It's better to teach them what swords are for and when -- and when not -- to use them than to pretend they don't exist.
This afternoon, the sun began to shine for the first time all week. I immediately took advantage of the unexpected gift and herded my five and two-year-olds to the car for a quick trip to the playground.
On the short walk from the door to the car, my five-year-old Lincoln stopped to pick up a long, thick stick laying across the path.
“Now I’m ready!” he announced, eyes shining.
“No, Lincoln, you can’t take that stick to the park,” I told him firmly. “It’s too long and you’ll accidentally hit Isaac in the head with it in the car.” I knew this was a true because it had happened before, more than once, with that very same stick.
“But then what will I use for a stick?” Lincoln asked, his big blue eyes looking up at me forlornly. “I have to have a stick, Mommy.”
“We can find a stick at the playground, Linc. You just can’t take this stick in the car.”
He thought about it for a second before shrugging, moving the stick carefully to the side of the walkway where it would presumably be safe from stick-stealing rogues, and sprinting headlong toward the car.
As I buckled the boys in their seats, I thought of how different that conversation would have been with my firstborn, a girl no less spirited than her little brother who took as naturally to stick swords as she did to tutus. Back then my husband and I had banned her from any and all toys inspired by weapons — not just the owning of them, but the playing with them at all.
Naturally, all she wanted to do was play with swords everywhere we went. We redirected, distracted, forbade, and explained (to a 2-year-old!!) our rationale. She sometimes seemed to listen and sometimes nodded off to sleep in the middle of our explanations, because she was 2. But she still wanted the swords — all the swords. I began to fear that my child was inherently, irrevocably violent.
It was this post by Simcha Fisher that changed my mind, showing me that Sienna wasn’t inherently violent; she was inherently a fighter, a quality that must be shaped and guided by parents but should never be stamped out.
Boys who are never allowed to be wild are boys who never learn how to control that wildness. Boys who are not allowed to whack and be whacked with sticks never learn what fighting is like. What’s so bad about that? Well, they may end up hitting someone weak, with no idea how much it hurts to be hit. Or they may end up standing by while the strong go after the weak – and have no idea that it’s their job to put a stop to it.
The same goes for girls. Wildness isn’t a gender-specific trait, but it is a trait that will likely morph into something dangerous if we try and suppress it. A better strategy is to teach children when and where that wildness is appropriate.
As a 12-year-old, Sienna has replaced her love of swords with a love of drama. She frequently interrupts schoolwork and homework with some ill-timed and unrelated story. But she’s a good storyteller, engaging, charismatic, and above all, loud. So we put her in an acting class.
I can’t say it’s helped much, but at least it’s given her a direction and limits. She knows there’s a place for drama and she knows it’s not at school or during homework. I still frequently interrupt and redirect when she launches into a dramatic retelling, but I like knowing that her dramatic bent is being encouraged in an appropriate setting. Her present wildness isn’t being suppressed, it’s being directed.
That’s the difference between banning toy weapons for little boys and teaching them how those weapons should be used. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll never use a weapon in the wrong way — nothing ever can. But it does guarantee they’ll never unintentionally hurt someone with a weapon, because they know what weapons are and what they do.
Which is why I let Linc pick up the biggest stick he could find at the playground today and run around with it enthusiastically before bopping himself on the head. I consoled him when he cried and asked what he learned from hitting himself with the stick.
“Sticks hurt,” he wailed, rubbing his head with one little hand.
Sticks hurt. I’m glad he knows it, and I hope the knowledge guides his actions.