The Teacher's Story

 

"... AND IF THE BAD GUYS COME, WE CAN shoot them with our special ray guns ..." Antoine urged, in his role as an unofficial director of group dramatic play.

Toy weapons are not allowed in our classroom. Nevertheless, guns play a crucial part in Antoine's "scripts." I stood watching as the 41h-year-old tucked a block into the waist of his jeans. His friends, Pete and Nathan, were happily carrying out his plans. "Call in the rescue squad!" Antoine ordered. Nathan grabbed another block, pretending it was a toy phone, while Pete made the siren sound.

When they tired of that game, Antoine announced he was a "knight in shining armor." He and Pete began dueling with cylindrical blocks. Soon more boys joined the three-- some, and they all became soldiers defending a block fort with machine guns.

Antoine had it all figured out. "We are the food guys and those are the bad guys, and we'll helicopter in with more ammunition."

By mid-afternoon, had counted at least 15 variations of the weaponry theme. I would say that it was a pretty typical day.

The good news, of course, is that Antoine clearly has a capacity for elaborate imaginary play. What's more, he never comes close to harming anyone. And, the other boys admire and adore him. There is another side to Antoine too. He is sweet and gentle with pets and smaller children, including our class rabbit, as well as younger siblings of classmates. Should I be concerned about his fondness for weapon play or about his having a negative influence on the other children?

The Parent's Story

ANTOINE IS DEEPLY INVOLVED IN MAKE-- believe from morning 'til night. We don't know whether to celebrate this or worry because his play is so dominated by weapons and conflict. For the longest time, I didn't even allow a pastel-colored water gun in our house. We also don't allow action-hero TV shows, but there's no escaping them when we're away from home. A year ago, Antoine's heroes were carpenters with loaded tool belts, telephone workers on poles, and backhoe drivers at construction sites. Now, as he approaches his fifth birthday, he's totally taken with uniformed police officers who carry guns. Every day he's suited up as someone heroic. I find him loading imaginary bullets with sound or speeding off in a "police car" to capture the bad guys. All this might seem funny, but to us it's unsettling. We don't own a gun, and our household is very calm and organized around the needs of our three children. Antoine is the oldest, and he's quite gentle with the little ones unless they get into his toys. He's really a good kid. I just wonder whether this imaginary weapon play is a warning of trouble ahead or just a harmless stage.

Dr.Brodkin's Assessment

Power themes fascinate many young children, mostly boys who start out feeling vulnerable about their smallness. Their eagerness to be bigger and more powerful is expressed through aggressive hero play. In a world where youth violence is a concern, it is understandable that Antoine's teacher and parent would be uneasy. In light of recent tragic news about real guns and young children, we need to be especially alert to unusual signs of aggression or a chaotic life situation. But Antoine doesn't behave in a menacing manner toward other children, and he is very kind in many ways. With growth and guidance, he is likely to seek a gentler way to gain a sense of his place in the world.

What the Teacher Can Do

As long as no child is upset or put in harm's way, there is no reason to actively discourage Antoine's play. The teacher might do some redirecting. She can encourage his talent for storytelling or pair him with a child who needs to be drawn out. Comments should be made about his growing strength and physical skills. She and Antoine's parents can devise ways to help Antoine discover that he does have some power and influence both at school and at home.

What the Parents Can Do

Some experts hypothesize that the inclination toward weapon play is simply linked to the Y (male) chromosome. So this boy is probably just doing what comes naturally to him under the circumstances. His parents should look carefully at their routines and expectations and find more opportunities for Antoine to feel empowered.