I have two pre-school children and I need to help them play with & understand certain violent toys, but I'm struggling with it. I've searched online but it seems like most resources are about whether to allow kids to play with violent toys, whether doing so leads to more violent kids. That is not my question.

My question is somewhat awkward, so here it is: My kids don't know what guns are and I need to help them understand. How should I do it?

They need to know because they're in stories, they're accessories to toys, and at nursery their peers will know what they are and how to play with them. And my kids just need to know; we didn't plan for them not to know this particular fact at age 3, but we can see that they don't.

They know that swords are like big knives, and that's a deterrent. When they play with swords they say things like, "Stay back or I will sword you."

They know that cannons shoot balls of metal into other ships (mainly, also at circuses), in order to sink them. At playgrounds, they see cannons on pretend ships and things like that.

They have a vague notion that war is when adults have to go and fight each other, but that's where it ends: Beyond that, I don't think they really have a notion of death or killing, nor should they particularly.

We talk about most of their toys and usually, there's a connection to something in real life, even if it's something like a Thor's hammer or a knife. Obviously, there's a real-life connection for firearms too, but not really their lives, and I'm not really sure how to explain it. Hammers and knives have multiple purposes, for example, which makes those things easier.

What has triggered this question for me is Toy Story: They are too young for the first one -- it's PG -- but my older one has seen parts of it and knows the basic premise. They don't know why Woody gets out his 'banger' when he's scared, because they think it just makes a big bang. (For example they've seen cartoon cowboys riding around in circles shooting in the air to celebrate.) My unsure explanations that maybe he's going to try to scare Buzz Lightyear with a big bang ring quite hollow. It also doesn't explain why some space toys have them, or what other kids are doing when they're playing shootouts etc..

In the new movie in the series, there's a character who's a plastic fork but nonetheless becomes a toy to someone, and by virtue of that fact alone it springs to life yet still needs identity counseling. My kids saw that clip, and could step back and see the voice actors being interviewed and making jokes about the films. If they can follow all of that, they can surely understand what I need to tell them, if I knew how to tell them.

I can't really compare this with my own experience growing up in the 1970s watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Again this is nothing to do with whether or not to play with them, or if doing so would lead to violent kids, much less politics or anything like that. I want them to understand kids stories, toys, Toy Story, and how to play with their peers at nursery. I also would like to be the one to address this gap, and I'd be grateful for any advice on the best way to do it.

1 Answer 1


One way to approach this is by using water pistols.

Completely coincidentally, with the start of summer, both my kids happened to be using water guns which shoot water at each other.

This is one answer, not the accepted answer.

It seems that since playing with water pistols my kids understand what guns do, along with their effect, deterrents, shootouts, whether or not you're "out" from getting hit, etc.. The details of what's actually being shot, or its true effect, aren't important.

Water pistols are a way to help children understand firearms, without any foray into threat beyond a child's understanding.

I am posting this suggestion in the hope that it helps someone.

I didn't expect this answer to present itself to me through my children, a few days after posting my question on here, and I won't accept it as The Answer since it's my own solution.

I'm grateful for any other feedback, alternatives or comments.

  • Good answer! That had not occurred to me even though my kids played with "Super Soakers". Jul 8, 2019 at 20:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .