from the one that I'd want to give: "guns might be anywhere and so you need to know what to do if you find one." I would be wanting to tone down the experience, not to ramp it up, and so the message coming from the kids' normal teacher seems the best way to me. I want to empower the kids to act sensibly and on the basis of sound information, and that is best done by a familiar, everyday person in my experience.

      Certainly, as I said in the blog post, I would not embark on something like this without parental consent- that, plus a sound knowledge of the family backgrounds, is a necessity when dealing with such a sensitive topic. You have to take into account cultural differences and regional contexts. In a farming community, for example, this would probably be welcomed and accepted- but in a community which had been touched by a gun tragedy one would have to tread very carefully indeed.

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  9. I'm also a no gun mom, my kid usually plays with his cousins who aren't allowed to play with guns also. so i guess i'm a bit lucky on that part. but still at school he gets to play with other kids who like playing with guns also.

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  10. It looks like many of us have taken a similar journey. I too use to tow the line and enforce a blanket 'no guns' rule which, as you said, was toatally ineffective. I had the pleasure no too long ago of having a casual question how gun play can be 'good' and later came to me to share how the children has explained that they were making sure preschool was safe for their friends.

    There will always differences of opinion on this issue. All we can do ad professionals is respect the views of others while doing our best to show the benefits (or lack of harm if you will) of providing opportunities for such play.

    One day I had a room full of Iron Men and nobody had an issue with them, yet a few days later the same group began gun play and were stopped fast in their tracks. No wonder children are confused about the messages we send them.

    Great post by the way Annie.

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  11. We have had a child whose dad was shot by a gun (he was a policeman) and so I speak about the sadness that guns can bring. That takes the glamor out of them pretty quickly. I explain to the children that they are welcome to make drills, rockets, wands or anything else that will not kill anyone. I live in a country that needs to build peace - and guns and weapons of war encourage aggression and violent 're-enactments' by our children, who see horror on TV news and hear their parents talking about massacres. This sort of psychological traumatic stress through secondary exposure may need working through by the children by re-enacting the shooting incidents. The young child does not distinguish between fantasy and reality - but our reality is so horrific with so many innocent people suffering from the use of violence as a form of power over others. I won't even allow karate 'play' unless I am watching that it does not escalate to serious damage (and I am also not a karate instructor, to guide the children in the correct way of doing it). I had a refugee child from the Congo once, who only knew how to 'play-fight' because that is the only way (the mother said) his father played with him. Nobody wanted to be his friend and play with him because he hurt them so badly. Talking with children who don't understand what you are saying in English means clear messages about your own values may not be understood verbally, and if the children carry on copying some of societies negative norms that violate human rights, it can can send 'messages' to the children that 'might is right' and 'if you are strong, you win' and so on. Children (and people) love a sense of power over others, especially if they have been dis-empowered. I show the children visibly how guns can be transformed into "plowshares and pruning hooks" - tools that are useful and create rather than destroy and praise their creativity as they create complex objects (that might have rocket engines and other powerful aspects to them). The last time there was gun-play, I smashed the toy gun ceremoniously on a rock in full view of everyone, we explained why we had done it - and the message has been clearly understood as it was very visual. The children report to us if there is any violent play. They enjoy games of 'tag' and 'monster, monster' but there is no shooting at the moment. Until the next dramatic shooting episode on the news that they watch, and then they will probably have a need to work through their feelings and have it clearly demonstrated "what we don't like". "Ain't gonna practice war no more, ain't gonna practice war no more" - I'm from South Africa. We live in a violent, gun-ridden society where the police have just massacred nearly 40 mine workers who were striking. When will we (adults) ever learn? It's still 'blowing in the wind'.

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    1. Anon, thank you so much for adding your perspective. What a touching, eye-opening comment. This completely supports what I say about the importance of understanding your demographic and your children's and families' backgrounds.

      The most important message you give in this is that you TALK about what you do. Explaining actions and talking about feelings are so important when it comes to delicate subjects like this.

      What a difficult job you have there. I wish I could reach out and hug you, actually, because you sound like you are doing such a wonderful thing for those children.

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  12. Hi Annie. Wonderful post - I agree! I also think a lot of boys do the gun thing, but don't grow up to be aggressive. I like your thoughts on experimenting with power. We are talking about little people who probably do feel quite powerless much of the time. A bit like adults who watch violent movies but wouldn't dream of being violent themselves... Love your blog! So happy I found it!

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  13. Thanks Greta- so glad you're finding the blog useful. I know that my son enjoyed some quite violent video games during his adolescence, and that made me very uncomfortable- yet he would never dream of raising his hand to another real person. And I enjoy watching the TV show 'Dexter', but that doesn't make me a serial killer and it doesn't mean I condone violent revenge. We have to be careful of jumping to extreme conclusions about children's play that we would never draw about an adult's recreational choices.

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  14. Hello fabulous Annie. I have a question/situation for you that's not related to this post specifically. It's about my sweet J and our current childcare situation. He's been going to the same place since he was 1 (and he'll be 3 in a couple weeks). It's a home-based montessori daycare and the woman who runs it is full of love and joy and makes amazing organic food for the kids. I love her. So for the past month or so, nearly every time we get ready for school, he goes 2 mornings a week, J says, "I don't like my school," and is often very clingy when we get there. If I can get him engaged in something, he's usually happy for me to leave, but sometimes, I have to pry his little hands away from me and leave with him crying. I've tried to talk with him about why he doesn't want to go. He has said that he's worried about some boys there who have been rough with him and so we talked with his teacher about it in front of him, asking her to please keep him safe and letting her know that J was worried. The whole conversation went well and I felt great. The other day, though, J said that he wanted to go to Childwatch, which is the childcare associated with the gym I go to. I found this a bit alarming, since he was actually preferencing one form of childcare over another. I'd always just assumed that he wanted to be with me instead of going to school, which I understand. But his mention of Childwatch made me wonder if that's his way of saying that this childcare situation isn't the best for him. The other thing about the current situation that worries me is that there's been a lot of staff turnover at his school. His teacher usually has 2 helpers, and since J has been going there, her helper of several years left and since then it has been very unstable. At this point I am concerned, but not sure what to do. I love his school and think it is a good, loving, safe place but am beginning to wonder if it's the best fit for him. When I think of moving him to another school, I worry that the same exact thing will happen, and we'll go through that whole upheaval for nothing. So there you have it. I eagerly await your wisdom!!

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    1. Sorry for the delay in replying, anhonestmom! I have had all sorts of stuff happening here and your query fell through the cracks. :(

      I am in two minds here about what to do because I don't have quite enough information.

      First, it's not unknown for a child of this age to have a new bout of separation anxiety; he may have associated the gym childcare service with you being in close proximity. Have you asked the teachers at his Montessori care what happens after you leave? Does he settle quickly or fret for hours? If he frets for hours, change is definitely indicated. In this case you should definitely be listening to your child's signals about the service, regardless of what you think of it.

      If he settles once you're gone, then he is still having a problem with the actual separation rather than with the service. A transition routine which is the same every day can help here- transitions are SO important. You can work out something that works for you (say, a special breakfast with mummy, then when you get to care you read him a story, then you kiss and cuddle once, leave him with the carer of his choice and then GO) and repeat it regardless of his tears or clinginess. The carer should ring you if he can't settle- I gather this hasn't happened?

      Changes of staff can definitely be unsettling at this age. It's a difficult time, but the same thing happens in other settings so that in itself is not a reason to move. You really need to be a fly on the wall and find out what happens when you're not there! You should be able to rely on the staff to tell you this- but if you are still worried, perhaps some surprise visits are in order where you pop in and observe without him seeing you (if possible!).

      I hope this helps!

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  15. I stumbled upon your blog this evening and just wanted to say Thank You for considering the children of military families. We live on a military base and have for the past four years. There are things that sound and feel comforting to us because they are familiar and because we know their purpose and we are proud of the people we know doing these jobs. In much the same way that the sound of a train whistle blowing close by at night can either be comforting or alarming depending on your context, we hear the sounds of helos and jets; gunfire and bombing range practice, drills, marching and cadence.

    There is also so much more to our community than just guns and war. My husband once said to me that people who think military members love war have it all wrong - it's actually because they love peace so much that they are willing to stand up and stand in the place of those who cannot fight for it. Almost every military member I know feels that their job is an act of service for their fellow human. They are philosophers and poets as well as warriors. It's frustrating to often feel that our community is defined by others who have never lived it or taken the time to learn the nuances of our lives. So too can our children feel ostracized and shamed by civilian teachers and schools. The military is often treated and talked about as a group of big, dumb war-mongering animals who mindlessly obey orders. To a child who sees the intricacies and the beauty of this world, the integrity and character that is demanded of his or her parent, this is often confusing. A world without national military would be the same as every town being without a police force. We'd all like to think everyone would behave, but it's simply not possible to live like that no matter how much we may wish it wasn't necessary.

    On a personal note as well, I have never understood the argument against toy guns. If you step back and look at the reason that is most often given - because it's a dangerous weapon - then you have to ban everything and anything that can be used as a weapon, not just pretend guns. It seems to me that by making children deny they have any other feelings than the socially accepted ones we don't allow them to figure out how to handle and work through the more explosive feelings they have.

    In our house, we understand the guns are locked up in the armory; and being familiar with guns means knowing you never, ever touch a gun. My daughter knows you never, ever point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot; and you never shoot without a purpose. That probably sounds alarming, especially considering she is 6. But she has also never handled a gun and never afforded the opportunity to play with a toy gun that we purchased. We don't talk about guns, but we don't deliberately not talk about them either. Children will make one out of anything... she made hers out of a toilet paper roll, a paper towel roll, tape and two long paintbrushes. She came to us one day out of the blue and told us she made a paintgun! Quite clever, and she uses hers to paint, not shoot. Being matter of fact about guns seems to take away their fascination around here.

    I personally don't like guns either, but only for myself. And fear of guns makes them dangerous. Healthy respect makes them a tool and keeps the user safe. I know this ended up a bit off topic, but I wanted to share our family's perspective.

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    1. Love to hear your thoughts, Laurie. You sound like you have a very sensible attitude to this issue.

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  16. Thanks for great information. You write it very clean. I will back again.
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  17. Very well thought into! I live in a rural community and have the same kind of issues, more surrounding using guns for hunting and duck shooting. This is very helpful and I will be showing it to my colleagues

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  18. Have you read "Forming Ethical Identies in Early Childhood" by Brian Edmiston or "We don't play guns here:War, Weapon and Super Hero play in Early Childhood" by Penny Holland. Two excellent books on the subject that helped me better articulate my beliefs on gun play. I allow it with the children in my preschool. I do a lot of listening to the play and documenting. I take it back to the children and get their insights.If I find myself getting tense I ask them "Is it real or pretend." they always answer pretend. I think sometimes we adults get real and pretend mixed up.

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    1. Thanks for the tips on the books- will look them up! Love your strategy, and your self-awareness.

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  21. When my daughter was about 4 yrs old, we went to an agricultural show and she was able to chose one toy to buy. On careful consideration, she chose a gun and reluctantly I bought it. As with all toys, it was played with at first and later relegated to the toy box along with other toys - the less fuss made, the better. Our only rule was that she was not allowed to point it at people "We shoot at targets, not at people". She has grown up to be a normal adult.

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