Pretending a stick was a gun, was my parenting fail? Really?

I recently posted a picture on my Instagram account of my two boys on an afternoon walk. This is something that they look forward to everyday, after my toddler wakes from his nap. Here is the photo and the exact caption:

“And the #AdventureWalk includes sticks turned into guns. #PretendPlay #Siblings #MonkeySeeMonkeyDo”

I really didn’t think anything of it, but somebody else did. They responded with a comment of #ParentingFail.


Letting my kids pick up a stick and pretend it was a gun?

Now, let me be honest, there were no squirrels, people, trains or cars that were harmed from that piece of wood aimed at them. Instead my kids giggled and laughed as they ran up and down the green belt of grass. They chased birds, hid behind bushes and even found a rock that looked like a tooth. My five-year old would shout out that he was a solider getting the bad guys. Did I mention that he was playing with his toy soldiers before the walk?

They were using their imagination, bonding together over their play and had control for a small portion of their day.

Kids are usually told what to do all day by an adult. So when they have the opportunity to have unstructured play they take full advantage, as they should. This is their time!

Basic child development states that children learn through play. This is how they discover their world, build social skills, process experiences and discover who they. They also build self-confidence, problem solve, resolve inner-conflict and express their thoughts and feelings. It is all done through play.

I’m disappointed to see how much we are changing our children’s lives by limiting their play or taking control of it.

As a kid, I went outside and played with my neighborhood friends. We had so much more freedom in the way we played. There were endless games, make-believe themes (that included cops and robbers), wadding through water drains to go craydad hunting and so much more.

We didn’t have “playdates” and we didn’t have our parents looking over our shoulder all the time. Our curriculums in school were based on play and not the common core. Things have drastically changed and I am now more concerned of what the future will be like for our kids with the theories of play in child development being limited.

Maybe there is a fear that if we let our kids pretend to play with guns (I mean sticks), that they will grow up to be criminals?

I don’t buy it.

Kids need to explore and play freely. The themes on power, control, good vs. evil are normal and part of a child’s development.

I think we should relax a little bit and let our kids enjoy their lives. We can protect them from the real bad guys and shield them from the truly awful things that happen in this world for a limited time. They will eventually be of age to learn of the harsh reality of our world. Hopefully we would have done our jobs as parents and community members to teach kids to trust us, communicate and express themselves.

If this was my parenting fail, then I will take it. I think that I am doing a pretty good job at raising my kids.

Here are some other great articles to read:

Why gun play is ok

Banning superhero costumes and toy guns from nurseries could have a negative impact on children’s development.

The importance of play and promoting  healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds 

6 thoughts on “Pretending a stick was a gun, was my parenting fail? Really?

  • I am behind you 100% on this one, Shani. Kids are experimenting with profoundly deep and abstract concepts when they play about life and death, killing and being killed, the reversibility of death, good and bad, killing and saving…….. Kids who have creative outlets to explore concepts and feelings are less likely to need to actually cause harm. It is a natural part of childhood and does not need to be contained or stopped. I do think it is a whole other ball game when we look at the violent video games about killing. But when a child makes a stick a gun, he is using symbolism to explore archetypal symbols that have been part of humankind for a very long time.

  • You make some really awesome points about the importance of giving kids freedom when they play, even when it’s something like pretending sticks are guns. I was reminded of how even in Child-Centered Play Therapy children are allowed to play with pretend guns. In fact, it’s one of the items, along with coloring, cars, dolls, play dough, and so forth, that is highly recommended to be available in the room when working with clients. I remember in my class we had a discussion specifically on the reasoning of having pretend guns available during therapy and how to explain it to other staff if you are a therapist working in, for example, a school setting where there are strict rules about such toys. By working through their concepts and feelings of good and bad, right and wrong, and even life and death, children are able to grow in their understanding of not only the world around them, but also of their own personal values and beliefs.

    • Yes absolutely. Having play guns available for child-centered play is incredibly important. Kids will benefit and be able to get deeper in their play versus using something else to symbolize it. Kids need to feel safe to explore the depths of their feelings. I am a huge advocate for child-centered play!