advice on toy guns

Note from Dresden: The following is a guest post by the Toddler Whisperer. For more information about that read this post, then this one. If you have a question, please leave it as a comment at the end of this post.

playing with guns

THE QUESTION:

My little guy is a bit out of toddlerhood (he’s 4, more of a preschooler), but has been doing the same things since then, so I’ll give it a shot.

He’s obsessed with shooting things and guns and dying. WHAT?! I was pretty anti-toy-gun in the house but let him have Nerf ‘squirters’ (squirt guns, but I refuse to call them guns in the house). Everything is about shooting, or killing, or building guns out of LEGOS. He’s not a television watcher, and without shaking a finger at preschool/daycare, it’s the only place he can be picking it up from. With that said, I can’t move him from there or think that every other parent has to change how they raise their kids.

So, how do I get him on another track besides shooting and wanting toy guns.

THE ANSWER:

Oh, this is near and dear to my Montessori-Teacher-Raised-By-Pacifists heart….

So, yeah, you send your kid out into the world, aka pre-school, and KABAM! you run smack into people who Aren’t Like You. This is good, right? This is a big part of why you send you kid out into the world. Diversity, tolerance, acceptance, blah, blah, blah. But what about things that we shouldn’t tolerate or accept, like violence? What about when your kid brings home things that your family doesn’t… value? Well, friends, this is the time for Real Family Values.

Here’s the general take home: you can’t actually control what your kid does when away from home. You can control what you model at your home. These are the lessons that stick (see, raised by pacifists above). The things you emphasis as important in your home, over and over again in word and deed are the things your child will take to heart and carry out into that world.

It won’t be obvious at first. Hell, you might not see but glimmers of it for most of childhood. But if you keep on keeping on, you can trust it’s getting in there. Kids try on different ways to be, seeing what fits in what situation, what makes people jump, what gets a pass. Your job, as instiller of values, is to emphasize the things you for/as a family think are important.

I’m with you on non-violence being important.

So how do you do this? Well, set up your home as a place of peace. Have conversations about what peace is:

• Respect for all things
• Non-vilolence
• Lack of weapons
• Listening to others

Long list, right? Pick and choose based on you and your kid and your family, but be sure you talk about it and why it’s important. Have conversations about how hitting/bitting/etc hurt with your two year old (I’m sure you did) and then your 4 year old is ready to hear that you don’t like games with weapons because they are about pretending to hurt people and “in our family, we don’t hurt people.” I’d go so far as to actually ban gun play from my home, but I’d also be careful to keep the phrase “at our house” in there, so there’s a little wiggle room for your kid to experiment with those behaviors if needed – forbidden fruit is, well, forbidden fruit.

Also, simply refuse to play such games with him: “no, thanks. I’m not interested in playing games with violence,” and walk away, but make sure you do make time to play/do other things with him that are more in line with what you value. Let’s take making dinner. Have him help. Really value that time together, talk lightly about sharing food and doing things as a family/for others. Tell him how much you enjoy making dinner with him. Peace through food.

If there are other children over, you can emphasize what your family’s values are – peace, non-violence, whatever – and explain that peaceful games are the rule at your house, just like whatever other rules you have. Be clear, matter of fact, and brief. Maybe you’ll give those gun-toting kids something new to try on.

(I know there are people who will take issue with all this, or who feel that things like guns are a part of their family for valid reasons. I know it is very possible to teach children how to be respectful of such powerful tools and to use them well and in ways that are productive; I just don’t have any experience with such things. I do have people I can ask, though.)

sucking thumb

THE QUESTION:

What’s the best way to get a toddler to stop sucking his thumb? Also, whenever ours sucks his thumb (age 3), he also pinches the skin on his neck with his other hand. The two behaviors are always linked. If I pull his thumb out of his mouth or his hand away from his neck, he inevitably stops doing the other automatically.

I know it’s self-soothing behavior and possibly has made him into the fantastic sleeper he is today, but at his age, it’s no longer socially acceptable to do it in public all the time (plus if we don’t stop it now, he could still be doing it when he’s 8…)

THE ANSWER:

Jeeze, didn’t you read the last post? Duct tape! Solves all problems you might encounter in parenting!

It’s no surprise that he pinches the skin on his neck while thumb sucking. I had a kid years ago who would push up her shirt and rub her belly button when she sucked her thumb. And a friend when I was really young who would bounce against the back of her chair while thumb sucking. And a cousin who didn’t suck her thumb, but did like to pinch other people’s neck skin. Human beings are fascinating.

So a three year old can begin to understand public/private rules about behavior. This isn’t to say that they need no reminders about what’s appropriate when, but that’s what we adults are for – kind reminders. You won’t be surprised that I’m going to tell you to a) figure out what’s an acceptable line and then b) talk to your kid about it, so he’ll be in on the plan and then c) be consistent with your reminders about where that line is.

So where is the line for you? I’ve had parents ask me to help kids remember not to suck their thumbs at school, only at home/at bedtime. I’ve asked kids to go sit on the futon in our classroom if they want to suck their thumbs, the old Montessori “do one thing at a time” bit.

Do you want to help him stop it all the time? Is it ok if he still does it at bedtime? Keep in mind it will be nearly impossible to monitor him at night. Do you want to designate a special place at home where he can take a break and suck his thumb? Do you want to offer an alternative, like hug a parent or pet the cat, or something else that’s got a little tactile touchy-feeliness to it? I’m always going to aim for making the line as clear and simple and obvious as possible. Easier for him to understand and for you to stand firm on. (I am certain your pediatrician/dentist will have thoughts about this….)

After the figuring and then (clear, matter of fact) talking to your kid about it, then you gird your proverbial loins and consistently help him remember what the new plan is. If you know what situations tend to lend themselves to thumb sucking, give him some early warning – better to redirect than to correct with things like this. Just like everything else, there is no quick fix. Well, other than those foul-tasting nail polishes or weird things you strap on your kid’s hand. I have no idea how effective they are. But! By coming up with a plan, including your kid in it and following through, you are giving him some pretty important life skills as well as helping to to stop sucking his thumb. Plus, no buying things! Except maybe an extra roll of duct tape.

If you do go the duct tape route, be sure to let me know what sort of salve you use to get the adhesive residue off his skin.

Who is the Toddler Whisperer?

Meet my dear, dear, seriously dear and amazing friend Starrhillgirl
She is a certified Montessori teacher for ages 0-3. She has been teaching a class full of toddlers in Central Virginia for close to a million years. She believes that toddlers are not evil but if treated with kindness and respect can learn to mix drinks and dust the baseboards.

If any of her advice was at all helpful to you please let her know.
And keep your questions coming!

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