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Should Preschoolers Have Toy Guns?

Should Preschoolers Have Toy Guns?

Here's a question I never thought about much before I had a child, and a boy, at that: Should pre-school aged kids be allowed to play with toy guns?

In a Circle of Moms discussions on whether or not pretending to shoot, with a gun, sticks, or fingers, promotes violence, Circle of Moms member Sarah F. asks the question more pointedly, "Are toy guns a bad idea?"

My personal response has evolved over the years. I was a tomboy. I grew up in the rural South in the 1970s. I played with guns. I loved machine guns, water guns, little toy pistols. And no one thought anything of it back then. We also left our cars and homes unlocked, and kids played in the street, unsupervised, until dark.

Flash forward twenty or so years, when my friends had a son, Gabriel. I was very close to this child, and when he was four or so, I took him on an outing to a western-themed amusement park in Tucson, where I lived at the time. Gabriel loved the rides and the cowboys, and he loved the Wild West stories he heard there. On the way out, we had to walk through the gift shop, and he asked me if he could have a replica of an antique gun. It looked real, which was part of its allure. My first instinct was to say no, but then I decided I'd just have a talk with him.


I told Gabriel that real guns were bad, but that pretending could be okay if you never hurt anyone or even pointed the gun at someone in play. I asked him if he could abide by those two rules, and he said he could. We talked about how he could pretend to shoot at rocks outside, but that he couldn't use the gun, even in play, to "shoot" a person or animal.

When I returned him to his parents they were furious, although they tried not to show it. They reiterated my rules, but, alas, Gabriel could not abide by them. He was only four, and while he was quite reasonable and well-behaved, the temptation was just too great. He ended up pointing the gun at a friend and having the gun taken away.

I felt horrible. Not yet having a child yet myself, I didn't really understand the developmental capabilities kids have at this age, and I feel now that I set him up for failure by asking him to do something nearly impossible. So, while I don't think playing with the gun really encouraged violence, it did cross boundaries that I wouldn't be comfortable with today.


First of all, toy guns that look real get kids killed all the time. And there's a powerful enough connection between the imagination and reality (the former shaping the latter) that I now realize it was a destructive gesture on my part to allow my firends' son to have a toy gun. 

But I also believe in the power of taboo. Saying no to a request like this makes it more likely that a greater desire will arise.

Given my inner contradictions, I will err on the side of caution and not allow my son to play with toy guns, at least not while he's a preschooler. This will be reinforced at his preschool, which has an explicit policy against violent images. (One child even had to get rid of a lunch box with a Star Wars scene on it.) In our culture of violence, this strict line makes good sense to me, and I don't think there's a downside. As he gets a little older and can demonstrate his understanding of the potential dangers, I might reconsider.

I don't think this means my child will not be exposed to violence. It simply means he won't be perpetuating it, even in an imaginary way.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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