Children are naturally curious about everything – especially firearms. But researchers are discovering that children’s make pretend play with fake guns doesn’t mean the child will be violent. In a recent Slate article, Melinda Moyer dissects several psychological studies aimed at finding out children’s motivations for playing with guns. And the deeper into the research Moyer goes, the more she seems to discover that violent or aggressive pretend play doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with social interaction.
“Aggressive behavior in pretend play is different than actual aggressive behavior in real life,” says co-author and Case Western Reserve University child psychologist Sandra Russ.
A central push throughout the article seems to be that yes, children will be curious about firearms. Many may not listen to instruction when regarding them. But make pretend playing with imaginary guns does not, in of itself, constitute anything that should trouble or bewilder parents.
Some big strategies for helping your kids use make believe guns to work through situations:
- Roleplay through situations with them
Levin adds that if there are aspects of your child’s play that make you uncomfortable—maybe your kid is always talking about “killing” bad guys and that makes you cringe—try to engage and perhaps even redirect your child.
- Don’t try to stifle their fun
“Kids are going to make guns out of sticks and clay and that’s fine—that’s pretend,” [Case Western Reserve University child psychologist Sandra] Russ says. It’s best not to stop them, because doing so might shame them. Plus, Sanfilippo says, “if you make it too big of a deal about it, they’re going to want to do it more, and they’re going to do it behind your back.”
While many psychologists believe make-believe play with pretend guns isn’t a bad thing for children, Moyer goes to great lengths to warn readers of the dangers of unsecured firearms in the house.
It’s true – children are extremely curious about firearms. It’s always important to lock up and secure firearms so that children cannot have access to them. The Slate article cites plenty of statistics relating to the incidences of violence or death caused by children gaining access to their parents’ firearms – so there’s no need to reiterate all of them here. For concealed carriers with families, this is always a big concern. On one hand, we train to always react with a loaded, ready firearm and on the other hand, we have to accept some amount of risk in order to ensure our children are safe. This fine line is best determined by the concealed carrier and situation awareness.
In the meantime, turns out it’s perfectly fine for your child to pick up a stick and pretend it’s a rifle. (Duh.) If anything, working through these situations may help your child acclimate better to social situations later on.