Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mother Not Amused By Young Son's Obsession With Toy Guns

Dear Tazi:

My young son "Ralphie" is positively obsessed with guns. Right now, he is too young to handle a real gun - even an air rifle - but he loves the toy guns he finds at his friends houses and, since I will not allow such toys in my house (I feel that they promote violence) Ralphie will make a gun-like motion with his thumb and forefinger and pretend to shoot, saying "bang bang" as he aims at anything that moves.

I have tried everything to dissuade Ralphie's interest in guns, running the gamut from punishment to rewards, but nothing works! I am afraid I am raising a little Charlton Heston and this is not what I want! Ralphie's father is not a part of his life, so I do not know where this obsession came from, but I would like some advice on how to end it!

Signed,
Peacemaker

Dear Peacemaker:

I can understand your concern about your young son's obsession with guns; but please understand that an obsession with guns does not necessarily translate into an obsession with violence. There is a well-defined line between fantasy-play and reality. The next time Ralphie points his pretend finger-gun at you - or another living creature - take a moment to sit him down and ask why he would want to shoot someone. If he gives a response that indicates that he is just playing (and this type of response can range from "because the dog is secretly an alien" to "because the cat is a bad guy") put your concerns to rest that your son is not the next Son of Sam. You should also take this moment to briefly explain to your son that guns upset you, and to please not "shoot" while in the house. According to PBS.org, this means talking with him, not to him. Ralphie's understanding of how a real gun works - and the damage one can cause - is probably much less developed than you realize.

As for where your son's gun obsession could have come from, that is anybody's guess. Some child psychiatrists (which I am not) believe that boys have a genetic predisposition to aggressive behavior, and an interest in guns is an off-shoot of this programming. If Ralphie is interested in other toys and activities besides guns - such as sports, games, children's books, and other age-appropriate activities - I would dial down the worry several notches. If Ralphie's "obsession" with guns is to the point where he ignores all other toys, I suggest that you speak to his pediatrician about his psychological development. It could be he is just going through a phase, or it could be that there is an underlying cause for Ralphie's fixation on one particular thing (in this case, guns).

Regardless of how deep Ralphie's gun obsession is, here are some tips courtesy of PBS.org on how to talk to your son about his gun-play:

Talk with your kids
Instead of talking at your son about guns (“Guns are dangerous!” “Don’t do that!”) talk with him. His understanding of guns is probably less sophisticated than you think.

Ask open-ended questions to acknowledge the play and spur conversation: “Looks like you’re having fun. What are you doing?” And gently but consistently underscore the difference between real and toy guns by emphasizing how much fun it is to “pretend.”

Limit your child’s exposure to violence on TV or in video games
“I think exposure to violence on TV or video games should be a greater concern to parents than gun play,” says Joshua Weiner, an Arlington, Virginia-based psychiatrist who specializes in children and adolescents. “Repeated exposure has been demonstrated in studies to desensitize kids to violence. It is important to limit this exposure, especially in younger kids.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids be exposed to no more than one to two hours of “quality [television] programming” per day.

Monitor, don’t necessarily prohibit, your child’s gun play
As long as playing with toy guns doesn’t dominate a child’s time, it’s okay to let him explore it...provided a parent or trusted adult is watching.

“Many young kids (under age five) don't even understand what shooting someone really means,” says Weiner. “The shooting is more about power, fantasy and imagination—not killing and death.” That said, “If all your son wants to do is engage in gun play, you need to place limits like you would on any other activity done in excess,” Weiner notes. “In this case, parents should consider taking the guns away and talking with their child about their concerns.”

If you’re going to buy a toy gun, make sure it really looks like a toy

Encourage “target practice.”
Achieving the simple goal of hitting a target with a foam-ball gun can be extremely satisfying for an active little boy, and it helps develop hand-eye coordination to boot. Just draw a bull’s-eye on a white board or make a pyramid of empty soda cans, and you’re good to go, says Kelly Moore, a mom of three from Denver, Colorado. There’s an added benefit, she says: “The boys can be competitive and have fun without accidentally hurting each other.”

Teach proper gun safety
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth pointing out: if you choose to have real guns in your home, it’s imperative to help your children understand and respect their power.

Again, these tips are courtesy of PBS.org. To read the full article, click here.

Snuggles,
Tazi

P.S. You mention that Ralphie's father is not a part of his life. I do hope that he has other active, positive male role models in his life, or this could lead to other developmental issues down the road.

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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