Hi Jess. Can you also share some wisdom in the area of toys and imagination play for boys, i.e. Is it appropriate to let them play with pretend swords and guns?
Yes, we allow pretend swords and guns.
Here are the basic rules in our house (off the top of my head… so these aren’t posted anywhere, this is just the basic protocol):
1- We protect babies and girls (not shoot/hit them)!
NOTE: Yes, this means that girls have to learn not to pick/annoy. And yes, this means, if a girl hits, the brother has to control himself and not hit back.
The one who is stronger has to control themselves for the one that is weaker.
And even if the boy is not stronger in the moment, for most of his life he will be stronger than women, and needs to corral and control his strength, and never use it to hurt a girl. Even if she’s his sister.
2- Don’t dominate.
Meaning, if one boy wants to just beat up on everyone (or bite everyone in sight, or keeps bopping people on the head), he gets a warning, and then if he keeps doing it, he can’t play anymore.
3- If someone doesn’t want to play, they don’t have to.
You can’t just go up to someone and start whacking them with the sword if they’re not already playing.
4- We shoot “bad guys” and animals, not people.
Sometimes I let the big boys be the “bad guys” now, and the little boys can beat up on/shoot them… but not vice-versa. In our home, we’re not training up “bad guys” who can slip away from authorities… we’re training young men to be strong enough to deal with wicked men (“bad guys”).
5- If someone says “stop” you stop. Every time.
This is the same rule for all kinds of things– tickling, joking, sitting too close, getting in someone’s face, calling someone by a nickname, rubbing someone’s freshly-buzzed haircut, etc. etc. etc.
6- When I say put them away, they go away.
Nerf guns bug me the most, so sometimes they go away for long stretches of time. LOL 🙂
But anytime things get out of control, or I think it’s creating chaos and harm, and no longer a beneficial outlet for play, I get to decide when it gets put away and that’s that.
HERE’S MY BIG-PICTURE THINKING ABOUT THIS:
Boys come inbuilt with the tendency toward wrestling, roughhousing, battle, and play fighting. I mean, I’m a mom of 8 boys and by and large, they just do.
Strength, competition, sparring, learning how to use strength, learning when to stop and help someone, learning how far is too far, learning how to seek forgiveness and make restitution when you’ve hurt someone, learning how to forgive someone else and move on when they hurt you… all these things and more are things that are learned through seemingly-optional things like wrestling and play-fighting.
Here are two excellent videos about that:
- Why Kids Need Rough & Tumble Play– (4 minutes) Jordan Peterson
- The Absolute Necessity of Fathers– (95 minutes) Warren Farrell and Jordan Peterson
Testosterone is not a bad thing at all! It was designed and given by God. It is not innately toxic. But it needs to be channeled according to wisdom and kindness.
Our sons need to be equipped over their lifetimes to realize that their strength is given to them in order to bless the people around them and to protect those who are vulnerable.
The desire to protect those who are weaker is a great use of testosterone and adrenaline– and the desire to hunt down evil and eradicate it is another. Churchill was said to have played war games all through his childhood. David fought lions away from his sheep.
These ways of playing good-vs-evil, cops-and-robbers, and jobs like working to protect vulnerable animals have made great men through the ages.
Our boys have, again and again, shown a natural inclination toward, and a mutual enjoyment of, rough and tumble play.
I DO stay tuned in to help them all discern the difference between aggressive/fun yelling/sparring, and the change in tone when someone is getting their body (or their feelings) hurt. (Sometimes that means coaching the others to be more kind, and sometimes it means coaching the one who is overly-sensitive to not be so easily irritated/hurt.)
While it can sometimes feel overly aggressive to us as women (I’ve found that this has been especially true for my fellow-mom friends who grew up without any brothers!), I’ve learned that it can be a great thing.
These little moments can be used to build in character, with lessons like:
- we protect the weak
- we pay attention when someone is hurt
- strength is something worth building
- we listen when someone says “no”
- we work for the good, and against the evil
- we still operate under authority, even if we’re amped up/mad/hurt/excited
For our home, we’ve decided that the benefits outweigh concerns. I don’t mind if our boys “play fight” as long as they are all (more or less) enjoying it, and (in any ways that include elements of ethics and morality) building character as they do it.
IN THE COMMENTS: If you’re a boy mom, what are YOUR “house rules” for play fighting?