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We recently visited Legoland for a family vacation and stayed at the new Legoland Hotel. In the evening, the hotel hosts Lego building contests for the kids. To my surprise, many of the boys were running around with guns that they created with Legos. Of all the objects in the world, why did these kids choose to construct guns?


I wondered if this was something they were taught at home or whether there was some instinct in boys that led them to build guns instead of a boat, robot, car, etc. In my home, guns are off limits and my son has never used Legos to make a gun. What was going on here that so many of these boys were running around with Lego guns?

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What The Experts Say

I have to be honest, I am pretty shocked by what the experts say about kids playing with toy guns. Essentially, there are no studies linking toy gun play to future violent behavior. In fact, many experts believe that this type of creative play is necessary – and even helpful – for the growth and development of boys.

In a Today’s Parent article, psychologist Joanne Cummings, Director of Knowledge Mobilization at PREVNet – an organization focused on bullying – explained that during the ages between two and six boys typically gravitate toward active play with aggressive themes involving weapons and fighting. A recent survey found that about 60 to 80 percent of boys play with aggressive toys at home, including guns.

This kind of imaginative play helps boys understand role-playing and empathy. They are learning about power in relationships. The idea is that by “killing the bad guys”, they can have some control over their world. If they are not intentionally trying to harm someone else and if everyone is having fun, then playing in this way can teach boys self-control and self-regulation.

Fantasy play with guns is not necessarily aggressive behavior. It has actually been linked to social and cognitive development. Through imaginary games, children learn how to control impulses, delay gratification, think symbolically, view a situation from a different perspective, read other’s facial cues and body language, and relate to others in the group.

Play also allows children to act out their fears and aspirations. Finally, playing with toy guns shows children the difference between real and pretend violence. Gerald Jones points out that several psychologists he interviewed argue that it would be disadvantageous to shelter our children from this type of play because of the lessons that it teaches regarding fantasy versus reality.

It is common for boys to set up scenarios during playtime that involve killing bad guys and saving the world. It may appear negative and violent to us, but these young boys view it as them trying to keep the world safe from the bad guys. According to anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s theory, when children play with toy guns, they do it within a play frame they have created in which a shooting is not really a shooting. Children do not see their own play through the lens that we do. To children, gun play is just play, while to us it can appear scary and violent. But study after study shows that this behavior is normal for this age group, and does not indicate a problem.

Why This Is So Confusing?

After poring over all this research, I still feel leery about my own child playing with guns. Fortunately, my son is past that time frame in which gun play is typical. I still want to understand what the difference is between other countries’ cultures and American culture, where we have a long history of toy guns and wake up every morning to yet another news story about a tragic shooting. Even if boys biologically have an attraction to aggressive play, should we still just sit back and let them have a field day with toy guns when they could be focusing on other, more positive games?

Although my son never owned a toy gun, including a water gun, I have not completely sheltered him from guns such as in the Lego movie. But even though he has watched that movie about 100 times, he still never imitated the shooting activity. What makes him different? Biology? How he was raised? Maybe he is just an anomaly and part of the approximately 20 percent of boys who do not play with guns.

I asked him what he thought and he simply stated, “I know guns hurt people. Why would I want to play with something that is about hurting people? I have no interest in that.”

What Can Parents Do?

Now that you have the facts and know that if your kids play with toy guns it doesn’t necessarily mean they will grow up to be violent adults, how will you approach gun play? Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to toy guns:

Have An Open Dialogue

Talk to your children about how real guns are used and that they can harm people. It is also important to talk to them about how to resolve conflicts in peaceful ways. They need to understand that gun play is make-believe and that in real life we do not fight and hurt others. Instead, we use our words to explain how feel.

Avoid Buying Toys That Look Like Real Guns

Minimize any confusion between toy guns and real guns by only letting your kids play will toys that look nothing like a real gun, such as a neon colored water pistol. Better yet, if they want to play guns, let them create their own with other objects they already have such as popsicle sticks, toilet paper rolls, or building blocks like Legos.

Set boundaries

If they are going to play aggressive games, let them know when they cross the line and need to stop. They need to learn that the game is over when their friend is no longer having fun or when they are hurting someone else. If their actions get out of hand, we need to step in and break it up.   

Watch Closely

Give your children the freedom to play, but stay nearby and monitor what they are doing. Also, keep tabs on how much of their play time involves guns and other aggressive behavior. If they want to only play with guns and shoot the bad guys, it is a good idea to step in and help them shift gears to another type of activity.

Teach Your Kids Alternative Ways To Release Their Anger

Realize that guns are not the only way for young boys to express their anger and frustration. Direct them to other avenues, such as sports, running around outside, art, punching a pillow, singing or listening to music that matches their mood, and even shouting or imitating powerful animals like a lion. It is also critical that we give them ways to calm themselves down and to feel more balanced. Teach them deep breathing, mindfulness, and yoga to help them transform their anger into positive energy.

Realize This Is Temporary

Finally, for the majority of boys gun play will just be a stage that they will quickly grow out of. Before you know it, they will be reciting football stats like my son is doing now.

Red Flags To Watch For

Most kids outgrow aggressive gun play behavior by age six, and will then shift their attention to sports. But, what if this is not the case? According to Michael Thompson, Ph.D., a small percentage of boys have truly aggressive behavior that is worth being worried about. These boys have issues controlling their impulses and deciphering between fantasy and reality. They may frequently hit, punch, and bully other kids.

One sign to watch out for is if they do not use their imagination, such as repeating violent scenes in movies over and over again or taking one toy and using it to bash another toy repeatedly. If they are always talking about hurting others and killing bad guys, this is also a red flag. Start to address this behavior by asking them questions about who the bad guys are and why they are bothering him.

Finally, Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play and author of “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” says to pay attention to how the other children your son is playing with are reacting. If they are wrestling and laughing, that is very different than one boy pinning another one down and the one in the inferior position looking very upset and hurt. If the troubling behavior continues, seek help by talking to your pediatrician or a therapist.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:

Kindness

Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.

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Responsibility

Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.

Patience

Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.

Politeness

Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.

Flexibility

Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.

Empathy

Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.

Cooperation

Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.

Gratitude

Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.

Respect

As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
Learn + Play

Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

News

Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).


Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

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  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


ORDER A BOX

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My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.

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But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

Life
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