Saturday, April 28, 2012

Imagination Station Part 3: The Response

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.

As a child growing up, I had various forms of toy weapons from Star Wars blasters to G.I. Joe assault rifles. I immersed myself in everything medieval and obsessed over knights doing battle, causing all types of bodily harm. I recognize this same fascination in my young students, and in some ways feel like I am fighting a loosing battle trying to curb their bloodthirsty imaginations. I say, “No weapons at school,” and their guns change dramatically into fire, or lava, or tornadoes. At 4, we’re not equipped to say, “I’m so frustrated with you I need to yell or walk away.” (Maybe even at 34), but the sentiment expressed by saying, “I am going to shoot you!” is the same, coming from a mind that doesn’t understand the true power of firearms or the permanence of death. All that they know is that a gun is a scary, loud thing that is off limits and therefore imparts power and excitement.

I’ll close with a borrowed anecdote. My boss, the director of my school, has two wonderful (now teenaged children). When her son was a student, he was afforded all the benefits of having a mother who is an expert in the field of early childhood education. He was not allowed to watch violent television, or have weapons for toys. Guns were not discussed, over even a part of his understanding at 4 y/o. One day he was particularly upset or frustrated with his mother, my boss, and said, “I am shooting power at you!” With no knowledge of actual projectile weapons, the same desire to exert power through space to harm another person was expressed. It will happen. It is inevitable. Our job as grownups is to frame these experiences, channel these impulses, and guide our children to be peaceable people. 

P.S. In full disclosure, I am the brother of the author, and shot countless pretend guns at her while growing up.

Great experience everyone!

1 comment:

  1. I love the image of a tow truck towing a tow truck!
    It's helpful to read Nicholas's perspective balancing the responsibilities of being a preschool educator with memories of being that little boy enthralled with guns and power. Again, it's a universal kind of impulse. For girls it takes on a different form.