Little Boys and Guns (and Swords and ...)

Archived Q&A and Reviews


2.5 year old's violent imaginary play

May 2011

My 2.5 year old son is in day care 3 days per week. This week he suddenly started making pistol fingers and ''pioo pioo pioo'' noises. I was shocked because he has never seen a toy gun or even a picture of a gun in my presence, and this is certainly not something I was ready to deal with! I said ''that's a strange noise, what are you doing?'' but he moved on to talking about something else. But talking to my husband about it later, he said he'd observed our son doing the same thing. He also told me (more worryingly!) that he and son had been playing an imaginary game involving an imaginary cat, when son said that he was going to ''cut the cat with a knife'', or similar. He apparently explicitly said something about wanting to ''hurt'' it. My husband responded with ''we don't ever hurt animals''. (I should say that in all his encounters with real live animals, my son is unfailingly gentle and loving).

I'm torn. On the one hand, I know it's important for children to use imaginary play to explore morality and territory that's off-limits in reality, and I want him to feel safe exploring these things with us. On the other hand, I am extremely disturbed by fantasies about hurting things, and a little paranoid that we're raising a psychopath! I'm also concerned about where he's getting this from (I presume another child at daycare). I don't know of him hitting other children, though the daycare staff say he often will hug children who don't want to be hugged, sometimes with excessive force. He does sometimes bite, kick and hit me, especially when over-tired, and then will bawl when I immediately put him down and walk away.

So, Berkeley Parents, I would really value your feedback as to how normal this behavior is and how concerned we should be. Is it a phase most children go through, or is it something we need to take special care over (e.g. seeking professional advice)? Should we speak to the staff at the daycare center about this? THANK YOU! Pacifist

Welcome to having a boy (mine is now 6). Most likely, the gun play will only escalate as he gets older. Presumably at some time he will grow out of it. This is totally normal, though it's maybe a little younger than some to start it. But this is what boys do. I've met a few boys who aren't interested in playing guns/shooting/stabbing/swords/blasting/killing but it's probably on the order of ten percent of them. Most parent of boys I know have come to accept this. Those who don't, struggle and fight and squash it in their boys and get mad at/isolate their children from boys who do. Meanwhile, whenever the parent isn't there, their boy is playing such play because he can finally get away with it. Most parents of boys, including us, went belly up a long time ago and realize it's not a big deal. We put down a few ground rules - no guns in people's faces, no shooting projectiles at people - and we periodically talk about what killing/shooting really mean. Often the response is an eye roll and ''Mommy, it's just a game,'' making me feel like the idiot for investing a boy's play with too much adult baggage.

Don't worry about raising a long-term gun nut or violent psychopath. It's very unlikely. Think about all the grown men you know. Probably 90% of them played guns when they were little. How many of them are violent killers? Probably not many. Playing violent games as a little boy does not turn you into a violent man. Parent of a 6-year-old gun nut

Congratulations, you have a male child. That's what they do. And as you can see, that's what they do naturally even when not bathed in TV, toy guns, or other violent culture.

You say he's ''unfailingly gentle and loving'' in real life, and his main problem at daycare is occasionally hugging people too much? Chill out! The violent play is his way of trying to understand the mechanism and consequences of violence and pain in a safe way -- to ''game it out'' in his head, understand it, ease his fears. It serves important purposes, not the least of which is that it's fun for him (and doesn't hurt anyone).

As Michael Thomson likes to say (paraphrased), ''Play violence is not real violence, and we lose credibility with our children when we fail to be able to distinguish the two.'' Father of a boy; and former boy myself

There was a great article about boys and guns (swords, spears, etc) in Mothering Magazine a few years ago... horrified pacifist parents with their little warriors running around shooting people with their fingers...

Little boys know they are small and feel disempowered, and yet they are SURGING with testosterone! They grab a stick, a toy gun, a sword and use it to feel empowered!

There was a time (around 3.5) when my son would not leave the house unless heavily armed. We're talking 3 or 4 swords, a dagger and a gun. Granted, these were all fake. And one day when playing with a fake gun, I started to lecture him about the dangers of firearms, and he looked at me with this ''you sad, silly woman'' look on his face and said ''Mom, this gun is pretend.'' He was 3.5!

I have a friend wouldn't let play guns in her house, so when her son came over to my house, the first thing he would do is go to the toy box and arm himself.

This has nothing to do with media or school influences. Little boys have been arming themselves since time began, because they FEEL SMALL and need desperately to feel like they can handle whatever is out there. My son used to talk about protecting me A LOT. Just go with it. Mine is seven now, not violent in the least, gets along with everyone and understands the dangers of real guns. I'm less certain of my friend's son, I think he would be the one to pick up a real firearm if he found one. Unfortunately it would be my kid he would accidentally shoot. You just have to teach them the truth and understand their need for self empowerment. Buddhist with a (fake) gun

I really distinguish between truly imaginary gun play (pointed finger, stick, etc.) and realistic-looking toy guns. I agree that lots of kids (and not just boys) need to act out violent thoughts and images (when I was pregnant with my second, my first frequently ''baked babies'' in the toy oven). But to me, the tragedy of real gun violence just made me too uncomfortable having imitation guns in my house. Maybe my boy wasn't as into gun play as some, but I felt better knowing he didn't own any imitation guns (yes, he probably played with them at other kids houses, but to me that's not the same as owning them in our house). That was our house rule (which my husband agreed with, by the way - one of the few things we agreed on from the start!) mom of a boy and a girl

Gun play at preschool

Nov 2008

My 3 1/2 year old son just started at a new preschool that we were very excited to join. But at his first day there I noticed that a lot of the boys did a lot of talking about guns, bad guys, shooting, killing and other violent things during their play. At one point in the day the kids each had an opportunity to share with the group a story that they had made up. Almost every boy's story had similar topics. I was quite shocked. The school philosophy is to allow it, saying that if they ban it or make a big deal about it it makes it worse. My son has had no exposure to this kind of thing and has never mentioned guns. I have read all the posts on BPN that say this is a normal, if unpleasant, stage that kids (mostly boys) go through. Most posts reiterated the school philosophy, suggesting that if you ignore the behavior it lessons. Still, I have a hard time with this being sanctioned in the preschool setting. Any input? Confused about guns

I think that age is when they start talking about death and fighting. My son did it even though he had not seen a gun. Our school has a policy against guns as toys or even superheros (toys or shirts) but they do it anyway. I think at that age they start expanding their world view and the death/gun thing is a way of exercising some control. My son didn't know what a gun was or was called but when he was about three, he got mad at me and pointed his finger at me (not quite in a gun mock position) and made a popping noise. I said, what are you doing? He said, I'm shooting you. My husband said, what are you shooting mommy with? He said, my popping thing. I don't think this play or even exposure to guns necessarily makes them violent. I grew up in a gun culture and didn't turn out that way. Neither did my brother who lives in Texas and is a conservative Republican. The tendency to become some sort of shooter type may just happen in spite of trying to protect them from it. About 15 years ago, I met a couple who said their kids would be completely protected from voilence and weaponry. When they got into their tweens and beyond, they were not the nicest kids and both became FASCINATED with guns and other weapons as they got older so I think it's better to not make a big deal of it at this point. mom of a boy

Are our boys in the same preschool or what?? Yes, boys, especially when engaged with other boys, are gun crazy. As I'm sure you've heard, they will make weapons out of the most innocuous things. I read a good article in mothering a couple of years ago that addressed the phenomenon: bang.html What I gleaned from it is that how the preschool is handling the behavior is appropriate. My rule at home is no shooting at any living thing. So no shooting the cat, the neighbor or mom. Tina

I have three boys who went to two different co-op preschools.

Neither of the preschools allowed kids to bring in toy guns, swords, light sabers, blasters, etc. I think this is a pretty standard practice in Berkeley. They also had a gunplay rule, even pretend gunplay with fingers or legos or Matchbox cars or tinker toys or crayons or carrots or bread crusts or juice boxes or etc.

Our most recent preschool was quite relaxed about this policy, and its enforcemnt largely depended on which parents were participating on a given day. The other preschool was much stricter about enforcing the gunplay rule. At this school, children who lapsed into gunplay were quickly corrected, and participating parents were constantly reminded to be vigilant on the playground! Some parents sternly enforced this, others adopted a don't-ask-don't-tell policy. The little boys found very creative workarounds. For example, art projects that involved large sheets of paper quickly evolved into projects to make light sabers out of rolled and taped paper. (Since the teacher had never specifically mentioned light sabers, that was allowed for a time.) I started out as one of the Stern Enforcers, but eventually lightened up a bit. My big boys still complain occasionally about only being allowed squirt guns that were shaped like animals. Hey, that's the price you pay for living in Paradise, I tell them. We could move back to Alabama.

At any rate, if you are unhappy with your preschool's policy I think you might consider looking around a bit, because there are lots of preschools that have quite strict policies about this. Surviving the testosterone

Hello, I would also be distressed by what you're describing. The preschool both of my children attend/ed does not allow guns, even pretend guns, and would discourage discussion of violent play like that. Even though this will not make it go away completely, I think it is very important for adults to be clear that this violence and violent play is not OK with them, and encourage other non-violent imaginative play. Many boys are not interested in gun play, and I would be worried that some may even feel pressured to play along because that seems to be the norm in this place. Good luck advocating for a more non-violent place for your child! Alma

I bet you get a lot of impassioned responses to this one. I'm a preschool teacher myself, and I have thought long and hard and read long and hard about this one. But all I'm going to offer is a great book on the topic, Who's Calling the Shots? by Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane Levin. It's a very thoughtful book that may help you to sort out your ideas. Nanu

In a word? Yank your kid out of there. No, there's nothing wrong with a school filled with gunplay. But your child WILL pick it up. The question is: do you want that to happen at this time? And by the way, My child is eight, I have been to or been around quite a few preschools, and this is NOT the norm!

My kid started with the gun stuff at about 7. When he was young he was sheltered from it, which was great, because he got to develop other interests before the rat-a-tat-tat thing started.

Hold fast, do whatever your gut tells you to do. If you can't do it in Berkeley, where can you do it? :-) not a gun fan either

4-year-old is obsessed with guns

Oct 2007

my 4 1/2 year old is obsessed with guns. he talks about them all the time and wants us to buy them for him. I finally broke down and bought him a ''laser shooter'' and the a pirate pistol for his halloween costme. I want to say enough is enough and stand by my value system. He still wants a real ''looking' GUN. I have now entered into what feels like a reactionary power struggle with my son and my partner (who feels i am making it worse by resisting it). I have lost perspective. I don't believe in buying guns for play. He is fascinated. Help with advice please.

THis is not all that uncommon. You could take your son to a shooting range (he may be too young...maybe there are ones for littler kids) where he can safely shoot a gun. HOw about a gun museum? There are ways to let him learn about guns, handle them in a safe environment. As he gets older if he's still into guns there are ways he can own collector guns (no bullets of course), go places where he can safely shoot, etc. Some of my son's friends own b-b guns or air guns. These kids have been taught responsibly how to use these guns and are never allowed to shoot them without an adult supervising or it will be taken away permanently, no warnings! There are ways to make it work. I agree that if you forbid him it could be trouble later on, as with anything. good luck. pacifist mom

I have 3 boys who are gun crazy too. Everything turns into a gun; sandwich; stick; socks; tv remote. We have purchased them toy guns in the past and our rule with that is the gun MUST BE TOY LOOKING. No ''cap'' guns with sounds, no plastic silver western looking guns, nothing with wood, silver gun colors. Another strick rule concerning guns with them is that they are to NEVER imitate a gun with their fingers. mom

Many little boys are obsessed with guns or other forms of weapons, and with fighting. With my own child it is swords, daggers, axes. He does like guns also (and Transformers, and Pokemon, and battles of all sorts... sigh). And he is characterized by everyone who knows him as thoughtful, kind, and empathetic.

I think that banning guns will probably be a losing battle. Your son sounds like the type that, if he does not have a play gun, will shoot things with sticks (as is mine). Many little boys are like this.

I'm not crazy about guns and fighting either, but I chose a different set of rules: no pointing guns at people. That seemed to work a bit better (he can still shoot the monsters, or whatever). I also, when I play with him, tell him that I do not like to play fighting, so when he plays with me, I want to play something different.

I actually read an interesting article awhile back, when first struggling with this issue, that suggested that guns and fighting are boys' way of struggling with the notions of good and evil, and that some amount of such play will actually be beneficial for their moral development (girls tend to do this differently, and in a way that we as mothers can relate to). While I have no way of knowing if this is true, it actually seemed reasonable to me, given the degree to which otherwise ''good'' little boys engage in violent play (even when they don't watch TV, or have any other source of violence being modeled for them). Karen

My son now 6 also loves guns and swords. He does have all kinds, and play with it imaginary games. What I think it is great! I grow up in Brazil and played cowboy with my brothers all the time. We had toy guns that really look like the real think so did all my friends. We all tuned out alright we don't go around shooting anyone. The problem with that is playing with other kids, that parents do not accept the idea of playing with guns. I haven't found a place that sells guns looking like the real thing . Cowgirl

Everything is a gun to 3-year-old twin boys

July 2003

I was wondering if people could offer some experience with boys and guns. I have 3 year old twin boys and everything is a gun. I mean the forks, the napkins, the blocks, etc. What is it from? What should I do? They watch some KQED and a few movies and videos. I thought I was choosing pretty non-violent stuff. I don't watch adult TV around them. We have tried talking to them about it. They don't have playdates with other kids. They get some at pre-school. But I want to raise non-violent boys. Any thoughts...thanks.
mother of future NRA members

This is an interesting thing about boys and violence. Parents can be exceptionally careful to keep the idea of violence, guns, etc. from their young sons, yet they *still* go through a phase of dealing with guns, violence, sword play, etc. Observing this over the years has led me to the conclusion that this is entirely normal.

I too have 3 (1/2) year old twin boys and the exact same thing is going on at our house. EVERYTHING is a gun and since they always have a friend (their brother) to play with they are always shooting at eachother. It bothers me a lot and both my husband and I agree that we don't want to support violence (no toy guns, violent video games or movies.....) However, there is no point in forbidding them from playing this way because it will only make it a bigger deal and more appealing for them to do so. They get it from school. Basically, what is important to me is thay they know that guns are dangerous and that they can hurt people and they never ever touch a gun. If they ever see one they get a big person immediately. I don't know how much this has sunk in at this point but I hope that as long as we are consistent about this then eventually it will become common knowledge to them. There is so much exposure to violence in our society. I can only hope to help them navigate through it safely and intelligently. To forbid them from having anything to do with it is not preparing them for what they will inevitablly come up against. Good luck mother of two space ranger laser gun shooters

I was raised by a fiercely pacifist mother who was horrified by guns and gunplay. From an early age I was fascinated by guns and made them from any available materials. There are pictures of me from as young as three years playing with toy guns, my mother having realized by then that she was powerless to prevent it, and that it was distinct from and not generative of real violence. We didn't have TV and I was otherwise sheltered from the culture of violence. The fascination with guns seems to be an inborn proclivity shared by almost all boys of a certain age. I ''played army'' up to the age of twelve but learned pacifism from my parents' example, have never been in a fight, and have never owned a real gun, though I had plenty of toy ones, including ''machine guns'' and even a bb gun. My advice is don't sweat it, it's not what you think; Though testosterone related, it's creative play, and really harmless. Save your energy for things like getting them to clean up clean up their room. Bill

Don't worry about it. When I was a boy I had lots of pretend guns, toy soldiers, even played ''war'' in the woods. Yet I grew up to be an anti-war protestor. Playing with guns does not make one into an adult gun-lover, any more than kids who knock over towers of blocks grow up to be arsonists. Jim

I'd be reluctant to admit this in a group of Berkeley moms but I don't think guns are that big a deal.

My siblings and I weren't allowed to watch TV but I recall that we pretended that tree branches were ''swords'', trash can lids were ''shields'', and there was lots of gun play with any pointy shaped object we could find. I think kids are naturally curious about weapons and forbidding it makes it more desirable.

When I was a teenager my Dad took us target shooting and showed us how to safely handle weapons. He grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania and was very comfortable around guns.

I have 2 young children now so don't own any guns but occasionally go to a firing range with my cousin (she's a police officer) because I enjoy target shooting. --Mom who can shoot straight

Not being the parent of a boy, I wasn't going to respond originally, but then I saw all the posts, and found myself chuckling over the memories they aroused. My parents were also, as one respondent put it, ''fierce pacificists'' (I love that!) and strongly opposed to toy guns and war play in general. But then my little brother got to be about three, and pretty soon, sandwiches got chewed into gun shapes, etcetera. Eventually, my parents relented and allowed him to have some war toys, and my brother went through a really horrifying stage of war enthusiasm, co-mingled with the whole ''I'm a ninja'' thing. But here's the point: as a teenager, my brother became a conscientious objector to the draft, and now he is in his thirties, the gentlest, kindest, most nonviolent man you'll ever meet. He has no desire to own guns, has never hit another person in anger, and in fact seldom even raises his voice. So I have to conclude that gun-fantasy-play is just an unfortunate but normal part of male childhood in our culture. And maybe it's a necessary catharsis of some very heavy business? Pacificist's big sister

5-year-old is obsessed with swords, guns, etc.

Dec. 2002

Since there's been a discussion about Barbies and girls , I thought I'd ask about toy weapons and boys as I didn't see anything in previous postings. My son is 5 and obsessed with swords, bows and arrows, guns etc. We have not allowed him to have any toy weapons but he fashions his own out of sticks/spoons/whatever. He is not an aggressive kid but I still won't play with him when he makes a pretend weapon (I generally say, ''I don't like playing with weapons even if they are pretend--how about we play 'X' instead.'') I have monitored his video watching and have banned certain ones (thank you Disney) as being too weapons focussed. He recently got a squirt gun as a gift--we called it a ''squirt toy'' and he looked at us with pity, as it is a squirt ''gun'' as far as he is concerned. Reading the Barbie posts made me think that maybe we are making too big a deal of it and that these toys are gaining power without ever being in our home. Should we give in and get him a toy sword?

First, you can't keep boys from making weapons. My son watches almost no TV, and nothing violent, yet he still is into weapons. Second, given you can't get rid of them entirely, what is important is that you teach proper and responsible usage of a weapon. For example, swords hit only other swords. If a sword hits a person, tree, furniture, etc, the sword is taken away. (Note: for this to work, though, you must buy 2 swords, not just one!) And third, a plastic sword with a rounded end is a lot less dangerous than the sharp pointed sticks he's probably using now!
A mother of a completely boy's boy

Like the Barbie issue,I think sword/weapon play for boys is natural(I sure didn't teach my boys to want to play fighting....they just started doing it so I think it's an inborn boy thing). My 7 year old still plays with swords and does what I call playacting with his figurines, etc. I've never encouraged guns, never bought toy guns, but even their pretend guns I would suggest they shoot at imaginary enemies, or their toys, not at real people. My 11 year old is no longer into weapon play (except on electronic games) and seems to be pretty well rounded. I think any toy/activity that is forbidden can easily become an obsession. Better to allow moderation with some guidelines and boundaries.
mom of 2 boys.

My advice is, don't worry about the guns. When I was a kid I had lots of toy guns and toy soldiers, I watched war TV shows and would play war games with my friends. And I outgrew it, as did all my peers, and as a young adult I was protesting against war. From what I can tell, there's just a phase when little boys are fascinated with good and evil (''bad guys'') and conflict. My advice to you is play with your kid. Sometimes he'll want you to be the bad guy so he can kill you. Let him. I don't mean you should allow yourself to be physically hurt, but when he shoots you, make dramatic sounds and die, or better yet plead for mercy and promise to be good if he spares you. He probably won't, then die anyway. The main thing is to let your kid win.

Until I had a son, my firstborn is a girl, I always thought I would be absolute about allowing any sort of weapons--gun, swords, etc. Now that I have a pre-school age son, I am more governed by intuition and by the moment. While I would never by my son a mock AK-47 assault rifle, I have capitulated to buying him a set of foam(ish) swords, reiterating how we feel about hurting or menacing people with the sword. Frankly, he can take or leave the swords now that he has them. The times that he has used the swords with a friend I have heard my articulate 3-year old son say that we can use these for fun play but we can't hurt each other or put them in each other's faces. It is precisely this casualness my son has developed toward the swords that tells me that I have done the right thing. In fact, my son's favorite use of the sword is to conjure up an imaginary enemy and feign that he is protecting the princess in the castle--his sister in the treehouse. In the meantime, another boy whom me know, whose mother has prohibited not only the use of swords, etc. but also language like ''I am a warrior,'' or ''Halt, otherwise I will get you with my sword [pretend],'' seems fairly obsessed by anything military, etc. Maybe there is something to the adage, ''Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.'' My son's very sweet, very gentle, very measured disposition has not changed at all with the advent of owning his foam sword. And! I think there is something to be said about letting a child invalidate something for him/herself, with the parents' governance, of course.
Pacifist Mama

Before my boys (now 6 and 8) hit about 5, I thought the same way. FWIW, they have never watched commercial TV (they are starting to watch the Food Network on ocassion, though) and had very little PBS exposure. Only books. I've since come to recognize (they are very good teachers :)) that boys (we'll see about girls; mine are only 3 and 1) need outlet for agression. We can channel it so it isn't hurtful (against any living beings) but I really feel that it is ''natural'' and ''normal''. I still will not allow toy guns in the house, but we have swords - they will one minute play with sticks aggressively and the next play with their sister's dolls.

I would encourage play as an outlet for agression (play is really the way that they figure everything out) but to channel it so that it isn't hurtful against you or any living thing (ants, dragonflies, etc.)

My 9 y.o. guy has never been super into weapons, but like most kids (including many girls), he has liked that kind of play at times. In our house, we still have a strict NO GUNS rule, but that applies to toys sold as toy guns only. If he or his sister fashion weapons out of tinker toys, we don't forbid it - but (like others) we have difinite rules about how it is used (no weapon can strike a person, and if it has a projectile, it can't even be aimed toward a person). We let him know why we are opposed to toys that look like guns - that there is a lot of gun violence in this world that hurts real people, and we prefer to play in ways that do not copy this. Now, I know a the bad guy-good guy thing is imprtant for kids to play through, but I don't think ''killing'' is the only way to deal with this. And I know that kids have a need to express their anger/aggression in some way. But would we let our kids ''play rape'' because it can get their aggressions out? Of course not! I don't think that one must allow gun play to meet psychological needs. There are lots of healthy alternatives that don't require ''killing'' the bad guy. (Capture him, lock him up, teach him better ways, ...). One last thing - many toys, such as Playmobile and Lego sets, come with guns. That's been hard to avoid, but we still strictly prohibit gun toys meant to be used by the child. So far in our house, there hasn't been a lot of complaint about this.

2 1/2 year old's enthusiasm for guns and swords

Oct 2001

I'm at a loss on how to deal with my 2 1/2 year old son's newfound enthusiasm for turning toys or found objects into guns or swords and the resulting play. He'll brandish something and declare he's going to fight me, or hit me, or (after another reading of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back) kill me with his popgun. (not just me, by the way, but dad, the dogs, anyone he's interacting with) We don't watch TV, but he's picked up this kind of play at daycare (where it's discouraged too). He doesn't actually hit anyone. I know it's typical behavior, but don't know quite how to react to successfully redirect or discourage. I've tried turning swords into magic wands, talking with him about how fighting hurts, asking him why he wants to shoot whatever, telling him I don't like to play that way and walking away, etc. etc. I don't want to turn a toddler molehill into a mountain, but I don't like this kind of play. Is it just an inevitable, normal stage we should ignore? (as my husband thinks). Any insight would be very much appreciated! Karen

My advice is to not make a big deal of it, but do feel free to set some limits of your own: I don't play that game, or, We don't play gun games at our house. My feeling is that gun games, like chasing games or any number of other examples, are allowed only when all parties agree to it, and the environment, such as the daycare or home, allows it. L. Carper

From my experience of having a boy and being around many other toddler and pre-school age boys, this is extemely common and normal behavior. A friend of mine said her son would help make a salad by tearing lettuce into gun shapes. So, anything around, like fingers, becomes the gun. My solution in our house was to set up rules for some things and ignore others. Like- no pointing fingers at any people. Sticks used as make believe guns can only be played with outside and, again, no pointing at any people. Otherwise, I decided to give it as little energy as possible. Then my brother gave my son 2 water pistols, which I never would have done. I decided to not take them away, so the rule was he could only use them in the bathtub, and could not shoot any people (he sometimes takes a bath with other kids). My son is now 4 1/2 and the gun play is mostly over. If your son sees how upset or annoyed you get, it's only more grist for his mill. MBernstein

Our house rule is no pointing guns at living things . Other than that, we have allowed guns and gun play, which I never thought I would. My son is almost 11 now and shows no propensity towards violence... I think a gun ban would have been counterproductive, conflict-promoting and ineffective, because as you've already noticed, anything can be a gun to an imaginative child! Deborah

I have a 4 1/2 year old and we went through the same thing - and we're still going through it to some extent. I have come to the conclusion that boys just have this hard wired behavior. Not in all cases, but in most that I have had contact with. My advice is to just not worry about it too much. Don't put too much energy into it. They'll move through it eventually. - chris

I've been using a technique to help model more desirable behavior using his dolls when I find my son doing the undesirables. It's hard for a parent to see their child act like a brat, even if they're naturally that way sometimes at this age... unless they learn otherwise. My son is about 2 1/2 and I made up three plays where his two dolls were in conflict and then proceeded to resolve the conflict by sharing. I did this over a period of 2-3 days, and to my astonishment, we've seen our usually greedy child offer a truck to a friend and then a few days later, suggested that he would share a play blankie during a tug- of- war with papa. Have others found constructing plays for children to work? I'm planning to use this technique on some other issues such as eating green vegetables, going in the potty, etc... Susan

I'm a mom of three boys and I can tell you that this is what they do. Even if you refuse to buy them guns, they will eat their toast into a gun shape and use that! The boys who visited our house who weren't allowed to have any guns were often the ones who were most obsessed with them, so I don't think it's a good idea to make a big thing of it. I only ever bought my boys water guns (shaped like animals) when they were little; as they got older they had the giant magnum 10-gallon water guns. I thought water gun play was fun though I always gave them my editorial opinion about guns, swords, etc. -- a common refrain around our house now that they are older is Mom, you think EVERYTHING is a phallic symbol. Ginger

a good friend of mine has recommended the book Who's Calling the Shots? How to respond effectively to children's fascination with war play and war toys, by N. Carlsson-Paige & D. LEvi. she says it's helped her talk to her 2.5 year old boy about his fascination with shooting, guns, etc... she got it at Jessica

Guns are a powerful symbol. The gun wielder is in a position to control other people. It seems to me that this is something a toddler can't resist. Most boys, myself included, engaged in gun play. At the age of a toddler I would ignore it. To make an issue of it is to play into the power play dynamic. He'll likely loose interest when it gets no reaction. When the child is older, it is important to be sure he knows that gun play of any kind is not acceptable. At the very least you should keep in mind that police consider anything that looks like a gun to be a gun.

My father kept guns in the house since we were infants. We were instructed by word and example that guns are not toys. The guns were handled only to and from target shooting, cleaning, and instruction. They were never permitted to be loaded in the house or away from a target range. I would suggest that you take a gun safety course even if you don't own a gun. Ask lots of questions and don't be intimidated by jargon. Gregg

I guess I'm with your husband in believing this behavior more likely to extinguish if you don't draw attention to it. My son, now almost 10, makes the traditional set of weapons noises, plays video games that can sometimes get a little violent (there's an understatement!) and has an absolutely clear concept of the difference between fantasy violence and real violence. He also is known among his peers as a good, fair, and non-violent kid. Except for checking in with him now and then on that line between reality and fantasy, I try consciously to stay out of it.

We took the same attitude on sugar at an earlier age...what's not forbidden is not as tantalizing as what is... and found that he is less obsessed with junk food than many of his friends who live in healthier environments. Good luck. Heather

Most kids go through the cowboys and indians phase, although today it's more likely to be jedi knights and Darth Vader. Most kids understand the basic concept of good and bad early on. I don't know of any child who doesn't role play. It is a normal part of development and they do grow out of it.

Kids that never watch TV and are never given guns for toys will still use their fingers to pretend they have a gun or a laser or a turbo-charged molecule zapper. I thought I would not have to deal with this if my son was not allowed to have play guns, of any kind. I made a point of not allowing my relatives to give him any, not even squirt guns. So what does he do? My son made a laser gun out of his Lego's.

Your son is at a high energy stage in his development (the terrible two's) and he has a lot of aggression as most two year olds do. He's exploring his world and seeking out boundaries. As long as he's not hurting anyone, let him have fun. Try to have fun with him. Changing swords into wands is a good attempt at changing the situation to a scenario you can live with, but two is pretty young to understand the world of fairies and magic. Good guy/bad guy is a lot easier.

There really is nothing you can do about it to stop it altogether. He's using his imagination to be a hero, to save the world from whatever monster he's come across. He doesn't understand about mortality yet. He's only two. You can try to route this creativity towards another platform, like art, but the violent imagery may still come out. Let it and it'll eventually wear itself out. Marianne

I have a 3-1/2 year old who is going through the same thing with gun play. He turns everything into a gun and is going to shoot everything. I do discourage it, but have found the less attention I pay to the problem the less he seems to do it. I think really believe that it is a normal gender specific phase that boys go through and I really don't think that there is too much you can do about it other than do your best and ride it out. It can be really embarrassing though when you are out in public and your son is shooting everyone. I was recently flying with my son and that was quite a challenge trying to keep his guns out of the airports. I am glad to see that I am not the only one out there that is going through this. Hang in there. Cheri

Having 2 boys (10 and 6) I can agree with all the other parents who have written to say that boys do gun play, like it or not!! We've never had toy guns in the house (water guns, yes) but they do chew their toast or cucumbers into gun shapes, or use their fingers, or broomsticks, or another toy. Our rule, like other families: they can shoot at pretend bad guys. No shooting at real people or animals. Both boys are pretty much past that stage now. I agree that giving it too much attention will add fuel to the fire. Good luck. June

I was in the exact same situation when my son went through this [disturbing] phase. The best advice I got was to redirect the play into a fire rescue game. That way, he can still shoot a fire hose and the play can be active and aggressive, but it's for the purpose of helping people/animals rather than hurting. It doesn't work every single time (does anything?) but it went a long way for us. Sheryl