I wrote this post last week while I was at the High Scope International Conference. I did a workshop on gunplay (and warplay and super hero play). I also was able to be a part of several great workshops. One workshop that really touched me was called Make Room for Boys by Gerin Martin and Sandy Slack based on their book of the same name. The book and workshop has tips for teachers on how to work with boys based on what we know about the development of boys.
One of the things they addressed was the need for boys to express their feelings and for teachers to help them do so. They talked about the need for boys to learn a variety of feelings not just “happy,” “sad” and “mad.”
During my workshop on gunplay, a participant talked about how boys express some scary things. I asked the question, “Is itOK for them to express anger?” I could have asked, “Is it OK for them to express fear?” Many participants at my workshop seemed uncomfortable with boys pretending to use guns or weapons. The person mentioned above, and I am sure others, worried about boys expressing violent fantasies.
What I find interesting is this reluctance of teachers to allow boys (and some girls) to express their fantasies because it is too “scary.” The fear isn’t about children engaging in actual violence, but pretending to engage in violence. Children often engage in this type of play to gain a sense of power, especially over fears that they have. In other words, this type of play is a way to express a sense of fear and power (and at times anger) without actually being physically aggressive.
In fact when children engage in gunplay or superhero play, they show a great deal of impulse control by staying in the role they take on. The child in their role may shoot or otherwise attack “a bad guy,” but they stay in character and follow the rules of that character. For example Superman flies, but doesn’t use a gun. A police officer uses a gun, but doesn’t fly. We should be encouraging children to express their fears (and other emotions) in such a controlled and measured way, not trying to stop it.
If we want boys to learn that it is okay to feel scared, frustrated, giddy, embarrassed, worried, overwhelmed and understand that everyone feels that way at times, we need to encourage them to express themselves through play (and in conversation). If they are not hurting anyone, they should be able to choose what they pretend even if an adult finds it scary.
As Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”