Holy social media par-taay! I have to say, this was one exciting experience guest posting at Merelymothers. Here is hoping to some more parenting conundrums so I may throw my hat into the ring of guest posting again.
What I hope came through in the post is not that I am anti-gun--I am afraid of guns and admittedly ill equipped with negotiating how to respond to Miles's burgeoning interest. I want him to be educated about the topic, and I certainly don't want to stifle his age-appropriate imaginative exploration of the world, but it's a tough situation to untangle.
There was a lot of good insight and suggestions--and just my luck--two respondents are experienced early childhood educators who gave me permission to provide their thoughtful responses in the space below. (Yes, the following 2 contributors are part of my family: Mom and Bro. I never claimed to be free of nepotism or bias.)
So, I guess we can say these are 2 guest posts in response to a guest post! (It's like my husband's favorite wonder of the world: a tow truck towing a tow truck.)
The Mother's/Grandmother's Response
As parents we are often confronted with situations for which we are
totally unprepared and ill equipped, and if our immediate reactions are
less than ideal, we need to forgive ourselves. Hopefully we can reflect
afterwards (or solicit more expert advice), and determine to respond
more effectively in the future. A good goal is to learn to cultivate
measured, thoughtful, and questioning responses to any unexpected
situation: stay calm, ask for more information, and think before
erupting with emotion (easier said than done, I know).
Young children are trying to figure out the world and their place in
it. They are intrigued by things that are forbidden, dangerous, or
scary. In fact, they are often drawn to the things (movies, TV, stories,
fireworks, etc.) that also scare them most as they are attempting to
make sense of things and master their fears. They seem to instinctively
know when words or things are verboten and will often try them out to
see what kind of response they get from their parents. The challenge
for parents is strike a balance between letting children know what is
acceptable/unacceptable in their family without making their children
feel bad about themselves.
SO. With the gun incident, Miles was undoubtedly trying to figure out the meaning behind the pop gun used in There's a Nightmare in my Closet.
We read that passage to him with expression, and it made an impression
on him. He learned the power of the weapon that made a scary monster
cry. It gave the character power over the monster. SO. Assuming
you hadn't had a lot of baggage about guns, you could have asked him
where he got the idea for shooting a gun, and hopefully he could have
told you. Then you could have had a short, reasonable
discussion about toy guns, and you could have expressed your
feelings/family rules about guns without making him feel like a "bad
boy" for being intrigued by guns. You could have told him firmly but
calmly that you don't like having a pretend gun pointed at you, and that
most people don't like it either. As you note, he used his fertile
imagination to create a gun for himself - Score one for imagination! It
could have been a banana, a block, a stick or any long object that boys
typically use. At our school we didn't over react when our students
began to play guns, but we firmly and calmly told them that we didn't
allow guns at school because we want children to feel safe at school.
Cultivating an attitude of questioning is important to gauge
children's interest in and understanding of whatever is at issue. You
want to be able to take into account their developmental level as well.
The famous example is when discussing the issue of "the Birds and the
Bees". When children ask where babies come from, parents often launch
into a long technical discussion when children just want a simple
answer. By questioning children we can determine exactly what
information they want, and give them just that much and no more. Hence,
an explanation offered to a 3 or 4 year old will be quite different from
an explanation offered to a preteen. Similarly, a discussion about guns
would be different for an almost 4 year old than for an older child.
The challenge and joy of parenting is that while we never feel
totally competent about our parenting skills, we grow together with our
children and learn more and more about parenting as we go along.
The Brother's Response
As a preschool teacher, this is something I struggle with
everyday. In the post-Columbine/9-11 world, this is not a laughing
matter, but watching the fascination with guns and weapons develop from
the earliest age (usually in boys) it seems like something of an
inevitability. Our policy at school is that, “Weapons are not allowed at
school.” When asked why (and with preschoolers you are incessantly
asked, “why”), my typical response is that weapon play can be scary to
some children and school is a safe place. Thankfully at this age,
further discussion is not usually necessary.