Tackling the Taboo Around Weapon Play

Tackling the Taboo Around Weapon Play

We have all heard parents and even nursery practitioners tell children to make something “nicer” when they notice their child making a Lego-style gun. Children often say they have created something different, only to use their creation to “shoot” at objects all the same.

We have been led, or misled, to believe that encouraging weapon play in young children may negatively impact their behaviour or nurture unwanted traits of aggression and violence. However, if you consider your children and personal childhood experiences, you can probably recall re-enacting this kind of play.

This type of play is often a top choice for many children, linking in very closely to “superhero” play. It is an interest that continues to be popular generation after generation.

How to Encourage Weapon Play in the Right Way

As weapon play is often a popular choice of interest for boys in particular, you tend to find that high levels of engagement are also present when children play in this way. The worry for many parents and practitioners is that they are not confident in knowing how to support this type of play in an age-appropriate way and without nurturing traits that we would wish to discourage in young children.

Early years educational consultant Alistair Bryce-Clegg discusses why children play in this way:

“One of the reasons that children play in that way is that it gives them an opportunity to explore their interpretations of what they see going on in the world around them. By that I don’t just mean in the playground and at home but also in the media. How many ‘children’s films, even Disney, contain large sections of physical combat and power struggles?

“Increasingly when I am engaged in talk sessions with groups of children they will tell me about films they have watched with older siblings or parents, computer games that they have played or news reports that they have watched, all of which contain graphic images and often quite extreme violence. Even if they haven’t actually seen it for themselves, lots of children will relive a ‘version’ of what took place in the retelling of the child that did. No matter how cautious and careful we are as parents, our children cannot escape the reality of the world around them – especially when their influences become not just their parents and carers but also their peers!”

Children have not had the same levels of experience and exposure that we have as adults, and so when children see or are influenced by the things that happen around them, they will often display this through play. This enables children to make sense of what they have seen and develop further understanding.

What’s Going On?

Engaging in weapon play allows children to experience a wide range of emotions and practice this in a safe and secure environment. Risk-taking is of enormous importance for children and enables them to build the resilience they need in later life to deal with the challenges life throws our way. Problem-solving is also evident in weapon play, where children have to negotiate a particular outcome, all inherently essential skills.

How to Manage Weapon Play

While you may agree or disagree that weapon play holds a place in children’s early experiences, much evidence supports the skills and attributes that can be nurtured through weapon play.

Professor Tina Bruce believes that play cannot be pinned down into a single definition, but rather that there are “12 Features of Play”. When you consider these features with weapon play, you may start to understand the different skills being supported. The 12 Features of Play are as follows:

  1. Using first-hand experiences
  2. Making up rules
  3. Making props
  4. Choosing to play
  5. Rehearsing the future
  6. Pretending
  7. Playing alone
  8. Playing together
  9. Having a personal agenda
  10. Being deeply involved
  11. Trying out recent learning
  12. Coordinating ideas, feelings and relationships for free-flow play

If you are interested in understanding more about weapon play, then we recommend you read Rethinking Superhero and Weapon Play by Steven Popper:

Rethinking Superhero and Weapon Play – by Steven Popper

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