Janie’s Got A Gun

May 13, 2009

So, the other day, when I was worrying about the potentially deleterious effects on my daughter of too much exposure to princess culture? I think that I have bigger issues to worry about:

So here’s the thing: I played games like Cops & Robbers and – yes – Cowboys & Indians (it was a different time) and Star Wars – complete with Light Sabers and sticks wielded as guns and sound effects – p-chew! p-chew! p-chew! – when I was a kid, and I loved it – loved it – and yet I still managed to grow to be a liberal pacifist and so I’m not inclined to a knee-jerk reaction of horror at the idea of children engaging in imaginative play that involves weapons. In theory.

In practice, when my three and half year old daughter cocks her fingers in the form of a gun and points them at me, mock-execution style, I recoil and quietly freak the hell out before telling her, in as calm a voice as I can manage, that it is simply not nice not nice at all to pretend to shoot someone in the face.

Then I debate whether or not to march down to her preschool in the morning and demand to know how and why it is that the preschoolers are engaging in pretend gun-play – because she did not learn this at home – and where the hell are all the princess dollies, dammit? Then I contemplate home-schooling. Then my head explodes.

Then I calm down and ask myself why I need to freak out over everything. Why do I freak out over everything? Is this worth freaking out over? Or, you know, do all preschoolers make a game of executing their mothers every once in a while?

She’s only three. Three. This is nothing, I know, in the bigger scheme of growing up and going to school and making and losing friends and falling in and out love and – oh god – sex and drugs and gah gah gah, but still.

I’m going to need more Ativan.

(Thoughts welcome. Am I freaking out unnecessarily, or is home-schooling in order?)

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    Mimi May 13, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Oh hon. We freak out about everything, because it is n the nature of overread introverts to, well *read* *into* everything. And to lack perspective.

    My girl, she’s less about pretending to shoot us (never done it) and more about landing some hammer fists on our heads when she gets mad (like this morning). Is actual violence better than p-chew. One hurts your head, and the other, um, hurts your head too.

    Her Bad Mother May 13, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Mimi – oh, Emilia’s got some fists, too. That’s a WHOLE ‘nother post.

    But yeah. Reading into everything. SIGH.

    Niksmom May 13, 2009 at 11:37 am

    “They” say the best defense is a good offense. You can’t protect her from everything; all you can do is teach the lessons and values you want to instill and continue to reinforce them with gentle reminders. That holds true regardless of where your child goes to school.

    Still, it couldn’t hurt to ask the school about the pretend gun play. Maybe they’re unaware of it?

    Rachel B May 13, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Oh my. Deep questions that we ALL struggle with. I actually decided to homeschool, but guess what? That won’t take all the second guessing away. You’re still going to go, Oh, my where did they learn that? You know, unless you keep them in the same room with you for the rest of their lives. Which, yeah, not possible… unfortunately. Just kidding. Sort of. Yeah, kidding. *hug*

    Ms. Moon May 13, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Don’t freak. Kids do this, I don’t care where they’re schooled. You know very well she doesn’t have the slightest clue as to what her actions might represent.
    Start learning now to pick your battles wisely. You said the exact right thing and now move on.

    CatrinkaS May 13, 2009 at 11:42 am

    You gotta socialize them. Home schooling not the answer… home balancing-out-the-crazy-shit-they-learn-on-the-playground is.

    I was telling my kids to brush their teeth and a chant we said when we were their age came flying back to me “bang bang, you’re dead, brush your teeth and go to bed.” Aaaack! Really?

    We were savage. We survived it. We can make them better, but we pretty much can’t hide them away.

    Kelly May 13, 2009 at 11:43 am

    My daughter really freaked me out the other day by insisting that my mermaid baby should kill her mermaid baby, because she was bad…like Ursula the Sea Witch. No guns were involved, but the whole concept of killing is bad enough.

    I AM homeschooling, so I only have myself to blame.

    Little Chickadee May 13, 2009 at 11:47 am

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 11 years of my parenting regime, it’s that, even if you don’t give a kid a toy gun, at some point in time, they’re going to find a substitute. A finger. A carrot. A stick. Barbie’s broken leg. It happens.

    Summer’s coming. Buy her a plastic tiara, a pink bathing suit and some water guns. Buy yourself one of those kick-ass super-soakers so the battle will be fair – you can shower her from your lawn chair :)

    *passes the Ativan*

    Chantal May 13, 2009 at 11:52 am

    My brother-in-law killed himself with a gun. My sister-in-law (not his wife, his wife’s sister) instituted a “no guns under any circumstances” rule. It didn’t work, her boys didn’t have plastic toy guns, but they had fingers, they had branches, they had their imaginations. There is just no way we can shelter our kids from this. But what we can do is talk to them, educate them that pointing guns, even toy ones, at peoples faces is wrong. They will grow up fine. We all do. I used to have a toy rifle that made real shooting sounds. I used to play with it ALL THE TIME. I am a good person who would never shoot anyone. Emelia is a good person. You have nothing to worry about.

    Mary Freaking Poppins May 13, 2009 at 11:52 am

    I hear you. Mine is four. Came home p-chewing last week with her hands like a gun. Said they use their guns to kill the bad guys. From her happy little peace loving let’s teach kindness school. I thought the same thing. WTF?

    Adelas May 13, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Emilia? Cute. Adorable even. Also? looking very Like You in this video. And, also, with a cute little voice :)

    Unfortunately for my ability to post here:

    Jasper? OMGWTFBBQ Cute. Drool-inducing cute. Mind-numbingly, word-reducingly, gawk and ogle and lather rinse repeat-ly freaking cute.

    Making me want to time travel back to yesterday and prevent myself from getting Kibwana’s first haircut to re-obtain that level of cute, cute.

    Joy May 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    I like that, super-soaker for Mom from the lawnchair… Must do that this summer. ;)

    You told Emilia the perfect, calm, response. Weapons of any kind are never pointed at anyone. Ever. Even in play. Not in my house. It is not appropriate behaviour.

    My two boys, and now the girl, all have been known to play guns, usually with other kids from the neighbourhood. And actually, there’s not a (toy) gun other than strategically dispensed water pistols in the house. But, Saskatchewan farm-girl that I was, I DID attend, once upon a lifetime ago, the firearm education/hunter safety course, and have regaled my kids with stories of that… and how, when they are an appropriate age, they will go with real, certified instructors, to learn about the real thing, and how to properly act around/use/avoid common firearms. Because, Lord help us all, you never know when they will come across them in the real world. In our ‘neck of the woods’, I think that proactive education is the key. About many things.

    MYSUESTORIES May 13, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    She’s three and she’s just playing. Let it go. Wait till she wants to borrow your car keys….THEN you can start to freak out!!!

    Thea May 13, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    My kids are older now and when they were little, the age of your babies, I forbid them from having toy guns or engaging in gun-like play.

    It didn’t work. They learned it somewhere, despite me trying to teach them what I believed, and still believe to be appropriate, and surrounding them with only the best of families to emulate and a safe school environment.

    You explained to her it wasn’t nice. That’s about all you can do. I still get on my kids for doing it now and they’re 7 and 9, much more the ages we were when we played cops and robbers.

    And yeah, talk to the school. Just in case.

    planetnomad May 13, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    First of all, awesome title! Now I’ve got that song in my head.

    I don’t think you need to freak. We soon learned that a no-gun policy leads to little boys biting their toast into gun shapes and shooting each other. We tried “you can shoot objects but not people” and that sort of worked. But ultimately, you are teaching her so much more, in so many areas of life. This is just a blip on the screen of childhood.

    Our major exception was water guns. They are just too much fun. And now our kids go paintballing, and love it. They are not at all violent children; quite the opposite in fact.

    for a different kind of girl May 13, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    My boys are 11 and 7, and quite honestly, rather than the random water gun here and there, we’ve just never had any toys in the house that looked like guns or came in a package that screamed “AND NOW WITH MORE REALISTIC LOOKING FAKE GUNS!”…but it’s there. It’s everywhere. They just know, and because they just know, they’ve played fake guns. They’ve picked it up from friends, they’ve seen the toys hanging on the shelves at Target, they’ve stopped and fallen into a trance when walking through the room and spying some TV show their Dad or I have on before we realize the channel probably needs changed because wow, with the gun play!

    Your response to her is as clear and concise as can be. We all freak out about it, but I’m not sure there’s an absolute solution.

    Amy Jo May 13, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I’m right there with you. My son is just a few months younger and he has recently begun doing the exact same thing. (Except he doesn’t really know what sound a gun makes, so he just points at you and yells ‘Shoot!’ Which is actually kind of funny. )

    At first I blamed my husband because he occasionally plays video games with guns, but he swears he never played then in front of the kids. My son goes to school as well, and the playground area has kids up to age 6, so it’s very possible that’s where he learned it. We’ve tried explaining the ‘not nice’ aspect, which he didn’t seem to understand. Finally, in frustration, my husband told him that when you shoot someone you hurt or kill them. Great! Now we have a whole other issue to deal with!

    Good luck!

    Amy May 13, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Don’t freak out. All kids play like that and in my experience (my oldest is 20 yrs old and hasn’t ever harmed anyone) it’s a phase. And, there is next to nothing you can do about it.

    We never had gun toys but when my son was 4 he “shot” me with his penis. I knew then it was o.v.e.r.

    Now at least he wields Stars Wars sabers and Storm Trooper blasters at me, which is actually preferable.

    TZT May 13, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    My son’s preschool allows some gun and swordplay in its 4-year-old classes, which has often made it onto the playground after school into the pantomime games of my 3 yo.

    I chose the school he’s in, among other reasons, because they take a realistic view of the playgrounds of Kindergarten and up and help give preschoolers the social skills to cope with some of its inevitable pitfalls. When it comes to guns, they try to teach kids to articulate when they feel their physical boundaries are being crossed, and to respect other kids’ sense of space. The games are an opportunity to learn to articulate their needs and feelings. It involves a lot of “you can shoot at my body, but not at my face,” and “Joe doesn’t like shooting games, so don’t shoot at him, but Jill does, so maybe you could play together.”

    You might ask her if other kids have been shooting at her and whether or not she likes that or knows how to tell them to stop. Could she be testing your reaction to find out what the appropriate one is?

    Adelas May 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm


    Job-endangering-quality rofls about that comment.

    globaltoll May 13, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I started to worry when my 5 year old daughter pretended to be shooting something the other day and then I laughed when I heard her sound effects, “Poon! Poon!” I asked her what she was doing and she said, “I am pooning.”

    Holly May 13, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    We also don’t allow any toy guns, which resulted in me getting “shot” by the adorable felt chocolate eclair I lovingly sewed for my 4-year-old son. The felt carrot, I might understand. But chocolate as a weapon? Breaks my heart on several levels.

    Black Hockey Jesus May 13, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    My kids do whatever the hell they want. There’s guns and video games and 5-year-old makeout sessions. They win.

    Laural Dawn May 13, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    My son was all about guns until he learned to use “the force” and his lightsabres.
    So, when the other kids pretend to shoot him he squeezes his eyes shuts and summons the force (which looks like he’s having a bowel movement) and baffles everyone.
    I prefer the gun noises.
    And, I think it’s normal.

    Amber May 13, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I wouldn’t worry about this. Everything I’ve read suggests that weapons play is normal and healthy. I think that making a big deal out of it is more likely to make it attractive than just letting it pass. At least that’s the approach I’m taking.

    We don’t have any toy guns, but fingers and sticks and so on can all become ‘weapons’, so I’m not sure how much that matters. I think you just need to decided what ground rules are appropriate in your house, set them, and then try to remain as calm as possible.

    Loukia May 13, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    You are by far the best Canadian blogger ever.
    Thank you!
    I loved this post. I also get freaked the hell out when my 3 (almost 4) year old son plays guns. Which is not often, but the other day he had a water ‘gun’ type thingy in his hands, and he made me go right up to him because he wanted to aim it right in my eyeball. OMG! I was horrified of my own son! But seriously, he’s not even in school and he rarely watches TV unless it is “How It is Made” On Discovery, so I don’t know, maybe it’s just a childhood thing. He does love watching Star Wars (yes, even at 3) and Transformers, so maybe that’s where he gets it from… oops… my bad… maybe he shouldn’t be watching those types of movies, after all? ;) I freak out over every little thing. Always worried about what effects their childhood will have on their future… it’s never ending worry at my casa, let me tell you!

    Christy May 13, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Better to be exposed to things and talk it out at home. Much much better to discuss than shelter. Of course, truth be told, I am still a worrier. Like Mimi said, an overread introvert.

    tallulah May 13, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    My first child was not allowed any war toys…he ended up making guns out of grilled cheese sandwiches and shooting me. By the 5th child, I have relaxed. The more you make a big deal about it….the more theyare fascinated by it.

    catnip May 13, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Meh. Don’t worry, they ALL do it. The more you freak the more they play it just cause they know it makes you crazy. Boys are even worse. Sorry.

    K.Line May 13, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    The pacifist in me is totally with you, but if you start freaking now it’s gonna be a long 18 years :-) Really, though, I have a 9 year old who, when younger, was actually (in her tantrumy fit moments) violent! And even she seems to have outgrown it (thank god).

    I think that kids pick up the gestures they see around them (brief TV glimpse, kids in playground etc.) and try them on. It doesn’t mean your sweet daughter is violent or prone to sociopathy, just that she’s getting older.

    Michelle May 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Unfortunately, I don’t think home schooling will help. Like the whole “princess” thing, it’s all part of the culture we live in. So, short of uprooting and moving to a remote corner of the world (that, let’s face it, has its own problems) I think you’re stuck with dealing with these kinds of issues. I struggle with them too. I’d probably not make a huge deal out of it, but I definitely would have questions to ask her about what she’s doing and why. It’s a good time to start talking about what that means and to get her thinking about her play.
    It’s sad that it happens so early, but then again, so do the gender stereotypes. I’ll keep the toy guns and Bratz dolls out of my house, but I can’t keep my daughter out of the culture we live in… I just have to find ways of dealing with the consequences and helping her to understand it. (And isn’t that what we do with everything else anyway?)
    If it makes you feel any better, there’s definitely another mommy out there with the very same concerns (who is DETERMINED to avoid the “princess”…).

    red pen mama May 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    To quote my way-liberal BIL who is totally against guns in any form: “This morning my 5-year-old son made a gun from his pop-tart… and shot me.”

    I think it’s inevitable that they learn this stuff when we let them out of the house. Not letting them out of the house is an option, as is limiting TV exposure.

    I, however, would go insane if I didn’t let them out of the house and/or homeschooled. And that’s not good for anyone.


    kickypants May 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I don’t think it’s cause to freak out. I’d check out the book ‘Playful Parenting’ by Lawrence Cohen. He addresses this specific issue (and actually, parenting in general)in an amazing, thought-process-altering way. She’ll be okay – you’ll be okay.

    Mary@Holy Mackerel May 13, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Not sure where my son learned it either, but learn it he did. And at first, I was so upset. But I soon figured that the only thing I could do was talk to him about why I disliked it so much. I’ve known 3 people who were murdered, and in our fair city of Ottawa, that’s a lot. And they were nice people. Not in trouble.

    I also accepted that kids will be kids, and that roleplaying is all part of growing up and figuring things out.

    But still, I freak out too. A lot. About everything. And nothing.

    Adventures In Babywearing May 13, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I struggle with this (especially when my three year old pretend plays that he’s “gonna kill you!” Ummmmm…

    With three boys and PLENTY of lightsabers and pretend guns, I don’t know what to do. They make guns out of anything. They play it when I’m not looking, the other neighbor kids play, too. I don’t let my boys watch ANY violent TV or movies, they don’t even HAVE a video game machine (Xbox, whatever they are calling them these days!) and yet, they still do it. And you know Ivy will be picking that up, too.

    It freaks me out because it’s negative and hurtful (in the end.) Like, I know they are pretending, but I can’t help to think about it in the NOT pretend way. If that makes sense. And that is scary.


    Amo May 13, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    As the mother of two boys, I will tell you that pretend (and not-so-pretend) violence is a daily occurrence around here. You take away the toy gun and they use a stick. I think it is just natural.

    I choose to go the guilt path. “It makes mommy really sad when you shoot her. Please love your mommy. You can shoot daddy.” (Because if they won’t respect me, they will at least feel sorry for it, right?) -now tell me I’m not screwing mine up…

    Please pass the bottle of Ativan.

    mythoughtsonthat May 13, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Freaking out over nothing: Kids will always shoot at some time in there young childhoods, no matter what we try to teach them. But not to worry- they won’t grow up to shoot people. I’ve learned this after working with kids for more than 25 years. Peace.

    Issas Crazy World May 13, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I would put money on her learning it from school.

    We freak out, because we want them to stay innocent. We freak out because we somehow think we can protect them from the world, if they don’t know about the nastier aspects of life. But we can’t protect them forever. As hard as it is, we have to learn to let some things go, because they do grow up and learn about reality.

    Guns, eh…my mom was against them, so we made them ourselves out of other things. I think it’s something all kids do, even homeschooled kids. None of the three of us grew into criminals.

    Now having said all of that, it isn’t cool to even fake point a pretend gun at your mother. That’s where I draw the line.

    Anonymous May 13, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    When my 26 year old son was three he made a gun with his fingers, then he made a gun with lego. When my 22 year old daughter was three she made a gun with her fingers. When my 13 year old daughter was three she made a gun with her fingers. I think there is something about being three and guns.

    crunchy May 13, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I can’t say anything..my daughter has taught her preschool about zombies.

    toddlerplanet May 13, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I hear you. I’m a total pacifist, raising two very active little boys. It’s all I can do to discourage it — but we have been very successful to date. I simply put on a very sad face and say, “Mommy doesn’t like fighting.” or “Mommy doesn’t like war,” and we find something else to do.

    It helps that we send the kids to a religious preschool and most of our friends share my anti-gun values … but it is a constant struggle.

    I don’t think you’re overreacting.

    Pamela May 13, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    I think kids pretend with guns and monsters and other scary things because they are trying to determine their boundaries.

    What is safe? What is unsafe? How far can I take this game before my mama shuts it down? How far can I push my mama before she needs her dose upped?

    You’re doing the right thing. Saying no, and concisely telling her why. She’ll probably play guns more, just to see how serious you are, but she’ll get it. And she won’t shoot people when she grows up.

    Fairly Odd Mother May 13, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    My kids have no guns or “toy weapons” but they still love to turn a stick into a sword or a toy drill into a gun, especially my son who is 4. And, we homeschool, so I guess I’ll blame our history program for my 2nd grader which has covered things like the Trojan War, the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Spanish Inquisition. Nothing like a little history to get them play-acting bloodshed.

    Redneck Mommy May 13, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    So, is this your way of telling me I’m not allowed to bring along a nerf ball gun for Emilia to have?

    Cuz I was totally thinking that.

    (I’m already wracking my brains trying to find a way to bribe her into thinking I am the greatest thing since sliced bread.)

    Her Bad Mother May 13, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Redneck, love, you’ve already got a head start on that, because you’ll laughing at her silly mom. And nerf ball guns, well, that would just clinch it.

    Bill May 13, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Home schooling is not the answer. There are plenty of reasons to home school. (The fact that the history, social studies, and civics taught in public schools are, by an large, a pack of useless lies being a big one.) But trying to control everything your child is exposed to is futile. You can’t do it.


    Veronica Mitchell May 14, 2009 at 12:20 am

    My girls don’t go to preschool, and did not even know guns existed until a couple months ago. Didn’t matter. They just spent their days killing me and each other with swords and bows and arrows instead. Violent play is just in their nature. I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Pretending to shoot you now is as likely to make her violent as pretending to play mommy is likely to make her a teen mother. In other words, not very.

    Katy May 14, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I freaked out over the “baby bunny in the forest oh LOOK baby bunny is dead blood everywhere” stories that daughter wrote (dictated) and illustrated in preschool.

    She is now fourteen (the things are almost 13, um, BOYS) and let me tell you, you are gonna need more Ativan and a shitload of vodka.

    I think the whole guns and blood and death thing is a phase they go through at 3-4. At least that’s what I tell myself…

    Canuck Gramma May 14, 2009 at 4:20 am

    I had to chuckle when I read this, I went through it with my own boys, and recently with my grandsons! I forbid gun play, toy guns , all that stuff. Finally I gave up and said ” In this house we do NOT point guns at PEOPLE” When they broke the rule I confiscated whatever weapon or stick or fascmile of weapon for a while. None of them joined the army or a gang ( eeek) and none of them own guns. They grew up okay. But now they play war games on the computer. Which, as a mother and grandmother, drives me crazy! lol

    By the way, I did homeschool my brood of five. It was a great experience, by I think gun play is encoded in our dna or something. My ex husband had it double. But that’s a topic for a whole other blog! haha

    JChevais May 14, 2009 at 5:00 am

    I have a no guns policy in my house and yet the other day I found my kids playing Cops & Robbers with origami guns.

    They made paper guns!

    You just have to live and let…. go.

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