What Are The Benefits Of Playing With Military Toys?

September 6, 2012 Published by
Amanda Gummer, Child Psychologist and founder of Fundamentally Children, addresses a common concern of parents – “Does my child’s interest in guns mean that they will grow up to be violent?” 
Amanda has two teenage daughters, who were never remotely interested in weapons, but through her work in child development, she appreciates that this was more to do with their personalities than her parenting.  


Better to be Safe than Sorry

nerf gunThe most shocking thing I saw this week was the video of the fatal motorcycle crash. The reason that the police released the footage was to help other motorcyclists and boy racers realise the dangers of their actions. But will they?

Will it really make a difference? Will it really save lives? I hope so, but I have my reservations. These guys think they’re invincible. They simply don’t have the skill set to assess risk.

This under-developed ability to accurately judge dangerous situations is believed to be due to the lack of opportunity these children had to develop their risk analysis skills during childhood. These young adults believe they’re invincible because they haven’t been able to learn from their own, or their peers’ mistakes. It is now believed that the higher incidence of mental health issues prevalent in this group of people is due to their inability to take responsibility for their own actions, assess risk/danger, and predict consequences of actions and this, in turn, is due to their over-protected childhoods.

‘By allowing children to play military games, children can act out supporting/rescuing/protecting each other.’

In response to the identification of these problems within society, there are several government initiatives which are aimed at improving opportunities for children to develop the skills required for healthy adulthood and these include:

  • Play England’s report encouraging parents to let children play unsupervised, outside and in ways that incorporates elements of risk.
  • The Conservative Party’s initiative which will bring back a modified, short-term version of national service.
  • Parenting support/education programmes to show parents how to set appropriate boundaries and instil values such as respect in their children to deal with negative behaviour issues that are more common today than at any time in history.
  • Adjustments to the national curriculum to include activities such as tree climbing and more free-play opportunities

In short, there is a move away from over-protection of children and towards providing tools and support for them to mature into healthy, responsible, well-balanced adults, capable of living independent lives, and making positive contributions to society.

Children learn through play and whilst the above initiatives will all help children develop important skills at the appropriate ages, encouraging play which has these values inbuilt will be much more successful in enabling children to understand and adopt attitudes and behaviour that will serve them well as they grow up.

Playing games in which there is an element of danger (pretend or real) will also help children develop a moral framework to which they will be able to refer when faced with difficult decisions. Questions such as ‘should I help a person in trouble, even though there is a risk of me getting hurt myself if I do’ is not something many children will have had to ask themselves. Being able to explore issues such as this through play is a safe way for children to learn about danger, empathy, individual responsibility, bravery and community spirit.

Developmental skills encouraged through military role play.


When lives are at stake, people need to trust and rely on their team. By allowing children to play military games, children can act out supporting/rescuing/protecting each other, thus developing cooperative relationships which can help them form mutually rewarding bonds with friends and family in real life. Communication with team mates is an important factor in the success of many projects in life and playing games which encourage good team-work and communication will enhance social development and reduce the likelihood of mental health issues such as depression.

Imagination and creativity

Role play is often seen as a girly activity, but it is important that boys develop their imagination as well. Imagination helps with problem solving and has been identified as a protective factor against mental health conditions such as depression.

Strategy and planning

Logic and problem-solving are key skills identified with success in the workplace. Role-playing based on today’s military is likely to involve tactics and will help children develop logic and strategic thinking. As they will be thinking about the likely responses that their actions will elicit from their ‘enemy’ children will also develop social skills such as bluffing and bluff-detection.

Skills for Action logo


As children start school their sense of self undergoes a development spurt and they start to define themselves in relational terms to other people. Fitting in and belonging become very important and toys which can be collected and used to help children develop an identity are very popular with this primary school children, as is being able to identify oneself with a group. Sporting teams and extra-curricular groups (e.g. Scouts/Guides, Cadets) can provide children with a sense of identity and the values that such clubs represent (e.g. good sportsmanship, discipline, respect) are all instilled into their members. Reinforcing these values through play helps children to internalise the values more robustly and gives children confidence to express their identity.

Mary Ainsworth’s stranger situation experiment, showed how children who were securely attached to their primary carer were more inclined to explore their environment and therefore benefit from the learning experiences it afforded. In the same way, children who have a secure sense of themselves are likely to be more open minded and tolerant of other people as they will not be perceived as a threat to their own identity.

Anti-BullyingNo Bullys or bullying

Bullying is a problem both in schools and in the workplace. With the increasing incidences of bullying through technology (phones, emails etc) it is easier for those inclined to bully to be able to find victims and are less likely to be caught. The most successful anti-bullying campaigns help both victims and bullies to examine their behaviour to try and deal with the issues that prompt bullying.

As mentioned above, play is a very powerful tool as experiential learning is more robust and less susceptible to interference. By using toys which represent strength and allowing children to explore how that strength can be used and mis-used, children are able to learn valuable lessons in a natural way that is likely to be much more long-lasting than a message about bullying received from a teacher.

The military is associated with strength. By exploring positive ways of using this strength – peace keeping, standing up for what you believe in, helping those less strong than you, and comparing this with the miss-use of strength e.g. bullying, intimidation and self-promotion, children are able to avoid being victims as well as learning how to use strength in positive ways and thus prevent bullying.

Discipline and boundaries

Parenting classes, Super Nanny and Tiny Tearaways, the need for parents to regain authority over their children is well-documented. Many children are growing up without understanding the importance of rules and boundaries, and are taking an evolutionary step backwards by always being at susceptible to their emotions. Understanding and respecting boundaries will help children develop important skills such as reasoning, respect, cooperation, negotiation as well as a sense of justice. Again, all these skills will help social development and increase the chances of a child growing into a responsible, healthy, happy adult.

The military works because people follow rules. Obedience as a quality has been superseded by values such as tolerance and self-determination in many modern families. Many parents regret the effect that this has, but don’t know how to redress the balance. Children benefit from having clear boundaries and respond positively to the praise and the increased responsibility that is gained from respecting the boundaries. Playing with military toys helps children accept that life has to be lived by rules and prevents them seeing parents as spoiling their fun, instead encourages them to understand the rationale behind the rules that they have to live by.

leap frog outside gameFitness

With the increase in childhood obesity, toys which associate a healthy, active lifestyle with success and acceptance from peers are really helpful in changing children’s opinions and behaviour. Children who suffer from a lack of confidence in their academic achievements at school can be encouraged and rewarded by their physical achievements which boosts confidence and helps self esteem. High self-esteem is the single most reliable anti-dote to depression.

Games and toys which encourage physical activity will act as reinforcers for healthy levels of activity as the endorphins released during physical activity are detected by the reward centres in the brain and enhance the pleasurable memory of the activity (the same as ‘getting the bug’ for going to the gym).

Boys have naturally higher levels of testosterone than girls and so need to harness the activity and aggression that testosterone promotes. Active, even aggressive play is a good way for boys to expel some of their testosterone and as long as it is within reasonably safe parameters, providing them with opportunities for this type of play will enable them to control their behaviour at other times.


In a multicultural society such as Britain, it can be difficult for children to understand what being ‘British’ means. As well as helping children to develop a sense of belonging and identity, military toys can help children take a pride in their country and understand how, at times, it is necessary to fight for some of the core values upon which ‘Britishness’ is based. The government has been implementing some of the recommendations of the report by Lord Goldsmith which promote a British cultural identity and are aimed at uniting the diverse communities within the country and reversing the alarming rise in gang culture.

No one is advocating that children are given replica guns and encouraged to start shooting at the people they don’t like and the attack in Chase School highlights how difficult an issue this is. However, in the increasingly ‘broken’ society, many children are growing up without positive role models and whilst the politics of war can be debated ad infinitum, no one questions the qualities of the service men and women who are serving their country. The values that these people embody are largely very admirable and parents can help their children play positively with military toys, discussing issues that arise and encouraging their children to develop the skills identified above, so let’s have a sensible approach to children’s play and use it to address some of the taboos in our society.


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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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