Ferne Kotlyar

Max, The Little Boy Who Loves Guns - Fridays with Ferne: Episode #30

Have you ever been worried that your child would end up on the wrong side of the tracks? What about when they were four years old?  

Max, at four years old, loves guns. Max wants to be just like his father who sells gun parts and takes his son to shooting ranges. Max’s favorite game is playing nerf guns with his parents. When they play, the only rule is that Max cannot shoot his little brother Pete. One day, Max does exactly that – he shoots his brother with a nerf gun, who promptly bursts into tears. Max then runs away and continues to play as though nothing had happened. Mom is doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know how to deal with Max in a way that helps him understand the gravity of what he’s playing with. Mom is worried that if Max doesn’t understand the weight of a toy gun, then he won’t understand the weight of a real gun.  

I think that if Max cannot safely play with nerf guns, then they should be taken away. If Max continues to use his fingers or reimagine other toys into guns, mom should change his focus of attention. Give him something different to play with, shift his attention onto something else.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™ and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back™. You have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast, and today is Fridays with Ferne. Ferne, welcome back!  

[00:00:20] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yay! Thank you for having me!  

[00:00:23] Kim Ades:
So, what are we talking about today? What do you have on your agenda?  

[00:00:27] Ferne Kotlyar:
All right. So, today we have a case that actually somebody sent in, so thank you. Today's case is about a little boy named Max, and his parents. So, this little boy is four years old and he really looks up to his father, who is someone that sells gun parts. 

So, this little boy loves playing with guns, like toy guns, but you know, his father takes him shooting to some ranges up north, shooting disks and stuff at ranges and targets. So, this little boy loves playing with guns but there are some rules in the house. He's not allowed to ever shoot at people, whether that is with a Nerf gun, a toy gun, or with any sort of fake pretend gun. He is never allowed to point at people and especially not his younger brother.  

So, he has these rules in the house and he's generally pretty respectful. But one day they're playing Nerf and this little boy shoots at his brother and the little brother starts to cry. I mean, it is just a Nerf gun, but the brother is young and he starts to cry, and mom comes into the room and cuddles the little boy, of course, and tells Max to apologize, but Max kind of just runs away and keeps playing. And the mother doesn't know what to do.  

How do you properly teach Max? Like, yelling and screaming, probably isn't going to be super helpful, but how do you properly teach Max that guns are really dangerous and whether it's pretend or not? Like, if she takes the gun away, which she's tried, he just creates a new gun. You know, anything can be re-imagined into a gun, be it the spine of a book or even your fingers. So, she wants to help portray the gravity of the situation to Max, but she doesn't know how. His father's really his role model.  

[00:02:27] Kim Ades:
Yeah. So, I have a strong opinion about guns, especially guns for children, and so, perhaps I will not be so biased in this conversation. But from my perspective, I would never give a four year-old anything that is a dangerous instrument. Right? I wouldn't have them walking around the house with a knife, I wouldn't have them walking around the house with a gun, even if it's a Nerf gun. 

And so, from my perspective, these are things that I wouldn't have around my home for my children. In this particular case, the son Max was told, you know, "you're not allowed to shoot at people", he did, I think it's a good idea to remove the gun. Now, when he uses his finger or the book spine as a pretend gun, let him do that. Right? Using a pretend gun isn't dangerous. But I would also not give any attention to that action or activity.  

So, when he's using a pretend gun, I wouldn't say "don't do that" because what you're doing is you're focusing on the very thing that you don't want him to do. And so, what I would do in that moment is point his attention elsewhere, give him reinforcement when he's doing something else, when he's playing somewhere else. Right? So if he shooting a gun, pew, pew, pew at his brother, I would literally hand him something. So now his hand is busy, he can't shoot guns if there's something in his hand. Right?  

And so, the idea is to focus on what you want for your children, not focus on what you don't want for your children. It's not about reprimanding him. He understands, I mean, you've told him "this is not a good idea, you've hurt your brother. We can't hurt our siblings. We can't hurt anybody in this house. So this is not a safe toy. We're going to remove the toy. That's unsafe. That's it. Here's a different toy. Here's a ball, here's a pencil, here's a... whatever". An Etch A Sketch, for those of you who remember that one. I know for young people, that's not cool anymore.  

But the idea is to introduce new toys, new excitements, new things that they can concentrate on and focus there. So, you know, I think in this case, and I remember this client particularly well, she said, "well, what if he takes a train and batches it over my kid's head?" like, a toy train. 

[00:05:06] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah [chuckles] I got it.  

[00:05:07] Kim Ades:
Again, if he cannot play safely with those toys, those toys need to be removed. And I'm not a big fan of punishment or removal, but I'm a big fan of natural consequences, and safety is a natural consequence. Hurting someone with something isn't allowed. If you were to hurt someone in the streets with something, you would maybe have to go to jail for that. And so, we're not putting our children in jail, but we are definitely removing the object that they are seeking for that purpose. That's a very, very natural consequence.  

And in the case of trying to teach your kids different things, you know, he's four years old, introduce new toys, be super creative, play with him, search up different kinds of games, activities you can do with your children and do those things instead. And so, don't focus so much on telling him not to point a gun, even a fake gun, to someone focus instead on replacing that activity or that focus of attention with something completely different, something that makes them laugh, something that brings them joy, something that stimulates the brain, something interesting. Anything else.  

[00:06:21] Ferne Kotlyar:
And now the question is, if you take that toy away, let's see you take away that Nerf gun, do you ever give it back? Do you ever give them a second chance?  

[00:06:29] Kim Ades:
Yeah, I mean, again, for me, not a fan of guns in the house, so for me it would be a hard no. In her case, you know, if it's a train, let's say, and they're using the train to beat up the brother. And the child asked for the train back, I would say, "here are the conditions: you can play with the train if you play with it safely". So I wouldn't say "don't hit your brother with a train", I would say, "play with it safely", and I would give them a second chance. And if that's not doable, then again, that piece of equipment gets removed. 

But when kids are behaving in an aggressive manner, I'm interested in the reason why, I'm interested in what they're really looking for, what they're really seeking. And very often they're really looking for attention, they're looking for something that they feel is absent. And so, in the case of a child who is, again, even using a train to try to beat up the brother, I would definitely try to spend some one-on-one time with that child. Spend time reading with them, spend time playing with them, walking with them, cooking with them, whatever it is, doing a little bit more one-on-one with that child.  

That child is acting out in a way that says, "I am looking for something from the world and I need you to help me get it". And so, I would definitely increase my attention on that child in appropriate ways and continue to focus on telling the child what I'm looking for. 

So, there's a theory. It's a 40, 40, 20 principle. And so what you want to do is 40% of the time give your kid love for absolutely no reason. Tell them they're awesome, tell them they're great, and just express how much you're so happy to have them in your life.  

The other 40% you want to use as a reinforcement. So when they're doing something good, like being kind to the brother, you say, "Max, I love the way you helped your brother with the drink that he was drinking, that shows that you're really a kind boy". So, you want to reinforce positive behavior.  

And you want to save the last 20% for correction. We call that "negative communication". And if you don't, it's amazing. Parents don't realize. And actually the parent who sent in this question, we ran a bit of an experiment, and I said, "how many times do you give your child instruction in a day?" I think it was over 60 times in a day.  

So imagine you are that child and someone's constantly telling you what to do. Right? "Don't stand up, don't hit your brother". You know, all the things.  

[00:09:16] Ferne Kotlyar:
And telling you what to do, being like "eat your food, do this, do that", that is included in negative communication?  

[00:09:25] Kim Ades:
Yes, exactly.  

[00:09:27] Ferne Kotlyar:
But is that a negative thing to tell them to eat their food?  

[00:09:31] Kim Ades:
It's not a negative thing, but if it's all of your communication, then it turns into a negative thing. And so, you want to be conscious of how you're communicating with your kids and start to pay attention to how often you're giving them instruction. Even if it sounds like neutral instruction. "Go put your socks on". And think about it, from your perspective, imagine if someone in your life was constantly telling you what to do. Would you enjoy it? 

[00:10:04] Ferne Kotlyar:
Not particularly.  

[00:10:05] Kim Ades:
Not particularly. The same thing applies for kids. And so, you want to be conscious of the messaging you're giving your kids and save your instruction, your correction, that kind of thing for only when necessary, 20% of the time.  

And how do you make that jump? I mean, if someone who is always-- like, 60 times in a day is a lot, especially if the kid goes to school. I don't know if he's in kindergarten... But that's a lot. How do you make that jump from 60 times in a day to 20% of your communication?  

I think the first thing you do is you literally count, and you become conscious of what you're doing because parents think, and by and large, they think their jobs are to make sure that the kids are doing what they're supposed to be doing. You know, "go brush your teeth, eat breakfast, go do all the things". 

[00:11:00] Ferne Kotlyar:
And what is their real job?  

[00:11:01] Kim Ades:
Their real job is to love their children and be role models for their children and not use their children as the reason for being grumpy or bossy or upset all the time.  

[00:11:35] Ferne Kotlyar:
You think people often do that?  

[00:11:39] Kim Ades:
Yes, unconsciously, not on purpose. For parents, it's very, very important for them to dramatically increase their awareness of how they're communicating with their kids most of the time. And once you have that awareness then, and only then can you start to make small adjustments.  

[00:11:41] Ferne Kotlyar:
Makes sense. And so, if you were to give this mother one last piece of advice, what would it be? 

[00:11:51] Kim Ades:
It would be really, for starters with the guns, I would say remove the guns if he's not able to play with a gun safely, remove the gun. And keep telling your child what you were looking for, as opposed to what you're not. And remember that 40, 40, 20 rule. Now, very often we tell our kids "don't do this, don't do this, don't do this" instead of telling them what you want to see. So tell them what you want to see.  

[00:12:21] Ferne Kotlyar:
But is that not also instruction?  

[00:12:23] Kim Ades:
Yes, 20%. Exactly. So, I love the parenting questions. Please keep sending them in. I've had a lot of experience with my own kids. I've had five of them, two of them are my own, three of them are my step-kids. And so, I've had a ton, a ton of years of experience behind me learning the do's and don'ts of parenting. 

It's absolutely one of my favorite subjects. And so please continue sending them in. Hope that you learned something from this episode. Thank you, Ferne, for this amazing case.  

For those of you who are listening, if you have a case that you want to share with us, please send it our way. Ferne, how do they reach you? 

[00:13:07] Ferne Kotlyar:
Please email me! So, my email is fernekotlyar@live.com.  

[00:13:17] Kim Ades:
And if you have a challenge that you want to discuss and see if coaching might help, please reach out to me. It's kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. Please check us out on the website as well, frameofmindcoaching.com. 

And if you have a young person in your world that could benefit from some coaching, go to thejournalthattalksback.com. We will see you next week. Have a great week, everyone!  

[00:13:42] Ferne Kotlyar:

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