My 6-year-old son likes to play with fake swords and guns but recently has begun using them in inappropriate ways. His behavior seems to have changed since he made a new friend about a week ago. He has stopped listening to his leaders in his after-school program, strays from the group and has even started poking girls with sticks and pinching them. I have taken away the swords for a day and explained that he must change his behavior in order to get them back. He is on the brink of getting kicked out of the after-school program because of his behavior. What else can I do to correct his recent change in behavior?
Thank you for contacting us with your parenting frustrations. Please know that it is normal for 6-year-old boys to play "guns and swords." They will pick up a branch or even a cucumber or banana and use it for a gun or sword. It is best to teach them never to point it at another person and if they do, they lose the privilege of playing with whatever it was. Tell your son that he cannot play guns and swords in certain areas.
At six, he will need lots of reminders. We recommend that you talk about it every day at some point in the day. You can have the conversation by asking him what he is allowed to point the gun at and where he can play guns and where he can't. Also ask him why he shouldn't play guns in those areas. Praise him when he provides the correct answers.
Other issues that you mentioned can be addressed at home by describing to him how he should listen when someone is talking. Let him know that he should:
- Stop what he is doing immediately
- Look at the person who is talking
- Nod his head or say “okay” to indicate that he is listening
- Not interrupt, but wait to ask questions when he does not understand
Again, he will need lots of reminders and practice. Before you begin to talk with him, remind him to use his "listening skill." Ask if he remembers the steps to listening. Have him actually tell you what they are before you begin to tell him something. When he uses all of the steps, praise him. If he does not remember them all, review the steps again, then practice in a pretend situation.
Try these techniques and let us know if they are helping.