So, I'm curious to hear how the hivemind has handled discussions about guns with preschoolers. The little man (now 4) is a robust consumer of kid-related pop culture and is also in daycare with 25 or so other similar consumers, so he's seen a lot of cartoon weapons (how sad is that?) and a great deal of his time is spent exploring power, differentiating between good guys and bad guys, determining who goes to jail, and playacting weapons and particularly guns. Both at home and at school the adults in his life are very very proactive about intervening with play violence, doing things like talking out problems, using one's power to be kind and generous, how there are aren't good and bad people but rather good and bad choices, and that it's not fun to pretend to hurt people or pretend to use guns. We do all that, but still the exploration continues, and still we continue to talk about how books or movies or games involving guns are not right for our family, etc. We know it's a process.
Unbeknownst (until last night) to the little man, our geographic area has had three or four terrible incidents in the last month where kids have been accidentally shot by other kids or have shot themselves (the oldest being 8, two being under 5) with guns that were left unattended in their reach. Two kids were shot fatally, and one was just 3. It's been heartbreaking as a parent to watch the fallout from this, to hear about the incidents, and to witness the statements made by the adults, all parents, who inadvertently made the guns available. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to interrogate anyone whose home my kid might go into about whether they have a gun, and if so where they keep it and I want to see it locked up separately from the bullets with my own eyes.
So I want to know how you all deal with the seemingly unending redirection about guns at this age, and when it stops, if ever, and what's been successful. Because last night after a long monologue from the little man about some sort of imaginary conflict involving guns, and yet another negotiating "but mom, I only shooted bad guys!" I had had it and said "the reason I am so upset about guns is that they really hurt people. Last week a gun shot a kid because he wasn't being safe with it, and the adults around him weren't keeping him safe, and he was really hurt and he died, and I feel really sad for that kid and his family." Which led to a million questions about "do we know that kid?" (no, but we still feel sad) "how old was that kid? was he a baby?" (he was 3) "why did he not know to be safe?" (because he was too young and maybe the adults around him didn't make sure he was safe) "how do you shoot a gun? Is there a button?" (no, there is a trigger, and I showed him with my hand where on a gun it is and told him never ever to touch a gun because it could go off, though, terrifyingly I don't know if he actually would recognize one in real life) "did it really happen? It wasn't a story?" (no, it wasn't a story. It really happened.) and, most heartbreakingly "even though he wasn't safe, we still love that kid." (we do love him, and it wasn't his fault, because the adults around him did not keep him safe).
This morning the little man's waking words were "was that story about the kid and the gun real? I feel scared about that kid." and then he told the whole story about the kid to the life duet, and then to each of his teachers at school. He's very serious about it, and about talking about how if he sees a gun he will tell a trusted adult right away. I'm kind of worried it was too much, but I really was at the end of my rope with all the kidding around and the negotiating about a gun that shoots ice cream or only shooting bad guys or whatever, and I felt like he just wasn't hearing how serious I was.
So, hivemind, if you think I scarred him, please gently advise on how to deal with it, and if you have thoughts about how to reinforce nonviolence and no gun play in a way that he will understand, that would be awesome. And if I'm going to be having these conversations until he's an adult, I guess tell me that too so I can prepare myself. Sigh.
I don't think you scarred him at all - he's just processing things the only way he knows how for his age. I'm glad he talks to you about it. There's scary stuff in the world, and sooner or later we have to let them know about it. I think you framed it correctly, in that the child was not protected by the adults around him, rather than it being his fault.
As for the other stuff, I'm *still* trying to figure this out myself. The kids don't tend to do pretend gun play because they know it makes me deeply unhappy. They still 'design' them, though. But it's more of a function of the constant battles in which their Lego armies are engaged.
Maybe for now just give him a break from it, and give him some time.
We allow nerf guns and water guns in the house. We've also had that exact talk about why real guns are scary as hell and how many kids die from guns. We've told him that if he's ever at someone's house and he sees a gun he needs to get a grown-up right away. I don't think you scarred him for life, you just let him know what the stakes are and why you care so much.
We're in a pretty rural area, so guns here are part of hunting, which is part of life. My oldest is 9, my youngest is 3 so we're just bordering on middle school.
But what my kids think of when they think of guns is probably rifles. Heck, they've seen me shoot rifles. But rifles aren't the kind of gun that gets left lying around. They're always locked. It seems strange and bordering on ludicrous to me that someone would leave a loaded handgun just lying around.
When we've talked about guns, it's usually been in the context that we talk about tools. Some tools are very dangerous and should never be handled, touched etc. without an adult supervising and teaching you.
Don't know if that helps. It sounds like I'm coming from a very different context that may not be helpful to you.
A book that I liked Playful Parenting has a section on gun play. From what I recall, he says that kids will see gun play and violence in cartoons and so the play-acting becomes important for processing it. He, (again from memory here) doesn't stop make-believe guns, but does try to keep the realistic ones away (kind of like McG and MNM described). He does try to convert the violent play to something happier when within the adult's power, "Oh, that's shooting out hugs, does that mean you like one?" But, hopefully the author doesn't see this summary--I may not have it exactly correct.
We've also been introduced to all of that play through school (and his school bans talk of guns and bad guy/good guys on the playground, but it sneaks in anyway), so I think it's just reality of being a kid. I also don't think you scarred him for life. Bad stuff happens in the world. And whether it was guns or a natural disaster or terrorism, there are going to be scary things that you have to explain to him. And he'll talk (and play) through it.
Edited to add, I am sorry that you've had to explain this. The stories sound very heartbreaking.
Kids are some of the most durable things on the planet. I don't think you scarred your sun, but kids need to learn to not be afraid of guns, but to respect what a gun is and what it can do.
I'll more or less agree with Wookie and Rommie. We don't live in a rural area, but I grew up in one and there were always guns around. I tend toward the very strict about it--guns are tools, not toys, and we don't ever, ever, ever point a gun at people, not even for pretend. The boys do have nerf guns and water guns, over my objections, but again, I'm really strict about how they can play with them and they never get pointed at people, even the water guns (which causes them to be very upset and makes me the meanest mommy ever). We don't have real guns in the house, and we probably won't, but when the boys are older I plan on getting them into a gun safety class and, if they want, to go hunting with my dad.
And I don't think you've scarred him or anything. He'll be fine and now he has something to think about. Kids are pretty resilient--it is a lot harder to mess them up than we think.
Kommish, I've done stuff like that so many times. Not about guns, but on other topics where my anxiety tends to be high and my need to be heard and taken seriously overtakes my patience. I don't think it's a bad thing. It's not always ideal, but I think it's okay for them to see that we adults have fears and boundaries too, and that our rules aren't arbitrary. If we're going to have strict rules about things like gun play, I think it's useful and fair for the children to understand why.
He's not scarred, but he will probably need a lot of time and retelling to make his peace with a big story like that. Get ready for more questions. He will probably also need some reassurance that he is safe. He can learn that he's not very likely to come across an unattended gun. And he can learn that if he does see a gun and there are no adults around, his job is to leave the room and tell an adult. Having a plan will hopefully help him feel safer.
I always feel weird asking The Boy's friends' parents about guns in their home (or swimming pools or fierce dogs, etc.) When the kids were younger, I'd set the tone when we hosted a playdate by disclosing "We do have a cat, we are not a peanut-free house, we don't have guns or a pool or a dog," etc. and then the parents would do the same when we'd go to their place. I haven't done that lately, though.
But I did have the gun safety talk with The Boy recently. It was the first time I'd ever brought it up, but he was finishing my sentences for me and saying "I know! I know!" I guess they must have addressed this in school, too.
I've lived largely in coastal urban areas, then moved to a rural area, and that difference plays out in terms of both general attitudes among our neighbors about guns (bad/good) and also in terms of what they're mainly used for ("self-defense"/hunting). That also makes a big difference about whether kids are likely to run into danger, I suspect, since the point of hunting weapons is hunting and so they're not going to be left in a bedside table, since who goes hunting in the middle of the night, whereas the point of a "self-defense" weapon depends on accessibility so I would imagine that those those things are generally available and loaded.
Living in a rural area has given me comfort that most hunters are reasonably safety-conscious and if I learn that someone has hunting weapons in their house I will verify that they're kept locked up, but won't freak out about it. In the context of hunting, though I disagree with it, I recognize that a gun is a tool - just as Rommie says, a chainsaw or a knife - and a dangerous tool, but one that is often safely managed. The problem comes when guns are introduced as an aspect of a family's self-defense. That means that the main target of those guns is people, and I feel that there's no way to keep people thoroughly safe from them since they are supposed to be accessible to people in the house. I wouldn't let the bub go to a house where I've learned people keep guns for self-defense.
We haven't broached child death with our 5 year old yet, which I'm going to have to do sometime soon. My brother died when he was 5 and I've been terrified of talking about it with the bub because of the fears you outline, kommish. We've had plenty of adult death conversations, but it's very different when they explicitly understand themselves to be vulnerable to it. However, your experience is giving me confidence to do it the next time it comes up. It's a hard thing, but it is a very relevant reason why we're so frightened of certain kinds of things as parents and it's useful for them to know why we're so serious about certain things. We don't want to do it, and I completely empathize, but it's true and relevant information and if we're committed to helping them integrate it I think it all comes out okay.
We've gone the karate route for aggressive self-expression. The bub still wants weapons, but now he's talking about using bo staffs rather than guns, so for me that's a win.
I grew up around guns (thanks to my big brother). 4 yo E fits all the stereotypes about boys and guns. A stick turns into a gun, a sticker on his finger turns into a gun. He has squirt guns galore. Grammy sent him home with a much too realistic toy gun from a parade one year, and I hid it and said soldiers needed to borrow it. If he sees a picture of a gun, he immediately asks if it's a real "fire" gun (yes, I'm looking at you, Little Critter book). Sometimes I point out he difference between his toy guns and real guns. He's similarly obsessed with good guys and bad guys. Not always sure how to redirect the gun play, but I try not to make a big deal out of it...
I think it's great he was empathetic towards the boy, and instead of being scared, he's probably just getting used to dealing with a dose of reality.
Thanks, all. To be clear, while we are not hunters I don't have an issue with hunting guns - in concordance with hermit crab's insight, in my experience folks that have guns for hunting (including our downstairs neighbors) tend to be very conscious about keeping them locked and unloaded when they're not using them. None of the situations leading to my freakout had anything to do with hunting guns. Interestingly, all the gun owners involved were people permitted to carry handguns (one was a cop) and all exhibited shockingly poor judgment about where they put their guns.
Thanks for your insights. I like the idea of initiating martial arts in a couple years to see if we can direct some of the aggressive energy, but until then it sounds like I did okay. The questions seem to have died down a little, but he's an empathetic kid who often ruminates about things and asks more questions days or weeks later, so I expect some more conversation.
Hermit, it didn't occur to me that I may have inadvertently introduced child death to the little man. He's been really interested in death, as we've lost several family members in the last few years. We have the book "When Dinosaurs Die" and I think it's really good, really frank and honest, and the little man likes it read a lot, and it touches on children dying as well as suicide and trauma very appropriately. I really recommend it to go with the conversation you end up having. And I'm sorry about the loss of your brother. That must have been so hard for your family.
I absolutely believe in having a gun for home defense. In areas where there are less strict gun laws, especially states where it is legal to open carry a loaded weapon, you see way less violent crime. Then you look at Chicago, where it practically illegal to think about a gun, and their violent crime is skyrocketing. It's okay to have a gun in the home for protection. People just need to be smart about it. My dad had a giant revolver, a shotgun, and a rifle. When I was a kid I knew where all of these guns were, but I never knew where the ammo was, and my dad did that on purpose.