Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The dreaded question

After preschool today, Sidamo asked, "Mommy, what are guns?"

I replied, "They're things that people use to hurt other people. And animals. Where did you hear about them?"

"Carter* told me. He said he plays with them at home."

So, seasoned parents, what to do? We're a pacifist household (mostly—Greg has some strikingly non-peaceful reactions to bagel sandwiches, snowboarders, and musical theater). We don't do guns, talk guns, play guns. I do know the school of thought that children, boys especially, will find/create/imagine firearms where none exist, but Sidamo just doesn't strike me as having that personality. He's generally gentle, relatively empathetic … But maybe all moms think that about their kids.

And of course I don't want to give guns some sort of mystique by banning their mention in our house. So where's that line, between outright ban and gentle dissuasion?

* Name has been changed to protect the little weapons-pusher.


Mark and Sarah said...

Don't jump the gun (hehe, lauging at myself ;)...he may just be curious and you may be totally right that guns just aren't his thing. I would take the 'wait and see' approach. Unless he has gun action demonstrated to him (or sees it on television), I don't think he's going to start pretending to shoot people down. I think what is thrilling to boys about guns is the cause and effect. Someone once described it as "competence". Boys want to be able to master things, and girls are more inclined to "connect." Boys feel empowered when they shoot something and someone falls down. If he does begin using air guns and such, maybe try letting him do other 'funny' physical cause and effect games. For example, let him give you a high five, and then fall down, like he really put it to you. I remember reading something about how to deal with this in the book "Playful Parenting" too. It's a good book anyway, so might be worth borrowing from the library. Okay, my novella is done and I'm off to bed. Good luck!

jayme said...

Deirdre, I love your response, and I also love Sarah's comment / suggestions.

I think I'd respond similarly to you, and then open up the discussion for why I don't like guns (but also making it clear that it's my opinion). I do rely a lot on empathy and trying to get my kids to see other perspectives.

I never mind talking about tough things with my kids. But it definitely would surprise (and scare) me if either of my children ever wanted to play with toy guns. Like you, I just don't think violent "toys" mesh well with either of their personalities. But who knows?

cathy said...

You did exactly what we do. We explain what guns are, that as for our family we would never touch one, that we have no use for them, and that they hurt people. I've never bought a toy gun ANYthing for my boys because I am so against them. They do have lightsabers, though, and if you wanted to get nit-picky with me you'd argue that those are no better. Both boys have Tinker Toys, Legos, and K'nex and yes, they've made guns with them. Mostly, though, it's some kind of crazy contraption that shoots candy at good guys and lava at bad guys. I let them get it out of their systems, but we are very clear (and talk often) about our personal philosophy on guns (and war, for that matter).

lisa said...

Just to add to everything that has already been said well-teach him that guns are dangerous and need to be treated with respect regardless of how you feel about them. Obviously you won't be sending him to Carter's house to play-and I may need to know who he is-but there are lots of people who own guns that you would never guess, and kids are curious.
I feel VERY strongly about this because, when I was in high school the kids my sister babysat for got into their father's gun case, playing, and accidentally killed my friend's younger sister who was playing with their little sister. These were not irresponsible parents, and my mother is still friends with them-father was her surgeon a few years ago, because he's the best in his field. But it's not enough to lock guns up and say hands off. Kids need to know, at a young age, just how dangerous they are.

rebekah said...

I was shocked as well when Quinn started this gun thing awhile ago. At the kindergarden orientation, (not because of Quinn), the teachers made it very very clear that no type of pretend gun, sword play or anything of the sort, even making your fingers into a gun, was acceptable and that the school had a no tolerance policy. Well, even though I kind of agreed, it got my dander up that there was no room for boys to work it out and learn about the danger of guns.

So I called a close work friend who is (gasp) a Republican and a hunter who is also rational. We talked about the importance of truly understanding how guns work, how guns are not for little kids, and that he thought the school's approach could be detrimental in the long run for children who are around guns. Lots of hunters here in Wisconsin.

Within our family, we take basically the same approach as Cathy does. When Quinn asked me what war is - I did not hold back.

Part of the issue is developmental, and even at the age of 5, Quinn's world runs between real life and make believe rather fluidly. He doesn't even quite understand the concept of death yet, so understanding what guns do is not yet there.

sujatashende said...

hmmm...Honestly, my most dreaded question is, "Mommy, what is McDonald's? Carter says his family eats there all the time and it's yummy!"

First of all, I'm amazed that Sidamo hasn't latched onto guns at all yet. Atticus will try to make things into guns and play with them, though we do not keep any gun-like toys in the house. He understands that we don't like guns or approve of playing with things like guns because they hurt people. While I was surprised the first time he did this, I'm beginning to see it as a bit inevitable especially after talking to other parents with older boys, who have all since become well-adjusted people.

I agree that you can't just not talk about guns or what they are, since it only means that he'll get that info from someone else who may not have the same ideals you do.

And as for media, my kid doesn't watch much TV, but there is violence in much of it even if it's mild--even the Toy Story creatures have guns and lasers. I'm not convinced this really matters. Most of us grew up with Yosemite Sam shooting pistols all over the place, and it didn't turn us into violent people.

As with most things at this age, I think the important thing is to make sure he knows how you feel about guns and why they bother you, but in the end, it's child's play, not the beginning of a downward spiral. :)

cathy said...

i came back to add something and the previous comment already touched. "What's a gun" is not the worst question you'll ever get. So far I've had to field "What's Hooters?" "What's a tampon?" and "Will you count to 2,000 with me?"

Anonymous said...

However you feel about guns, you have to teach him gun safety.

He should know what to do if he sees a gun, what to do if his friend has a gun, what to do if an adult near him has a gun, ... You won't always be with him and he should know what to do. (And at his age the thing to do is not touch it and to leave immediately unless you are with him.)

While you may not be an NRA fan, they do have some good information about how to teach kids gun safety: stop, don't touch, leave the area, tell an adult.

Cindy said...

You might want to steer clear of Bugs Bunny cartoons and actually, just about every classic kids/family movie (like Old Yellar) ever made. It didn't take long for our kids to start running around pointing their fingers (or sticks, this they picked up from the neigbor kid I am sure and he's a very good boy!) and making what I am pretty sure to be shooting noises after a few of these shows (I'm sorry but I just think BB cartoons are hilarious and a big part of my own childhood that I wanted to share and sometimes mama needs to get stuff done without toddlers wrapped around her ankles . . . and . . . and). They're not very good at it however, and they don't do it very much. I believe the thrill is mostly in the funny noises and chasing each other. Not too happy about it but then I remembered, oh yeah, there's no way in hell they were going to grow up and not figure out what a gun is . . . my boys will be boys but they are so good at being good boys too :)

Liza said...

I have told you before about my pacifist son and how for about 3 years he needed a "sword" by his side at all times? Never really got into guns, but he did turn his entire cooking set into a weapons arsenal: avocado grenade, grape gun, and of course, the plastic chef's knife was his sword. His teachers even made an exception to the "no weapons" policy and let him carry his little chef's knife with him all day. He slept with it. Eight years later, he's a raging leftie writing political screeds against the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East and the horrors in Sudan and DR Congo. I wouldn't worry too much about Sidamo. He's got the right parents. He'll be fine.

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