Ask An Expert / School

What should a worried kindergarten teacher do about imaginary gun play in her class?

Try not to overreact — a balanced response works best

Rachel Busman, PsyD
Rachel Busman, PsyD

Interim Senior Director, Anxiety Disorders Center, Director, Selective Mutism Service

Child Mind Institute

I am a social worker at a private school. One of our novice kindergarten teachers is very uneasy with the pervasive level of imaginary gun play in her class for the past few months. Any ideas of how to guide her on this issue?

It’s understandable that parents and teachers might be uneasy seeing imaginary violent play, especially in light of recent events. But imaginary play with everything from bows and arrows to laser swords is normal and is developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners. If they’re not allowed to have toy guns they’ll use something else — toilet paper rolls or their fingers.

What works best is for parents and teachers to take a balanced approach — not overreacting to this kind of play by branding it as horrible and shameful, but not encouraging it by giving them an arsenal of toy weaponry, either.

I’d let the teacher know that this kind of play isn’t linked to violence, and isn’t cause for concern unless a child is unable to engage in other activities, or is exhibiting other signs of aggression — repeated physical fights with other children or extremely violent play that can’t be interrupted.

I would want to ask your novice teacher why she’s uneasy — what it is she’s worried about — and I hope she has a support system to respond to anxiety she may have related to the recent school shootings. When teachers are uncomfortable, kids pick up on that discomfort, so it’s good to make sure she has whatever attention she needs.