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My 10 year old daughter has developed an acute fear of long guns. This is problematic because we go shooting at the range where I've been showing her guns bigger than our little revolver. This is interfering with her ability to learn self-defense comfortably. She hasn't been able to articulate exactly what's upsetting her, but she's started trying to find any excuse not to go to the range and displaying "I feel unsafe" body language when she's near anything larger than a handgun. This has continued for a few weeks. We're continuing to shoot in the meantime because teaching her self-defense is important, but without forcing her to use anything that couldn't be called a "kid's gun". It seems this hasn't helped.

The impetus for writing this question is that she asked me almost in tears just a few hours ago (when she should be asleep) if we could skip going to the range next weekend (which is days away)!

How do I help her overcome or avoid this anxiety if I can't even figure out what's causing it?

  • It can't be a fear of loud noises (which I also hate), because we use hearing protection.

  • It can't be a fear of powerful recoil. She's hurt her shoulder before due to recoil and been fine.

  • It can't be a fear of weapons in general, because she's still fine with our revolver.

I'm not sure how to proceed.


Update: We went to the range this weekend and I ended up discovering what she is afraid of on the way back. It wasn't a fear of long guns themselves or even handling them, but of other people using them near her and shooting her by accident, even if she's behaving safely. This actually makes a lot of sense. I hated balloons when I was a kid (I still do) because I worried that they'd randomly burst next to me because someone else mishandled them, no matter how well I took care of my own. When I think about it that way, I can understand the fear of accidents with something much more dangerous.

Some of the guys were getting really rowdy and it appeared like she was trying to make herself look really small whenever they were shooting, which is what clued me in. I hadn't noticed that before.

I'm not entirely sure why she was hesitant to tell me. Perhaps she didn't want to look weak by being afraid of something that I wasn't afraid of, or maybe she didn't understand the fear herself, but at least we were able to work it out together and come up with a solution eventually. We're going to get a shotgun to practice at home, and only go to the range on days that are less busy.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Joe Aug 27 at 19:59
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Whether it's long guns, or spiders or heights or something else I think you need to deal with this the same way you would any other fear or anxiety. Talk with them about it. Try to understand why they are feeling anxiety about the object of their fear. Try to understand what caused it, when did it start and why it's happening. If you don't acknowledge their fear you won't be able to help them overcome it. And in the end, it is them who needs to overcome their fear, it's not something you can force.

It's a rare case I think where immersion therapy works so while you are dealing with the anxiety, it might be best to allow them to avoid the circumstances that triggers it. Taking a few weeks or months off isn't going to be a big impact on their training in the long run, but pushing them to be around something that is causing such anxiety could cause them long term issues.

It's important to teach them to be able to protect themselves but I think it's equally important to teach them that you will protect them too and right now the biggest issue is the anxiety they are feeling from being put in this circumstances that expose them to this trigger.

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    "teach them that you will protect them too and right now the biggest issue is the anxiety they are feeling from being put in this circumstances that expose them to this trigger." Could use another full paragraph on this topic. +1 – Adam Heeg Apr 24 at 15:07
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    "It's important to teach them to be able to protect themselves but I think it's equally important to teach them that you will protect them too and right now the biggest issue is the anxiety they are feeling from being put in this circumstances that expose them to this trigger." +1. Excellent. Agree with @AdamHeeg. – anongoodnurse Apr 25 at 1:16
  • Of course I'll protect her, but I'm only human and I can't promise to be invincible. If I'm not available (either because I'm out somewhere, or incapacitated), I want her to be able to defend herself as well as if I was right next to her. The reason I'm teaching her self-defense is specifically because I can't tell her that I can (adequately) protect her. Though I'm not arguing that taking a few weeks off might not be helpful... – forest Apr 25 at 7:36
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    I don't mean to imply that you won't protect her but make sure that she knows that. And not specifically protect her from external threats but protect her from the imaginary ones as well. – Chris M Apr 25 at 14:09
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I like Chris' answer, but consider that there is a difference between spiders and guns. Guns are actually dangerous, while many spiders we encounter daily aren't. So while your daughter's anxiety might be somewhat inexplicable considered that she's not afraid of your revolver, it certainly isn't irrational or misplaced (see footnote below).

If I were you, I would be patient. Learning to shoot isn't like learning how to swim, which is important for kids to learn at a young age to reduce the very real risk of drowning accidents. You can afford to be patient with guns. If your family life doesn't revolve around the central activity of going to the shooting range all the time, consider not forcing your daughter to go. You can always bring it up again in a couple of years, just like Chris suggests.

You say you think it's important that she learns to protect herself, but obviously this can't only be done with guns - you could focus on other aspects of physical self-protection and self-defense for a while. Maybe she'd like to join a martial arts class. She can actually implement what she learns there against bigger kids who try to assault her, and maybe even adults, and it builds self-confidence. Both of these things are valuable, and gun handling can't do either of those things for her right now because she's not allowed to walk around with a gun all the time, so the sense of self-confidence and protection she gets from guns is probably minimal at her age.

(Disclosure - I taught Shotokan Karate to kids for over ten years, so I may be somewhat biased, but I do think martial arts are an excellent choice - I mentioned just two advantages, but there are many more...)


Footnote: Don't misunderstand me: I'm aware that guns can be very safe when you handle them correctly (I live in a country that has a fairly old gun tradition and which requires all their male citizens to enter the army by age 20 and keep their automatic service assault rifles at home for the duration of their service in the armed forces, which is usually until they're about 30 or 35 years old, so it's not like I've not had my share of visits to shooting ranges and live-fire army exercises. Also, many kids in my country are participating in gun sports and shooting competitions, and they also bring the rifles home). So yes, you can provide a safe environment that involves both kids and guns. On the other hand, statistics on accidental shootings, suicides and homicides with guns paint a sad picture (for the US - maybe you're from somewhere else), and even though the environment your daughter is in is likely safe, her fears have a very real base in reality.

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    Focusing on other aspects of self-defense is a really good idea. I hadn't even considered martial arts! – forest Apr 25 at 7:30
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    I specifically left out the topic of firearms because, while important, I felt it was secondary to dealing with a child's fears. Personally I think 10 is a little young. Boy Scouts don't do firearm training until tenderfoot (13 yrs old) the NRA youth training for under 11 focuses on how not to touch a gun if you find one in your house. I personally think that teaching a 10 year old the idea of using deadly force is probably part of this reaction. But that's why I thought dealing with it as a fear based issue and not as a firearm based topic was more direct. – Chris M Apr 25 at 14:16
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    @Chris - I agree, your answer is fine and I upvoted. I just wanted to point out that the child's fear is not irrational, considering the subject matter. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to handle it differently, but it suggests that accepting it for now instead of trying to help her overcome it could be the better way forward. That actually agrees with what seems to be the consensus that's forming across the answers, and what you just said - give it time and don't push, she's still very young. – Pascal says Talk To Monica Apr 25 at 14:56
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I think there are a few things here that need to be addressed to help your daughter out.

First is the way you seem to be thinking about this. You have labeled her fear of long guns as "irrational". To any child (or any human, for that matter), how irrational a fear is doesn't matter. Being scared sucks. A lot. Even if there is no "good" reason to be scared, it doesn't change the fact that no one likes feeling scared and unsafe. I would first recommend that you stop thinking about her fear this way. It could easily become a way to be dismissive of her fear. And that won't help her at all.

Second, as addressed beautifully by @Pascal, claiming that going to the shooting range to teach your daughter self defense feels like an impractical reason to push her to go. She isn't likely to have a gun available to defend herself with on a day to day basis. As such, it isn't likely to be useful in a practical sense. Martial arts or other kinds of self defense are going to be more useful, both for self defense and for the other benefits they provide.

To get to something a little closer to the heart of the matter here, we need to look at how your daughter is handling this. As you've stated, she appears to feel unsafe around long guns. Her verbal and non-verbal communications have made this clear. Please do not force her to do something where she feels unsafe. That will likely exacerbate the problem and create stronger associations between feelings of fear and being unsafe with the shooting range and long guns. So, again, please don't force long guns on her. It's not going to help her overcome her fear; it will just make it worse.

Personally, I would start by skipping the range for a bit. Let her have some time to calm down. Let her see that you are listening and trying to help her. Then ease back into it. Go with the promise of only using hand guns (and stick to it, don't surprise her with long guns when you get there). Your best bet here is to help her build up trust in you that you will listen to her when she's fearful and that you will respond in ways that make her feel safe. As that trust builds, she will be better able to let you help her learn to use long guns such that she feels safe around them. Don't force it on her. If anything (and be very careful with this), gently suggest trying using long guns (if she's uncomfortable, stop. Don't keep pushing).


If I were to hazard a guess as to why she feels unsafe, I would guess that she doesn't feel like she's in control of larger guns. She obviously knows guns are dangerous and knows they need to be handled with care. Hand guns are pretty easy to control and be accurate with. Long guns are much harder, especially when you have short (compared to an adult) 10 year old arms. Heck, most adults can't be super accurate or consistent with a long gun standing up (which is why using a bench, going prone, maybe with a bipod or at least a one knee approach is how a lot of people train and practice). Add to that the weight and gravitational leverage of a long gun and I can see why a child would struggle with a long gun. And I can see why not feeling in control of a dangerous object can cause fear.

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Not to be a d-bag on the subject as I can see you have beliefs of guns and their role in (presumably American) society and safety, but as a gun owner and operator, trained and equipped to handle passing such training onto a child, you should know very well there's no such thing as a "kid's gun"

Any firearm has to be looked at abstractly. A gun, like a car, is inert until put in the hands of someone. There are no kid's cars. If they are a kid's car, it's not a car but probably a go kart or something similar. Guns have those equals as well.

That being said, if the range is scaring her perhaps her level of learning at this point is to be done elsewhere. If she can competently handle your revolver, then perhaps mastery of that one would suffice for your own parental needs.

(you never stated you are firing long guns with her, just that she has a fear of long guns. the following is just about handling long guns and more for the information of the readers as I suspect you know all of this already)

Now "long guns" come in all sorts of varieties as you know. Firing a .22lr hunting rifle is similar in sound to a .22lr revolver. We don't have the full details to speculate, but if you have tried training her on a .22 rifle and she protests, then perhaps her fear is due to the war like appearance of any rifle. Or that the range is full of larger weapons and the constant popping is associating your training with the thought of being surrounded by the discharge of weapons she may be training to fight against. I'm no expert per say. It's all speculation.

Conversely, many people don't realize the full weight and recoil power of even lighter rifles. An AR of any make is relatively light to an adult, but to a kid the weight of the gun and the recoil, and sound could feel to them the same way a .50 BMG would feel to an adult. And perhaps training her on rifles at this age may not make sense because of the weights and recoils alone. I held a M1A the other day. At some 15 pounds all equipped I don't know if I would even try training a minor on that thing. Never mind allowing them to be near them at a range. A .308 (if people aren't aware as a very common caliber) is hellishly loud. Like the sound of a building exploding to someone who has not heard one discharged. A 9mm is pretty loud but by comparison is about as fierce as comparing the .22 (even WMR) to a 9mm. The difference is staggering.

So considering all that, I have a feeling that her fear is the environment itself and not necessarily the long guns themselves. If she is expressing a fear of long guns specifically, then it's probably a generalized association with what she sees and hears at the range.

Where I live, you don't need to go to a range. You can drive south of town 10 miles and wreak havoc on the desert landscape all you want. With nobody else around, you can eliminate the environmental factor. If you have that as an option, I might suggest switching things up for a while. When she is ready in your opinion, maybe introducing her to a varmint level rifle and gradually working up to whatever your actual goals are.

Along what pascal said, I would consider practical training on disarming assailants and psychological approaches to dangerous situations. Maybe not in place of firearm training, but definitely along side. You do not mention if this is already happening but for all other readers, I would advise that to anyone, regardless of their stance on guns or if they are pacifists by nature.

My 2 cents though, .22WMR is about as high as I would try to persuade my kids to handle, and not until they were much older.

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    A "kid's gun" is a gun that's easier for a smaller body to use and with less recoil. There are certainly guns that are actually designed for kids. Some are even colored pink. I completely understand what you're getting at though. Even a kid's gun is extremely dangerous and is not a toy. As for needing to go to the range, that's because we can use guns that we either don't have at home (we only have one) or which we can't own legally. – forest Apr 25 at 6:39
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    Yeah, my comment was more for other readers. I handle guns and quite a bit of how others perceive the notion of guns comes from presumptions. Terms like "kids guns" are common to us, but other people would generalize that another way that could be interpreted as... well, arming kids... but casually and not with the overtones of parental guidance and safely trained responsibility. Have you seen the mini beretta m92? It looks like it is deliberately scaled down to fit in a 10 year old's hands. But it's a conceal gun and not a kid's gun. All the same, a kid could handle it. – Kai Qing Apr 25 at 16:27
  • Good to know about your range, also. If I had access to a range where I could try things I might have a different selection of... defenses – Kai Qing Apr 25 at 16:27

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