14/08/2014 16:51 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Should We Let Children Play With Guns?

Should we allow children to play with guns?

Whether it is OK for boys to play with toy guns is a controversial topic. Many parents may feel uncomfortable about their young child wielding a gun and going around shooting people, even if it is with a toy. Other parents may think that it is all part of being a boy and that a boy's natural aggressive tendencies should not be suppressed.

So who is right? The research on whether toy guns make children more aggressive is contradictory. What is interesting is that play therapists, who use play to help children work through anxieties and issues, include toy guns for the children to play with.

After some initial reservations, I have decided to be reasonably relaxed about letting my son play with toy guns as he was making guns out of Lego and cardboard anyway. One of his best friends has a nerf gun and they seemed to have so much fun playing with them at his friend's house, I decided to buy one too. I also want my son to feel that he can play whatever games he likes within reason.

One problem I have encountered so far is the consternation of some of my friends at having toy guns in the house. Some of them have said that they would never have a toy gun in their house and they try to stop their son's playing shooting games. This has allowed me to discuss and debate the research regarding aggression and toy guns with them.

Although it is unclear whether children should be allowed to play with toy guns, what is clear from the research is that aggressive play should not be stopped. Landy and Menna found that mothers of aggressive children were more likely to stop aggressive make-believe play. They were also more likely to say things like 'That's not nice' or 'That's unkind'.

In contrast, mothers of non-aggressive children would play along with the aggressive play, taking on the voice of certain characters and pretending to be scared, killed or eaten by crocodiles and dinosaurs.

Landy and Menna suggest that children become more aggressive if they cannot act out their aggression during play. If aggression is not released during play, then it ends up being acted out physically through hitting, biting and pushing.

Faye Carlisle is a mother and a psychology teacher. She has worked at four different schools in the UK, both in the independent and state sector.

Blogs at: Psychologymum
Twitter: @FayeCarlisle1

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