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Violent Play

Posted by Patience on January 29, 2010 at 6:41 AM in Raising Boys
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"You're down, you're down!" Sam yelled as I rounded the dining room corner. I apparently had accidentally walked into an all out play war. Lego guns and zoob bombs had been constructed and of course, the tiny space gun Jack got the last time we went to Chuck E. Cheese when Aunt Katie was visiting.

It was a playdate, two pairs of brothers and the violent play was pretty intense. They mapped out hiding places and had strategies. Four school age boys running around in our tiny house made it crazy enough, but what about this particular play? Kids have been playing cops and robbers, even the very old cowboys and indians for years but I have to say, violent play has always bothered me.

We have had a pretty strict "no gun" rule in our house, real or toy, up until the space gun. The boys received some wooden swords and shields years ago that seemed okay and gave an outlet for the play. The next christmas they got marshmallow shooters which were actually fun, but other than that we have managed to keep them at bay. Even with all the gun prohibition, lately they just started making their own. I discovered how wildly creative you can be with some cardboard and black electrical tape. Do boys just crave violence?

For whatever reason, I totally surrendered to the play this day, I even pretented to die when I was shot in the hallway and made a joke to please spare the baby. They giggled and ran away, it looked like they were having the time of their lives.

With our recent school troubles and the fact that I grew up in a house of four girls, I wondered if I'm just missing some things about boys. The Raising Boys section turned out to be crazily informative. I found this to be pretty interesting:

"Mothers are always saying to me, 'Why is my son racing around, not talking, and not listening? Why is he obsessed with playing war and shooting? What's happened to my sweet, vulnerable little boy who used to cuddle with me?'" says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. host of the documentary RAISING CAIN and co-author of the book of the same name. "This is a valid question, because no one wants their son to grow up to be violent. But interpreting play as an early indicator of violence is a misunderstanding both of the nature of boy activity and the real journey to violence that some boys undergo."

So now I am off to watch Raising Cain to quiet my mother heart. I'm still not sure about the toy gun issue. What do you think? Do you allow play weapons at your house? What are the rules when it comes to violent play? Share your thoughts about raising boys in the comments.


Nicole writes...

We had some toy guns growing up. Old West cowboy types, cap guns, plastic suction dart guns, etc. Even an air gun. But the standing rule (law really!) was that you were to never point any gun or weapon of any type, toy or otherwise at a person or animal or any live being. Hunting was a limited and very defined exception. There was zero tolerance for any modification or justification otherwise. I am 31 now and this principle is still burned in my head.

Jess writes...

I had no idea Raising Cain was available online! Adding it to my must-watch list. I have a copy of "Real Boys" that I have been planning to read, as well.

Making guns out of legos or kids pointing sticks at each other doesn't provoke a visceral response in me, but I'm sure my own childhood of stormtrooper make-believe helps with that, as well as my experiences as the mother of three boys and sister to three brothers.

My thoughts on this are far too broad for a mere comment, but here's the nutshell version: aggression is not the same as aggressive play. Working out social concepts through both emotional and physical aggressive play (girls tend to use the former, boys tend to use the latter) is absolutely normal. The danger zone is when kids are actually being aggressive with each other, or when one child's play is perceived as aggression by another. That's when I think parents need to step in with intervention or redirection. If a child gets "stuck" on a certain type of aggressive play/exploration this may also signal a need for some adult assistance with figuring out what that form of aggression is all about. I've seen preschool teachers do some really interesting work with kids by "slowing them down" in the art studio and getting conversation flowing.

Tamara writes...

I have let my 4 year old have toy guns. I haven't instilled the no pointing the gun at people rule yet and I'm hesitant to do so. We have talked about guns and real guns will hurt you so it's not nice to point them. I have a hard time with it because as kids, we played cowboys and indians and pointed the toy guns at each other - how else are you supposed to pretend die? My father had a gun cabinet full of various weapons from pistols to rifles. We knew from an early age those guns were real and we were NEVER allowed to touch them without permission and supervision.
We knew the difference and never crossed the line. We have all turned out to be productive, well functioning middle-aged parents with no aggressive behavior issues.
I look at like, it didn't hurt us, it won't hurt my son either.

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