Author: Say yes to toy guns, bombs and bad guys
I have a love of contrarian authors so I was eager to see what the author of It's OK Not to Share had to say. It's a new book by Heather Shumaker, a journalist who writes about parenting and has long advocated free unstructured play in homes and schools.
The book, subtitled "Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids," has provocative chapter titles like "Let Kids Hit and Kick" (substitute targets are OK; people never); "Go Ahead: Let Him Hate the Baby!"; and "Kids Don't Have to Say Sorry" (Better to focus on taking action to make things right and eventually they'll say "sorry" and really mean it)
The one that caught my eye was titled "Bombs, Guns, and Bad Guys Allowed." She acknowledged that weapon play scares adults so much that many families and classrooms ban it. But she argues that shooting and swashbuckling is an unstoppable energy that needs to be respected.
I've always felt that way, too, but I have to admit that the horror of the massacre at the Batman movie in Colorado makes me flinch to read that.
Playing with toy weapons will not make a child violent. Respect a child's right to play, she urges.
She argues that war play is as legitimate as playing house. We had a childhood of cap guns, water pistols and Star Wars re-enactments, why can't they? Kids use weapon play to explore deep human themes of right and wrong, power and protection. Early childhood experts say imaginative play, including war play, gives kids a chance to practice being compassionate and helps develop their moral compass. So violent play has the opposite effect of what we fear. Instead of creating violent people, it gives kids a chance to act out their fears and conquer them, she writes.
Her bottom line is it's OK if it's not hurting people or property. Reinforce the no-hitting policy, that it's OK to pretend to slay a dragon but "people are not for hurting." Another rule she suggests is to ask permission first. If the other child doesn't want to play cowboy or doesn't want to have leaves thrown at them, you have to respect that.
She suggests easing into it if you feel uncomfortable, maybe allowing swords but no guns. (What's ironic is they are more likely to hurt another child with a sword banged across the head than with a gun across the room shouting "Bang!") Also, when you see them turn their graham cracker into a gun, you will likely find yourself easing up.
And of course in addition to all this war play, you should teach real gun safety. As in never touch a real gun and if your friend wants to show you a real gun, say no and tell an adult right away.
What do you think readers, are you comfortable with war play or does it make you nervous in light of recent shootings in the news?
--Sharon Kennedy Wynne
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