Santa brought my 5-year-old son a Nerf gun. If you told me years ago when I was pregnant that this would happen, I would have told you that you were crazy. I was going to have a “no toy weapons” household.

I get that kids will make their own weapons out of sticks, blocks, or even their own hands. I just wasn’t comfortable putting the weapon in my son’s hand myself.

In the United States, toys, books and movies centered around play fighting are marketed to young boys at an early age. And, as the saying goes, “boys will be boys”, and I knew my son might love play fighting or be friends with others who owned full toy arsenals. I assumed we’d have to deal with it someday; I just wasn’t sure in what form.

As my son started to develop his own interests, weapons were not one of them. He enjoys safe things with rational explanations: tools, vehicles, science. We have our share of fantasy play with Tigger & Pooh, but he has always been spooked by things that are too fanciful and things that in real life would be concerning, which includes all things related to play fighting.

Star Wars, Transformers, Pirates…all of these were completely anxiety provoking to him.  If we were at the playground and someone showed up with a toy sword, he would ask to leave. Our stays at Halloween parties were over the minute the first Storm Trooper showed up.

I don’t want to paint him as nervous all of the time. He is a happy kid. He’s just into what he’s into. At 3 years old, his favorite tv show was “New Yankee Workshop,” an instructional woodworking program here in the States. He was obsessed with tools. I even found him taking the hinges off his bedroom door with a screwdriver!

I must admit that early on I loved that my son couldn’t be bothered with weapon play. I thought that if he wasn’t into it, I wouldn’t have to worry about him pretending to shoot up the nice grandmas at the park. But, what I came to realize was that while he couldn’t be bothered with weapon play, weapon play bothered him, a lot.

As he got older, I saw how a paralyzing fear of play fighting could hurt him socially in regards to running with the boys. I am ok with him deciding to not participate, but I didn’t want him fleeing from the playground and cowering by his teacher.

So, my husband and I began Operation Toy Weapon Acclimation. We knew if we broke things down for my super literal, hands-on son to a how-it-works level, he would be more comfortable and not fear this in the same way. We started with a foam sword.  Next, we got some water guns.

And, while my son doesn’t like being squirted, he LOVES chasing and squirting his father. We also expanded his Lego collection (building blocks) to include some Star Wars kits, where the mini-figures come with tiny guns and light sabers. He was totally interested in hearing the stories of the movies (which we told at a very preschool level).  And, we introduced him to the superheroes of the Justice League.

We coupled these toys with discussions on respectful weapon play. We talked about what it means to pretend fight, and how do you know if what you or someone else is doing is ok. We talked about what to do when he wants to join in or doesn’t want to join in. We talked about how it’s make believe, but we also talked about true weapon safety in the real world.

To this day, 9 times out of 10 my son will choose an activity that has nothing to do with play fighting or weapons, which I’ll admit still makes me happy. My agenda is not to turn him into some preschool soldier. I just want him to have a basic understanding of the things that most little boys are into so that he isn’t terrified when someone on the playground is pretending to be Darth Vader.

I want him to understand what constitutes respectful weapon play. I don’t want to make him more anxious, but I do want to validate his concerns over violence in a way appropriate to his age and understanding. And, I want him to have confidence in the choices he makes on the games he will play and not feel pressured to do anything he isn’t comfortable with.

At a recent playdate, the kids were wrestling.  I overheard normal kid threats going on, which formerly would throw my son into a tizzy.  But he was totally in on it for a while before emerging for a break. He told me, “that game was getting too crazy for me,” like it was no big deal, and then he moved on to something else. I was so proud of him. He stayed in the thick of it while it was fun and then calmly left when it wasn’t. I can’t say giving him a sword made this happen, but I don’t think it hurt either.

So this last holiday, my son enjoyed his new foam shooting rifle with light up scope.

He still doesn’t want to be “attacked,” but he can mess around with the mechanical parts of the toy and have fun shooting with his father.  Whether he ever wants to play fight isn’t the issue for me. It’s about him understanding his own mind and emotions, making choices with confidence, and respecting those around him. If he can do that, then I will feel like he has won the battle.

Have you addressed play fighting or toy weapons with your kids? How is this type of play regarded in your culture? What rules or guidelines have you set for your household? How do you handle it with other parents/kids who have differing philosophies?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara B. of Washington (State) USA.

Photo credit to Tara B.

Tara Bergman (USA)

Tara is a native Pennsylvanian who moved to the Seattle area in 1998 (sight unseen) with her husband to start their grand life adventure together. Despite the difficult fact that their family is a plane ride away, the couple fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and have put down roots. They have 2 super charged little boys and recently moved out of the Seattle suburbs further east into the country, trading in a Starbucks on every corner for coyotes in the backyard. Tara loves the outdoors (hiking, biking, camping). And, when her family isn't out in nature, they are hunkered down at home with friends, sharing a meal, playing games, and generally having fun. She loves being a stay-at-home mom and sharing her experiences on World Moms Network!

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