Mama Drama: Supporting Non-Violence in Toddlers
Dear Mama Drama:
My 22-month-old son has recently started using his toy trains in a way that looks and sounds like a gun to my husband and I. He points the trains at us and makes a “pshh, pshh” sound.
We are vigilant about not exposing him to violence and are stunned by his behavior. It feels awful to have my child shooting at me.
We believe he has picked up the behavior from a boy at his childcare home whose parents allow him to play with guns and swords. Our childcare provider does not allow him to play with those items in her home, but he does play that way with other toys.
Our initial response has been to stop the behavior by telling him “no guns”, but we realized we don’t really even want him knowing that word yet. I’m worried that this behavior will get worse and need some ideas on how to handle it.
~ Non-Violent Mama
I understand how disturbing it must feel to have your child shooting at you when you’ve work hard to keep him from being exposed to violence. Try to look at the behavior from his perspective. He is imitating a behavior he observed with a peer and is making a sound he thinks is fun. He doesn’t have any idea about the reality of the shooting behavior and what that means in the world. Remember that as adults we have many layers of experience, which our children do not, that give meaning to the behaviors we observe.
Since you are uncomfortable with the shooting behavior, talk with you childcare provider about the type of play occurring between the children and the level of supervision she is providing during their play. Encourage her to redirect and teach the children different ways to play with toys.
This same redirection and teaching is also how you can handle the behavior at home. When your son points the train at you like a gun, remind him, “trains drive on tracks,” and help him roll it on the tracks or floor. You can also distract him from that behavior by engaging in another activity with him.
Be creative in how you respond to the shooting sounds. Think of a replacement meaning for the sound such as the brakes or whistle of the train. You can also make up a game with him where you add to his repertoire with other silly mouth sounds that he will enjoy just as much as the pshh, pshh sound.
Continue to reinforce safe and gentle behavior with your son as he grows. As his social understanding and experiences expand you will be able to emphasis that theme with him in all of his interactions.
How have you Mamas handled similar situations with your children?