stick ‘em up, or else I will calmly reason with you

Hi Chris.

I’ve been a big fan of your blog for a while
now. It’s the one blog I read every day. My question
to you is about your sons and toy weapons.

My one son who is 10 is very much into pretend battle
of one sort or another; jedis, knights, combat, spy
missions. Even though I won’t buy him toy guns, he has
toy swords and lightsabers etc.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of any of your
kids with toy weapons. My question is… Are your sons
not interested in battle gear toys just by their own
nature or have you outlawed that kind of play or do
they in fact pretend to be all sorts of knights etc?


Oooooooohh! One of those devisive parenting questions. I love those.

Before I had children I thought that I was going to raise peaceful, loving, calm, kumbaya singing children. Children who would enjoy sitting in a circle and using their words and “putting love in their hands” (Which as an aside, just smack me now. I totally used to say that to my boys when they were little and would act like they were going to hit or throw something in anger. Gag.)

Then I had children, boy children to be exact. Swirling balls of testosterone with limbs. My list of absolute do’s and do not’s has become shorter. My child will never list has become almost non existant, and, at the very least, I have learned to keep it to myself. I have evolved as a parent.

A long winded way of getting to where I am now in my parenting.

The boys from the beginning liked to make guns or swords out of sticks, toys, and even dolls that I had so thoughtfully bought to encourage their loving, nuturing pretend play.

I do allow guns, swords, light sabers… in theory. The reality is that they have very very few since I usually encourage them to purchase something else with whatever money they have. I will not buy them these things. There is something about that type of play that makes me uncomfortable and I have explained that to my children. And they have listen to me and told me why they think I am wrong.

The only guns that they have are the old style “pirate guns” that they all bought with their own money at Disney World. Would I have prefered that they buy something else? Yes, I will admit that.

My children have appealed to me, “But pirates need guns and swords.” or “Policemen need guns to catch bad guys.”

My children are weapon owners.

But I have my own weird rules about this ownership that are difficult to articulate. I don’t allow violent play. But what is violent play? The only way I know how to answer this is to say that I know it when I see it.

They are not allowed to pretend to hurt someone. This means that they can not point their gun at someone’s head. They can not say they are going to kill someone. They are not allowed to threaten each toehr. They are not allowed to make someone else unhappy in their game (this applies for all games).

Mostly there has to be a reason for them to be running around playing with weapons, not just randomly shooting at each other. The weapons have to be an accessory to the make believe game that they are playing. So they frequently will play pirates and set up “camps” on opposite sides of the yard and have an elaborate make believe game that involves trying to capture the other person’s camp. The guns become a minor player in the game, much like a princess needs a tiara I suppose.

I have a friend whose son has every weapon under the sun and no rules or instructions about how he is allowed to play with them. She is my role model of what not to do. I hate going over to their house for play dates because of this. It has gotten to the point that if we go over there, which is a big if these days, I tell my boys in advance that they are not allowed to play with the weapons at all and need to think of another type of game to play with their friend.

I have no problem stepping into the games that my boys are playing and encouraging the play to go in a different direction or stopping the game altogether if I do not like the direction that it is taking. Much like everything else in parenting, it is a give and take, a compromise that is constantly being negotiated bewteen us. One in which I am never entirely comfortable, but encouraged when I see my boys negotiating with their words and “putting love in their hands.”

18 Responses to “stick ‘em up, or else I will calmly reason with you”

  1. Susan Says:

    My kids have always had some weapons, too (Buzz Lightyear laser guns, cowboy-type guns, swords, lightsabers, etc.) BUT we have the same rules about not pointing them AT anyone else. My kids love to dress up as “Army men” (very prissy daughter included!) in camoflauge clothes, and run around hiding behind corners and pointing their guns at imaginary bad guys.

    My kids have never been the rough-housing types, either, though–not even my son (who’s otherwise very athletic & active). I see other boys who are constantly kicking/hitting/tackling each other–and quite aggressively, I might add–and I have to say that I’d almost have them playing with weapons than doing THAT! The beating up on each other thing makes me really nervous!

  2. socalmom Says:

    My solution to the weapon conundrum was to store all weapons(guns, swords, light sabers) in a rubbermaid box. If their play got too violent or they started to pretend to kill one another, we put them all back in “the weapon box” and they could try again tomorrow

  3. jody2ms Says:

    I learned early on that boys will make weapons out of sticks, other toys, and anything in the house that they could get their hands on. We have an old toy western gun, light sabers, and a ninja sword from a Halloween costume.

    We have the same rules about playing with them, though they don’t always follow them…at those times, the object is taken from them and they move on to something else.

    I really have an issue with the Star Wars games on Play Station. All of Cory’s friends have them, and after talking with one friend whom I really trust, we broke down and bought him one. I hate it, and it is going “bye bye” into that great, mysterious video game place in the sky (e-bay).

    Great post!

  4. InterstellarLass Says:

    My son will make weapons with his hands. I’ve had to tell him that he’s going to lose a finger if he “pretends” to shoot his sister again. So far so good.

  5. Nan Says:

    And your daughter, how does she deal with this? Play with the weapons, or not? I only have daughters, and don’t remember much weapons fighting. (they are grown up and my memory is selective, however)

  6. Debbie Says:

    I considered buying my eldest a wooden sword for his knights role-playing. Then I looked at his toddler brother and his precious head and gougable eyes and thought, no way.

    Boys have numerous ways to vent their aggression and I don’t think toy guns make them *more* violent. The notion that children know there are boundaries and that under no circumstances is it OK to hurt others - even in pretend - and enjoy it, is important.


  7. Caren Says:

    My son also has the pirate gun from Disney, although his favorite thing to do is to turn off the lights and shoot it at the wall, floor, etc. to see the “bones.” He also has a pirate sword that he loves. I guess I should be more careful, but he loves play stabbing his father to hear him groan. Hmmm…. I’m rethinking this one.

  8. Heather Says:

    I HATE guns (let me just say that up front). I don’t think they make kids more violent. I just HATE them.

    I have never alllowed my kids to have toy guns. A couple of water guns have finally filtered thier way into our home this summer(gifts from friends who did not know my feelings on them, and one from my FIL who DID - which in my opinion is EXTREAMLY disrespectful).

    My feeling is this, I do not want my child to play with anyting that looks like a real weapon. Guns are tools for police officers and military personel, not children. I teach my children that they are NOT toys they are serious buisness.

    Yes, he still makes them out of sticks and paper (although the paper gun shot out “gumdrops Mama!”) and I talk to him about WHY I don’t like gun play. I don’t take his homemade ones away, I do however redirect them if they start shooting at each other.

  9. Stephanie Says:

    Anything can make a good gun if you are a boy. Duplos = giant swords and guns. How about a Barbie? Stretch her out along the top of your arm because all that hair makes a great gauntlet, grab one bent leg and shoot from the other. And twice the sound effects if sisters see it.

  10. Gwen Says:

    I’ve tried really hard to keep my 3-year old from playing with guns and the like. I taught him that we never say “I’m going to kill -fill in blank.” And I won’t let him say that his little superhero guys “die,” although it’s hard to explain to him why just now. My rules are much the same as yours, although I’m surprised at how many of his friends’ parents have no problem with this kind of language and behavior in their children’s play.

  11. T in HD Says:

    I started out with the same ideas about toy guns. So my son (and now my daughters, too) just made them out of whatever he could. It must be a boy thing because he didn’t watch this stuff on TV or get it anywhere else I can think of. He still wants toy guns and I still can’t bring myself the buy him any (the kids do have squirt guns for hot weather in the back yard, but they’re more interested in the water than the guns when they play with those). They do have swords and my son just recently made himself a bow and arrow but that stuff doesn’t bother me like guns do. Don’t ask me why. Maybe because they aren’t playing “kill each other” when they use those? I don’t forbid them to build guns out of Legos, sticks and every other imaginable material (paper???) but I do draw the line at how they play. They rarely threaten to “kill” one another or even aim their “guns” at each other but my son has gotten carried away once or twice and I’ve drawn the line. I just cannot tolerate violent play of that nature. It makes my skin crawl. So, I feel like a bit of hypocrite, like I should either allow it or forbid it all completely. Instead, I’ve found a middle ground, much like your own Chris, with which I’m comfortable. The way you tell it makes it sound more like a realistic compromise and not so wishy-washy or cop out like I’ve been feeling. Along with the “no violence” rules we would have in our house, I also imagined my children would ever eat candy or sweets, either. HA! Reality hits hard.

  12. chris Says:

    Oh yes, my children were going to vegetables for snacks and be happy about it. Until I actually had the children…

  13. zookeeper Says:

    Swords and light sabers are ok. I just blew up a couple months ago at my nearly 14yo because he bought an air gun of some sort that looked like a real pistol and his 4yo brother found it. I went into the tirade of why I never bought toy guns, why I feel it’s important to not blur the line of real gun and fake gun (because this thing looked real, except for the color), and how kids can’t discern the difference, etc. He thought I was off the wall, but I put my fut down and said when he’s an adult and supporting himself, he can purchase all the guns he wants- real or fake. As long as he’s not an adult- I make the rules. I also used this as an opportunity to find out if any of his friends had real guns in the home, what he would do if someone wanted to take one out to “check it out” or something.

    Long story short- 14 years of no guns, or confiscating guns some well-minded (grrrr) relative bought for him to stick to the “no guns” rule and he still goes out and buys his own toy gun.

  14. JTS Says:

    Another Amen Post. Even my girls will fashion guns from fingers or socks… yes, socks. I’m not sure where it came from– boy cousins? I tell them consistently they may NOT shoot each other, and I never buy toy guns. But this turned in to a Nazi concntration camp rule when my kids threw their sibling’s shark shaped squirt gun in the trash because it is a ‘weapon.’ I know what that was about and I retrieved it and explained that squirting isn’t the same as shooting and as long as everyone was having fun, it was okay to do that. Next we’ll have to ban all the old windex bottles…..

  15. Lisa Says:

    I’ve gotta say, I just try to encourage my son (and daughter!) to be the good guy and shoot at pretend bad guys!

  16. Claudia Says:

    Thanks Chris! for your thoughtful answer. I have resorted to allowing weapons that are ‘fantasy’ based from either the distant past or the far future. I viscerally can’t tolerate any realistic, modern military gear. My son uses his light sabers etc in imaginary play like your sons.

    The tough thing with my son is that strategy, battle and weapons of one sort or another occupy his mind in every undirected moment. He’s a sweet loving wouldn’t harm a flea person but military thoughts are his focus. Without watching TV or violent movies he has osmosed a ton of information on battle of every kind.

    My pacifist husband comes from a long line of military men and sometimes I wonder if my son’s basic love of all things military could possibly be in his genetic makeup. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the nurture around here so maybe it’s in his nature.

  17. dollymama Says:

    “putting love in their hands” (Which as an aside, just smack me now. I totally used to say that to my boys when they were little and would act like they were going to hit or throw something in anger. Gag.)

    That statement right there pretty much sums up why it’s so difficult for me to be friends with new parents. I used to do stuff almost as bad as that (snort) and once you snap out of it, it’s hard to take…… ;)

    I have 5 boys and we’ve always had light sabers, pretend cowboy style pistols, homemade bows and arrows, pop guns, and as some have gotten older they have gotten bb guns and real hunting weapons. They play with their weapons a lot but as I read what you said about knowing what violent play looks like, I realized that my kids really don’t do violent play. They chase bad guys, they hunt for imaginary deer, they have sword fights. Seems perfectly normal to me.

    They’ve been taught basic gun safety even with their toy guns (such as not pointing them at people) and they follow those rules most of the time. Seems like a good way for a family that hunts to teach the kids the “rules of the road” as it were.

  18. LesLee Says:

    I have to add my two cents. My husband is a cop, and as such my son likes to dress and play as he does. So, he of course needs a gun…just like daddy. But, Daddy has only used his gun (actually fired) during training and test. He has never used anything (gun, taser,…) except the OC spray (pepper spray). He uses his words, common sense, training, and most importantly his radio and other officers as back up. If your kids want to play cops and robbers maybe you could tell them about these facts and if you are really bent on no guns, and they are equally bent on playing cops you can make them go through an “academy” first, they have to run several miles a day, read tons of books, even have spelling tests. (Make them memorize their miranda rights!) You could do this with anything, pirates have to be able to read maps, dig holes, and use only one hand (the other is hook!), just think about it and you’ll have your kids playing these same games without even touching the guns.