Last post I wrote about the importance of keeping guns secured away from unsupervised children, and referenced a great article by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services entitled Gun Safety. It talks about the frightening statistics regarding kids and firearms, and also sets out the basic rules regarding safely storing and locking up guns.
It also raises an important issue that I don’t see discussed very often – the importance of teaching children the difference between fantasy play and reality. Part of the wonder of kids is their incredible imaginations. The bedroom of our four year old, Cate, is in a finished attic. It’s set up like a loft, and there’s no door so you can hear everything she’s doing from the second floor. One of my favorite things to do is simply listen to her play. She creates these intricate characters and scenarios – truly in her own little world. Likewise Michael, our five year old, happily spends hours playing on the floor with his cars and Lego’s. He will also pretend to use and shoot guns – whether it be cops and robbers or some other type of game with his sisters or his friends. We don’t forbid him from playing these games, but we have friends in our neighborhood who are staunchly opposed to guns and absolutely forbid any type of play involving guns. It doesn’t matter – their sons still fashion sticks, pencils or whatever into pretend guns – it’s just what some kids do.
But what happens, god forbid, if an unsupervised child who’s never been exposed to a real gun comes across one. Perhaps playing hide and seek on a play date he comes across a box in a closet. Or opens a drawer in a bedside table. Or is able to open the gun case in the house of a parent who hunts. This is a situation where it’s critical for a child needs to understand the difference between reality and make believe. With a real gun, someone who is shot doesn’t come back to life like a cartoon character – the consequences are literally a matter of life or death.
So, talk to your kids about the difference between fantasy and reality – when watching TV, reading a book, or when playing with them. As with anything you teach your kids, the concept is best reenforced with repetition – not in a way that scares or browbeats them, but so that it’s fun and challenging. Above all, make sure your kids know never to touch a real gun, and if they or their friends ever come across one they should stop, don’t touch and immediately find an adult. No matter how you feel about guns, when it comes to unsupervised kids, this is something we can all agree on. Stay safe.