I remember my sweet four year old son was so shocked when he first learned about the existence of guns that he spent months exploring why guns existed, wondering why the government didn’t do anything to get rid of guns, and talking about collecting all the guns in the world and melting them down to recycle them. I would listen to his concerns as best I could and reassure him that there were lots of people around the world working peacefully to resolve conflict without guns and many more who were working towards ways to increase stricter controls of guns. However, the shock that we humans have developed these weapons that can harm and kill people so quickly had hit hard upon him. Unfortunately, at that point, I hadn’t developed the art of Playlistening, which could have helped him loosen some of that fear.
What Happened to My Innocent Boy?
Over time and exposure to more social interactions with other children, this play changed, and by the age of seven he had a keen interest in gun play. I found this really distressing at first, and as this play started coming up more, I noticed my reaction, which was “what has happened to my sweet innocent boy.” My thinking was that there was no way I wanted my son playing with guns. However, I also realized that he was playing this out for a reason, and that totally banning it wasn't going to be the best way to help him with it. How was I going to figure this out?
Dealing With My Issues First
Thankfully, by this stage I had become more versed in the Parenting by Connection approach and I realized, that if I was going to help him with the hurt and isolation that was sitting under this play, I was going to need to do some emotional work on my end. So I spent some good chunks of time in my Listening Partnership working on how much I disliked guns, how much I hated the idea of playing with guns, and my disappointment that my innocent little boy had now become interested in gun play. Once I had released some of those feelings, I began to become much less reactive and much more flexible in my thinking, so that I could spontaneously join him in this play when it arose.
Bringing the Fun to Gun Play
Around this time, he went through a period of making guns out of connecting coloured textas (what we call markers in Australia). He would take the lids off some of the textas and connect them all together so they were long and had triggers (they were truly beautiful creations). One day, when we were doing some Special Time, he decided to use his creations in our play, and for the first time, he wanted me to shoot him.
Before the emotional work I’d done for myself, there was no way I would have even considered the idea, let alone thought creatively about how I could shoot him playfully. However, my mind was working well this day. As I started moving towards him, I realised the gun was very wobbly, so I started wobbling my gun towards him and he starting laughing a little. That little bit of laughter was an opportunity for me to bring some Playlistening into Special Time. So I took the opportunity to follow his lead and do it some more.
I had the wobbliest gun in the world, a very silly and bumbling weapon, with just the right ingredients that he needed to get to some deep laughter that helped him release some fear around this issue. I'd start heading towards him, quite slowly and intentionally, but with a very playful seriousness about it, but then, after a couple of seconds, my gun would get all wobbly and it would either fall right off, or droop down from the end. Sometimes it would even flick off near him because it was wobbling so much. He was laughing so hard and he had so much fun with it that he kept initiating the game over the next few weeks.
After playing, we were in such a warmly connected place that the rest of the day flowed like a dream. We had a strong sense of being felt by each other and an easy willingness to cooperate and work together towards what worked best for everyone. It really reminded me about the power of laughter to deeply connect us.
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Find out about all five of Hand in Hand's five listening tools in the book Listen: Five Simple Tools To Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges, and discover how make parenting more connected and fun.
Megan Edwards is an Australian Hand in Hand Instructor.