When my son was five years old, he asked to buy a set of army figures at the toy store. It was a set of about 40 small plastic figures, in different poses with different weapons and flags. There was also a plastic sheet with pictures of terrain on it.
Although I didn’t want him to play army, I decided to say yes hoping to share an opportunity to explore the idea of war together. Our country was in a discourse about wars, and he had some awareness of what was happening, but not much.
War Games: Moving Too Fast
I quickly learned that it didn’t make sense for him to play with the army soldiers with friends or other adults, because they would immediately set up scenarios that they had seen or heard about. There were battles with people dying, words my son didn’t know yet, and didn’t need to know. It just exposed him to too much, too quickly.
So after allowing him to play couple of times with friends or his babysitter, I decided that I would be the one to play with him, even though I hated the idea.
Finding A Peaceful Way To Play Army
The answer lay in Special Time, and I told him that we would only play during that time.
Special Time is a timed one on one play session where the adult follows the child's directions. This was one of the main benefits of playing with the army toys this way. Having my son take the lead meant I was following his him, and not introducing ideas based on my knowledge.
As a result the play became mostly about arranging the figures in various ways.
There was no strategy, not even any real fighting, because he didn’t know the details of war.
He asked about the flags and we talked about how we are often given the idea that there are good guys and bad guys, and that we are often encouraged to think about people with the non-US flag as bad guys.
He easily grasped that this was not fair.
We only played a few more times, and then the toy sat unused on a shelf.
I think the main outcome of playing with the soldiers during Special Time was his understanding that no group of people could be considered bad. For me, that felt like the most peaceful resolution.
Find out more about Special Time here with a free chapter from our book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges.
Does your child ask you to play games or activities you don't feel comfortable with? Here's how you can use Special Time to explore saying yes and feeling comfortable with this. Using Special Time To Explore Things That Are Normally Off Limits
Don't know how to play? Get inspiration in What If I'm Just Not A Playful Parent?