Should Kids Be Allowed to Play With Guns? Read About Melinda Walden's Gun Play Experiment! by Mike Prochaska

Should Kids Be Allowed to Play With Guns? Read About Melinda Walden's Gun Play Experiment!

Do you allow your children to play with guns? Do you think if we allowed kids to do more gun play they would get tired of it and move on to other things? Do you think that if we allowed kids to do more guy play they would understand guns better? In the world of child care, gun play isn’t normally allowed, at least here in the U.S. But children pretend play with guns; make guns out of LEGOs. How is a parent supposed to stop them? What if there was a better way?

I had an interesting discussion about this with Melinda Walden, who does many workshops on risky play and gun play based on projects she has done. Melinda is a teacher at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada, and has worked as an ECE teacher. Her gun play experience involved kids 5 to 6 years old. 

Q. Can you tell us about your gun play experiment? 

"I live in Canada, so we have very different gun regulations and that's how I framed my project. The kids had to sign up for a firearm license and had to take a safety course, which was a paramedic and police officer to come in to talk to them, and their parents were welcome to stay."

Q. How did you start this project?

"Once I got everyone on board with the project, I had the children sign up for firearm licenses. I told them they had to sign up with their real name because in Canada they do background checks, so they had to give accurate information. One child signed up as Batman and even after explaining that he will not get a license if he lies on his application, he still signed up as Batman. He didn't get a license when everyone else did because he had to re-register. 

"One girl asked if she had to. I said, 'No, it is your choice.' And she said she did not like guns and would never play it. I even suggested she could sign up for one and never use it, in case she changes her mind and she still said no – because she did not believe in guns. And she stood up for her right not to use a gun and told the other children why every time they asked her to play."

Q. Did Batman ever get to do gun play? 

"He did after he re-registered. During the waiting period we had a police officer and paramedic come in to talk about guns. What to do if they saw a real gun. How they are to be stored. Here [in Canada] they have to be locked up. The police officer talked about how she had never actually shot anyone, and that she hopes she would never have to. It is only used as a last resort. 

"The paramedic talked about bullet wounds and the impact of being shot. Parents and children asked questions for an hour and even little Batman, who can’t sit for five minutes for a circle time, sat and talked for an hour. The rules were: they had to have their license on them if they were playing. They could not bring in any toy guns – they had to make them out of LEGOs or craft material, which was interesting. They knew lots about guns and the different kinds. I found this out while they would explain as they made them."

Q. Can they play however they want with their gun?

"Yes. They could play anything they wanted. I saw hunting play, military play. Little Batman once put his gun over his shoulder and walked back and forth by a group of girls playing with a doll house. I asked him what he was doing, and he said protecting them.

"One time I walked into the room at the beginning of my shift and Batman ran up to me and pretend shot me in the head with his hand. He saw my face and he quickly begged, ‘Do you want to play with me? Sorry. Do you want to play with me?’ I told him how I felt. I said when you did that my heart dropped and I felt really sad and scared. Because you did not ask me. He quickly gave me a hug and said, ‘Sorry, can you please play with me?’ I told him that I came in that day ready to play but if he did it again I would take away his license and not play with him anymore. And he asked me every time after that.

"Every time something like that happened we got them to feel empathetic towards each other and talk about how they felt. I did not tell them what they could play or not play. Most of the play was adventure-like play." 

Q. Would they shoot each other?

"Yes, if they both agreed to the play. We would stop it only if it got aggressive, and by aggressive, I mean as soon as one person was no longer having fun, then it was no longer play. I had quite a few children whose parents were in the military, and one who was a police officer. So I did not tell them that it was wrong to shoot others because that is what their parents did for a living."

Q. Would the kids feel bad shooting each other?

"I just let them play and really got them to understand how others felt when the play went wrong. Which is really what we do in all other types of dramatic play. Did [someone] feel bad? It wasn't about making people feel bad or guilty for what they were playing or figuring out. When one child's parents went to Afghanistan for six months I let him play it out if he wanted – as long as he was respectful to others. The thing is it is not the gun play that makes them aggressive or violent, [it's] lack of skills."

Q. Lack of skills? What do you mean?

"They need to learn about feelings and empathy. How to be respectful, self-control. How to care for each other! How to understand others' social cues. Everything you learn during play with others. When they learn these skills they just play and know how to figure out how to get along with others even when they disagree."

Q. What would you say to people who think gun play would teach kids guns are toys?

"Kids are smart. They know what guns can do if you talk to them about them. Most kids know it is not OK to shoot others. In their play they are pretending. In order to understand why it happens in the world around them and why others do it if is wrong.

"The thing is, we are looking at gun play from an adult perspective not from a kid’s perspective. A child is just figuring out the world and the things in it through play because that is how they learn, and guns are a part of our world, so how else are they going to learn about it?"

Q. But my kids are scared to go to school because of a madman with a gun. Won’t gun play just make worse?

"Adults can discuss things that bother them with a friend or a loved one to figure out how to solve a problem. Young children will play as a means to do that. Sometimes they don't have the words, but they can figure it out in their play. My question to you is: are your children playing guns? If they are then that is how they are going to figure it out. If they are not, then you don't have to worry about it. My project only started because they showed me they were interested in guns. If they weren't playing it, then I would not have this story."

Q. What about here in U.S., where gun laws are different? Do you think this gun play project would be safe to do?

"Yes, if caregivers make it a safe place to play and learn about guns and gun safety. It just might look a little different than the project I did because we have different regulations. It is weird to me that you can live in a place where anyone can have a real gun and are fighting for the second amendment, yet children cannot have pretend gun play. That is how they will understand about the real ones that are all around them."

Read Melinda's blog and share your thoughts and opinions below!

Gun Control & Mental Health in America: Speak Up, Speak Out (It's Not Just a Lesson for Our Kids)

Gun Violence & Gun Control: My Perspective Following the Las Vegas Mass Shooting

Moms Demand Action & Gun Violence in America: Are YOU Ready to Take Action?

Gun Violence Research: If Not Now, When? How Many More Times Does This Have to Happen?

Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
Wow, this is a great interview. Thank you for getting all this great info, Mike Prochaska . So much food for thought. I remember when my son wanted to play with a toy gun. It made me uncomfortable. I never bought any, but his dad did buy water guns, Super Soakers, etc. I guess that was the exception - for outdoor water play. I don't think they should have toy guns in schools, etc. Thank you for raising this important issue!
Mike Prochaska
The idea is that kids learn about guns Through play. They can’t bring guns they have to build them with LEGOs. I’m still wrapping my brain around this. But if kids going to do gun play anyway because that just what boys do lol shouldn’t we do it in an educational way
Kristan Wager
I really love how well this experiment was thought out. It was not knee jerk reaction, and it gives good insight. Our kids get so blase about pretend violence that they lose sensitivity to the effects. Good food for thought.
Rae Pica
Here's a conversation with the wonderful Nancy Carlsson-Paige, and others, on this topic: www.bamradionetwork.com/educat.... Well worth the 10 minutes to listen to it!
Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
Thank you for sharing, Rae Pica ! Great to see you here. I hope you’ll share some of your own insights with us as tips on 30Seconds.com!
Rae Pica
Thanks, Elisa! I'm certainly open to the possibility! Feel free to reach out to me at rae@raepica.com if you'd like!
Vikki Turner
Guns are not something my son has done yet or come accross. But he has sometimes got his wand and exlaimed pew pew and says his shooting snow or something.
My cousin used to pretty much only play with toy guns when he was small, but now im a mum I find it an odd thing to play with and won't be encouraging it with "real" looking guns. This is something me and my dad disagree on though.
My dad thinks he should have toy Guns, tanks and army men.
But as hes not quite 3 yet I think its too young.
Very interesting article and I'll bear it in mind for if/when it comes up.
(My dad's pretty old fashioned when it comes to what boys should play with)
Mike Prochaska
Someone in a group sent me this.
goofy74
I am really not for guns and I hope not to sound polemic or negative in my reply. When I was growing up between 7 and 10 I used to run a lot with the boys playing cowboys or aliens. Our stories were made from western spaghetti or comic book. We mimicked guns with our hands or the handiest ones with sticks but that was rare. The play was about running fast and be smart to avoid your purchasers. We were italian kids in the early 80s. toy guns were not that much desired and we simply did not need them. The gun by itself was not an object of desire or power. We often did not even include them in our play . Also cannot remeber any of my playmates or older cousins doing guns with lego. I think this is more an effect of recent marketing or maybe recent cture . I am all for not having toy guns at home I do not think it promotes fantasy and role play and hands or sticks are fine . Introducing the object gives too much power to the symbol in my opinion. Also I understand that there are countries like Canada (my husband is Canadian ) where in remote areas farmers do need a gun or better a rifle and I can see the value of teaching to kids why it is like that and how to use it. I do not frankly see the point where we are going to live in Europe where there is no public access to them. I am not sure also that we are that brainwired to have or use guns , we have been monkeys for so longer than humans and I do not see monkeys using anything similar. I also remember studying history and remember that the introduction of guns in warfare created a huge shift in they way conflict were fought and a huge psychological impact in soldiers. Honestly it does not seem to me that humankind has evolved tending to own guns. Even so now maybe humankind can move on and not be obsessed with them ;)
Mike Prochaska
Thank you for sharing your view! I love hearing everyone’s points of views on this topic
Mike Prochaska
Angela Compton Nelson said “
www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0807031...
I haven’t read this, but it was posted by a Montessori teacher on Instagram and I am adding it to my list.
I know from my work in Godly Play (Montessori approach to religious education) that children offer work through existential limits (fear, death, alienation, loneliness) through play.

We don’t do guns in our house at all (partly because I grew up in gun culture and the US in general has a major gun problem), but violent play may just be working it out? Not sure what the limits to that are, or if we are playing with fire on it. Anyway, maybe the book will be helpful.
Lori Watson
I like her perspective. Not educating children about things, how to handle situations, etc., leads to inappropriate behaviors that they don't even realize are inappropriate because they've never been taught. Kids learn best through play and experience. When that play/experience is directed in a productive and healthy way, very important life lessons can be learned.

We are a gun family. Our kids shoot their first .22 at about 4 years old, from a bench with close supervision. Gun safety is taught and re-taught every time the guns come out, even with the teenagers. With knowledge comes empowerment. We've never dealt with unsafe curiosity because it is resolved very early on through education.
Mindy Hudon, M.S., CCC-SLP
I have twin boys and I did not allow gun play. My brother in law is a hunter and owns his own guns. He is responsible with them. When they were 3 he bought them GI Joes holding weapons (he had a girl that was a teenager when my boys were born). I was furious and I pulled the guns off the toys and let them play with the guys. That was our house rule and he didn’t respect it. I asked him did he buy gun related toys for his daughter when she was young and he laughed and said of course not. I asked so why then do we think it is ok that boys have guns and not girls?? When my boys were at his house I was concerned because they were so curious about them maybe because I was so against them. My husband thought it was ok and wanted them to learn gun safety. My BIL was much older then my husband and when my husband was a kid my BIL introduced him to guns and weapons. My BIL is a responsible gun owner and a great guy who exposed and taught my kids about things they were curious about. Guns, bow and arrows, hunting knives. I was always worried but my kids loved it and now that they are 20 they still love their time with their uncle who taught them about outdoor life and safety. Kids are curious and making them learn saftey is the key. I remember telling my boys about what to do if they found something or went to someone’s house who had guns and what to do about that situation. Many gun accidents happen because of curiosity with kids. We as parents need to teach our kids about gun saftey even if we don’t have one of our own. You never know where they could find one. It’s like teaching kids about stranger danger or how to hold and use scissors safely. Every family has their own philosophy about guns. So I feel that we as parents need to provide them with tools to be safe! Oh and my kids did use sticks and Legos as weapons, but not around me 😜
Mike Prochaska
Thank you for sharing!’
Mike Prochaska
Cathy jo babas said “Nancy Carlson Page and Diane Levin have an excellent book on this topic - which is common theme with children; power play and ‘gun play’
They r spot on with DAP on this.
The link I am sharing is from a school that contacted her in why she write what she did:
Excellent read.

caterpillarcottage.com/node/29

On: “War and Gun Play: Understanding the Influences in Children's Play, Responding Responsively”
Donna Rivers
At school "no". At home "yes". As a preschool teacher we have a hard enough problem dealing with kids getting along and being repectful to one another just being together so many hours. If we eliminate this discussion it puts kids thinking mode. What can they do if they cannot have guns. Usually what they come up with something fun that stays within the rules. If not I have another discussion with them. I usually tell them everyone is not okay with you putting a gun in their space. Then I ask them if they like it when people do that to them. I have really never had a little say "yes, I like it". But problem solving these situation is super important and it is really about a family discussion. We know who the kids are that play at home, we often have to have a daily conversation about "no" in school. Why do I think it okay at home? Because where do we get our heros....they also have to problem solve the yes side of things and the best teacher is the parent! What if the parent is very Pro-gun and socially people think the parents should not be problem solving. Well, hopefully we are talking at school about why not so problem solving is always going on whether at home or at school. One says Yes and one says No....discussion and problem solving from both directions. If teachers are hearing this and it will not stop then you talk to the parents. I have had these discussions and explain I respect both sides but it's a "no" at school because that is a message for now and later and will never change with children!
Angel Strunk
I love the idea of educating children about guns and gun safety early. This may prevent the accidental deaths of children that find guns, when parents aren't responsible enough to lock them up. Sad that this is even a topic of debate, but it's now a reality of the world we live in.
Mike Prochaska
Thank you for sharing your views. I agree it is sad it even a topic of debate
Mike Prochaska
@angelstrunk thank you for sharing your views
DaisyGirl Wayne
My boys did not have toy guns growing up unless you count those super soaker guns.... I don’t think it was an active choice in whether they could have guns or not. They just never asked for toys like gi joe etc... my oldest usually asked for books or science experiments for his holiday gifts ....
Mike Prochaska
So you let them play with water guns? Did you let them play with sticks as gun, swords, ect? DaisyGirl Wayne my son never asked for guns other the nerf guns and water guns. He played with both for two days and then was done with it. But before he asked for every day.
Mike Prochaska
@daiseygirlwayne thank you for sharing your views
Clare Low
My children play with water guns, nerf guns, Lego guns.. I think it's how I parent them to view guns that counts, we speak about the difference between pretend and real all the time . I think educating children on guns is a good idea because education can help prevention of misuse.
Mike Prochaska
I love that you talk about the difference between play and real
Mike Prochaska
Thanks for sharing your views
Becca Talbot
I'm from the UK, and we have super strict gun laws over here - kids just don't see adults with guns over here. I remember the first time I saw a gun, aged about 12 when we went on a family holiday to Florida, I was so scared! x
Mike Prochaska
Becca Fugit I feel like that is wrong with America and gun play. We don’t have good enough gun laws that people are scared. Scared to let kids learn the way they learn best through play. Thanks for sharing your views
Preets
What a great interview, I really like how well this experiment was thought out keeping in mind all the perspectives. I think educating children on guns is a good idea.
Mike Prochaska
I know it amazing how much kids can learn thought play when done the right way! Also want to thank you Preets for sharing your views. I
K.I.N.D DAY
Great interview and great discussion, Mike. This really makes me second guess whether I want my 7 year old (the youngest of my 3 children) to play games like Minecraft and Roblox. I remember being appauled when my now 26 year old daughter, 12 years old at the time, playing a borrowed Grand Theft Auto game. She was running the people over and I told her dad. I was scared that her actions would desensitize her and she would feel nothing of it if she was in a real life situation.Now she is a magazine model and doing o.k. But, I wonder if putting her in front of electronics was a bad move. She is not all that social. She is friendly a hardworker, a mom of one... but, something is missing. A little anti-social- talking more to strangers and friends on her various electronic devices. I am scared for not only my generation, X, but, all generations that proceed it. Now I hear a little boy shot his sister and that a video game may have been the influencer. My mom's generation, the Boomers, and my generation, X, did not see this level of gun violence. In some areas, you can bring your rifle to school and pick it up after. I only allow my children to play with guns that look like toys. That means no Wild Wild West looking pistols and holsters and certainly not anything that looks like a rifle or automatic weapon. (t.co/83MqezUofD
Mike Prochaska
Yes the world sure is changing! Thanks for sharing your views!
Tales from Classroom
Not speaking for all of my colleagues at Tales from the Classroom, but research is a bit mixed. Many studies do not correlate gun play with future aggressive behavior but some do (mixed with other factors). Melinda's experiment was interesting in that she is teaching kids empathy, safety, and the dangers of guns. It would appear to me (@bconradcapital) that our gun violence problem in America is tied to a lack of empathy and/or a mental health crisis, among other issues. I wouldn't advocate for gun education in schools, as that is highly personal/political, but one could see a scenario where permission forms could go home for such an occasion or possibly offering courses after school (w/parent permission).

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